what are natural fats? what fats are good for the brain?

i had no idea the brain is made of 60% fats. can someone create a list of what natural fats are good for the brain

Posted Answers

A:

Any Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids in balance
With respect to fatty acids – balance appears to be important. According to Professor Andrew Sinclair and Professor Artemis Simopoulos, the right balance of omega-6 (n-6) to omega-3 (n-3) fatty acids enables the body to reduce inflammation, lower blood pressure, prevent irregular heart beats and promote healthy blood flow. They also recommend that we increase our intake of omega 3 fatty acids and possibly decrease or not alter our intake of omega 6 linoleic acid. This is because most Australians consume about 10-20g of n-6 fatty acids a day, but only 1-2g of the omega 3's – a ratio of 15 to 1 of n-6 to n-3. For a healthy balance, it is recommended that the ratio should be less than 5 to 1. The most common reason for the imbalance is the widespread use of polyunsaturated oils and spreads. Because they are polyunsaturated they are effective at lowering blood cholesterol, but most of us consume more than enough of them.

http://hec.server101.com/info/articles/fats-chol/balance-of-fats.htm

Evidence?

Simopoulos (Prostaglandins Leukotrienes & Ess. Fatty Acids, 1999; 60: 421-9) argues that Palaeolithic people consumed a higher intake of omega 3 fats due to their high intakes of green plants, fruits, nuts, berries, fish and lean meat and a lower intake of omega 6 due to their low intake of cereals and refined oils. Some communities probably also had a high intake of monounsaturated fat from simply pressing the oil out of certain fruits e.g. olives.People living on a Greek island ‘Crete’ in the 1960s at the time of the 7 country study and who ate a traditional Mediterranean diet are believed to have consumed diets high in omega 3 and low in omega 6 fats, similar to that of Paleolithic people.

In modern society, cereals – mainly wheat, corn and rice – predominate, leading to a relative deficiency of n-3 fats compared with n-6 fats.This imbalance is worsened by the consumption of meat from intensively reared animals fed grain relatively rich in n-6 fats rather than wild plants with a high n-3 fat content. Even farmed fish contain lower amounts of n-3 than those living wild. With the onset of the industrial revolution, saturated fatty acids rose dramatically with the increased availability of red meat, dairy products and hydrogenation of polyunsaturated fats, largely from margarine. Current dietary recommendations to substitute vegetable oils for saturated fat (to reduce serum cholesterol) further favour n-6 over n-3 fats.

Since human genes have changed little, if at all, in the past 10,000 or indeed 40,000 years, then it follows that most people today now eat foods for which they are not genetically programmed. The result, Simopoulos (1999) suggests is chronic disease (diabetes, cancer, obesity, CVD) and believes the n-6 to n-3 imbalance also explains why, although CHD deaths have dropped due to better treatment and secondary prevention, a reduction in recognized risk factors has failed to have an impact on the incidence of myocardial infarction.

The preferred ratio of n-6 to n-3 (<5:1) has been based on the simple logic that this approximates that ratio in our cell membranes and also from evidence regarding food habits of Paleolithic people. However, there has been some further evidence from metabolic and epidemiological studies. Chan et al (Lipids 1993; 28: 811-7) fed three different ratios of n-6 linoleic to n-3 linolenic 27:1,< 7:1, 3:1 in humans. Platelet enrichment with omega 3 eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) only occurred on the 3:1 ratio. They also compared two diets, one with double the amount of linolenic, but with the same n-6 to n-3 ratio, proving that the ratio not the total quantity is important. In the Lyon Diet Heart Study, the benefits of reducing n-6 fats and increasing n-3 fats (ratio 4: 1) was shown quite convincingly: after 4 years both heart disease and cancer deaths were halved (De Lorgeril et al. Arch Inter Med 1998; 158: 1181-7).

Summary

Medical advice to eat a low-fat high carbohydrate diet can be misleading. The aim instead should probably be for a diet that, regardless of its fat content, contains an increased amount of omega 3 fatty acids (a reduced amount of saturated fat) and to prefer carbohydrate containing foods with a low-medium glycaemic index.

More evidence is needed on the ideal n-6: n-3 ratio. Nevertheless, it is probably prudent advice to recommend an increase in the intake of foods high in omega 3 fats.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are considered essential fatty acids. They are essential to human health but cannot be manufactured by the body. For this reason, omega-3 fatty acids must be obtained from food. Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in fish, such as salmon, tuna, and halibut, other marine life such as algae and krill, certain plants (including purslane), and nut oils. Also known as polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), omega-3 fatty acids play a crucial role in brain function as well as normal growth and development. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish (particularly fatty fish such as mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna, and salmon) at least 2 times a week. It is advised that pregnant women and mothers, nursing mothers, young children, and women who might become pregnant not eat several types of fish, including swordfish, shark, and king mackerel. These individuals should also limit consumption of other fish, including albacore tuna, salmon, and herring. They can take omega-3 fatty acids in quality dietary supplements that are certified mercury-free by a reputable third-party lab.

There are three major types of omega 3 fatty acids that are ingested in foods and used by the body: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Once eaten, the body converts ALA to EPA and DHA, the two types of omega-3 fatty acids more readily used by the body. Extensive research indicates that omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation and help prevent risk factors associated with chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and arthritis. These essential fatty acids are highly concentrated in the brain and appear to be particularly important for cognitive (brain memory and performance) and behavioral function. In fact, infants who do not get enough omega-3 fatty acids from their mothers during pregnancy are at risk for developing vision and nerve problems. Symptoms of omega-3 fatty acid deficiency include extreme tiredness (fatigue), poor memory, dry skin, heart problems, mood swings or depression, and poor circulation.

It is important to maintain an appropriate balance of omega-3 and omega-6 (another essential fatty acid) in the diet, as these two substances work together to promote health. Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce inflammation, and most omega-6 fatty acids tend to promote inflammation. An inappropriate balance of these essential fatty acids contributes to the development of disease while a proper balance helps maintain and even improve health. A healthy diet should consist of roughly 2 - 4 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids. The typical American diet tends to contain 14 - 25 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids, and many researchers believe this imbalance is a significant factor in the rising rate of inflammatory disorders in the United States.

In contrast, however, the Mediterranean diet consists of a healthier balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, and many studies have shown that people who follow this diet are less likely to develop heart disease. It also contains another fatty acid, omega-9 fatty acids, which have been reported to help lower risks associated with cancer and heart disease. The Mediterranean diet does not include much meat (which is high in omega-6 fatty acids) and emphasizes foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, including whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, olive oil, garlic, as well as moderate wine consumption.

Uses
Clinical studies suggest that omega-3 fatty acids may be helpful in treating a variety of health conditions. The evidence is strongest for heart disease and problems that contribute to heart disease, but the range of possible uses for omega-3 fatty acids include:

High cholesterol

Those who follow a Mediterranean-style diet tend to have higher high density lipoprotein (HDL or "good" )cholesterol levels. Similar to those who follow a Mediterranean diet, Inuit Eskimos, who consume high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids from fatty fish, also tend to have increased HDL cholesterol and decreased triglycerides (fatty material that circulates in the blood). In addition, fish oil supplements containing eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) have been reported in several large clinical studies to reduce low density lipoprotein (LDL or "bad") cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Finally, walnuts (which are rich in alpha linolenic acid or ALA) have been reported to lower total cholesterol and triglycerides in individuals with high cholesterol levels.

High blood pressure

Several clinical studies suggest that diets or supplements rich in omega-3 fatty acids lower blood pressure significantly in individuals with hypertension. An analysis of 17 clinical studies using fish oil supplements found that supplementation with 3 or more grams of fish oil daily can lead to significant reductions in blood pressure in individuals with untreated hypertension.

Heart disease

One of the best ways to help prevent and treat heart disease is to eat a low-fat diet and to replace foods rich in saturated and trans-fat with those that are rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (including omega-3 fatty acids). Clinical evidence suggests that EPA and DHA found in fish oil help reduce risk factors for heart disease including high cholesterol and high blood pressure. There is also strong evidence that these substances can help prevent and treat atherosclerosis by inhibiting the development of plaque and blood clots, each of which tends to clog arteries. Clinical studies of heart attack survivors have found that daily omega-3 fatty acid supplements dramatically reduce the risk of death, subsequent heart attacks, and stroke. Similarly, people who eat an ALA-rich diet are less likely to suffer a fatal heart attack.

Strong evidence from population-based clinical studies suggests that omega-3 fatty acid intake (primarily from fish) helps protect against stroke caused by plaque buildup and blood clots in the arteries that lead to the brain. In fact, eating at least 2 servings of fish per week can reduce the risk of stroke by as much as 50%. However, people who eat more than 3 grams of omega-3 fatty acids per day (equivalent to 3 servings of fish per day) may be at an increased risk for hemorrhagic stroke, a potentially fatal type of stroke in which an artery in the brain leaks or ruptures.

Diabetes

Individuals with diabetes tend to have high triglyceride and low HDL levels. Omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil can help lower triglycerides and apoproteins (markers of diabetes), and raise HDL, so people with diabetes may benefit from eating foods or taking supplements that contain DHA and EPA. ALA (from flaxseed, for example) may not have the same benefit as DHA and EPA because some people with diabetes lack the ability to efficiently convert ALA to a form of omega-3 fatty acids that the body can use readily. There have been slight increases reported in fasting blood sugar levels in patients with type 2 diabetes while taking fish oil supplements.

Weight loss

Many individuals who are overweight suffer from poor blood sugar control, diabetes, and high cholesterol. Clinical studies suggest that overweight people who follow a weight loss program that includes exercise tend to achieve better control over their blood sugar and cholesterol levels when fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids (such as salmon, mackerel, and herring) is a staple in their low-fat diet.

Arthritis

Most clinical studies investigating the use of omega-3 fatty acid supplements for inflammatory joint conditions have focused almost entirely on rheumatoid arthritis. Several articles reviewing the research in this area conclude that omega-3 fatty acid supplements reduce tenderness in joints, decrease morning stiffness, and allow for a reduction in the amount of medication needed for people with rheumatoid arthritis.

In addition, laboratory studies suggest that diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids (and low in the inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids) may benefit people with other inflammatory disorders, such as osteoarthritis. In fact, several test tube studies of cartilage-containing cells have found that omega-3 fatty acids decrease inflammation and reduce the activity of enzymes that destroy cartilage. Similarly, New Zealand green lipped mussel (Perna canaliculus), another potential source of omega-3 fatty acids, has been reported to reduce joint stiffness and pain, increase grip strength, and enhance walking pace in a small group of people with osteoarthritis. In some participants, symptoms worsened before they improved.

An analysis was conducted of 17 randomized, controlled clinical trials assessing the pain relieving effects of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation in patients with rheumatoid arthritis or joint pain caused by inflammatory bowel disease (IBS) and painful menstruation (dysmenorrhea). The results suggest that omega-3 fatty acids are effective treatment, along with conventional therapies such as anti-inflammatory drugs, for joint pain associated with rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, and dysmenorrhea.

Osteoporosis

Clinical studies suggest that omega-3 fatty acids such as EPA help increase levels of calcium in the body, deposit calcium in the bones, and improve bone strength. In addition, studies also suggest that people who are deficient in certain essential fatty acids (particularly EPA and gamma-linolenic acid [GLA], an omega-6 fatty acid) are more likely to suffer from bone loss than those with normal levels of these fatty acids. In a study of women over 65 with osteoporosis, those given EPA and GLA supplements experienced significantly less bone loss over 3 years than those who were given a placebo. Many of these women also experienced an increase in bone density.

Depression

People who do not get enough omega-3 fatty acids or do not maintain a healthy balance of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids in their diet may be at an increased risk for depression. The omega-3 fatty acids are important components of nerve cell membranes. They help nerve cells communicate with each other, which is an essential step in maintaining good mental health. In particular, DHA is involved in a variety of nerve cell processes.

Levels of omega-3 fatty acids were found to be measurably low and the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids were particularly high in a clinical study of patients hospitalized for depression. In a clinical study of individuals with depression, those who ate a healthy diet consisting of fatty fish 2 - 3 times per week for 5 years experienced a significant reduction in feelings of depression and hostility.

Bipolar disorder

In a clinical study of 30 people with bipolar disorder, those who were treated with EPA and DHA (in combination with their usual mood stabilizing medications) for 4 months experienced fewer mood swings and recurrence of either depression or mania than those who received placebo. Another 4-month long clinical study treating individuals with bipolar depression and rapid cycling bipolar disorder did not find evidence of efficacy for the use of in EPA in these patients.

Schizophrenia

Preliminary clinical evidence suggests that people with schizophrenia experience an improvement in symptoms when given omega-3 fatty acids. However, a recent well-designed study concluded that EPA supplements are no better than placebo in improving symptoms of this condition. The conflicting results suggest that more research is needed before conclusions can be drawn about the benefit of omega-3 fatty acids for schizophrenia. Similar to diabetes, individuals with schizophrenia may not be able to convert ALA to EPA or DHA efficiently.

Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may have low levels of certain essential fatty acids (including EPA and DHA) in their bodies. In a clinical study of nearly 100 boys, those with lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids demonstrated more learning and behavioral problems (such as temper tantrums and sleep disturbances) than boys with normal omega-3 fatty acid levels. In animal studies, low levels of omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to lower the concentration of certain brain chemicals (such as dopamine and serotonin) related to attention and motivation. Clinical studies that examine the ability of omega-3 supplements to improve symptoms of ADHD are still needed. At this point in time, eating foods high in omega-3 fatty acids is a reasonable approach for someone with ADHD. A clinical study used omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acid supplementation in 117 children with ADHD. They study found significant improvements in reading, spelling, and behavior in the children over the 3 months of therapy. Another clinical study found that omega-3 fatty acid supplementation helped to decrease physical aggression in school children with ADHD. More studies, including comparisons with drug therapies (such as stimulants), should be performed.

Eating disorders

Clinical studies suggest that men and women with anorexia nervosa have lower than optimal levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids (including ALA and GLA). To prevent the complications associated with essential fatty acid deficiencies, some experts recommend that treatment programs for anorexia nervosa include PUFA-rich foods such as fish and organ meats (which include omega-6 fatty acids).

Burns

Essential fatty acids have been used to reduce inflammation and promote wound healing in burn victims. Animal research indicates that omega-3 fatty acids help promote a healthy balance of proteins in the body -- protein balance is important for recovery after sustaining a burn. Further research is necessary to determine whether omega-3s benefit people in the same way.

Skin disorders

In one clinical study, 13 people with a particular sensitivity to the sun known as photo dermatitis showed significantly less sensitivity to UV rays after taking fish oil supplements. Still, research indicates that topical sunscreens are much better at protecting the skin from damaging effects of the sun than omega-3 fatty acids. In another study of 40 people with psoriasis, those who were treated with medications and EPA supplements did better than those treated with the medications alone. In addition, many clinicians believe that flaxseed (which contains omega-3 fatty acids) is helpful for treating acne.

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)

When added to medication, such as sulfasalazine (a standard medication for IBD), omega-3 fatty acids may reduce symptoms of Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis -- the 2 types of IBD. More studies to investigate this preliminary finding are under way. In animals, it appears that ALA works better at decreasing bowel inflammation than EPA and DHA. Plus, fish oil supplements can cause side effects that are similar to symptoms of IBD (such as flatulence, belching, bloating, and diarrhea).

Asthma

Clinical research suggests that omega-3 fatty acid supplements (in the form of perilla seed oil, which is rich in ALA) may decrease inflammation and improve lung function in adults with asthma. Omega-6 fatty acids have the opposite effect: they tend to increase inflammation and worsen respiratory function. In a small, well-designed clinical study of 29 children with asthma, those who took fish oil supplements rich in EPA and DHA for 10 months had improvement in their symptoms compared to children who took a placebo pill.

Macular Degeneration

A questionnaire administered to more than 3,000 people over the age of 49 found that those who consumed more fish in their diet were less likely to have macular degeneration (a serious age-related eye condition that can progress to blindness) than those who consumed less fish. Similarly, a clinical study comparing 350 people with macular degeneration to 500 without the eye disease found that those with a healthy dietary balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and higher intake of fish in their diets were less likely to have this particular eye disorder. Another larger clinical study confirms that EPA and DHA from fish, 4 or more times per week, may reduce the risk of developing macular degeneration. Notably, however, this same study suggests that ALA may actually increase the risk of this eye condition.

Menstrual pain

In a clinical study of nearly 200 Danish women, those with the highest dietary intake of omega-3 fatty acids had the mildest symptoms, such as hot flashes and increased sweating, during menstruation.

Colon cancer

Consuming significant amounts of foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids appears to reduce the risk of colorectal cancer. For example, Eskimos, who tend to follow a high-fat diet but eat significant amounts of fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, have a low rate of colorectal cancer. Animal studies and laboratory studies have found that omega-3 fatty acids prevent worsening of colon cancer while omega-6 fatty acids promote the growth of colon tumors. Daily consumption of EPA and DHA also appeared to slow or even reverse the progression of colon cancer in people with early stages of the disease.

Clinical studies have reported that low levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the body are a marker for an increased risk of colon cancer.

However, in an animal study of rats with metastatic colon cancer (in other words, cancer that has spread to other parts of the body such as the liver), omega-3 fatty acids actually promoted the growth of cancer cells in the liver. Until more information is available, it is best for people with advanced stages of colorectal cancer to avoid omega-3 fatty acid supplements and diets rich in this substance.

Breast cancer

Although not all experts agree, women who regularly consume foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids over many years may be less likely to develop breast cancer. In addition, the risk of dying from breast cancer may be significantly less for those who eat large quantities of omega-3 from fish and brown kelp seaweed (common in Japan). This is particularly true among women who substitute fish for meat. The balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids appears to play an important role in the development and growth of breast cancer. Further research is still needed to understand the effect that omega-3 fatty acids may have on the prevention or treatment of breast cancer. For example, researchers speculate that omega-3 fatty acids in combination with other nutrients (namely, vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, selenium, and coenzyme Q10) may prove to be of particular value for preventing and treating breast cancer.

Prostate cancer

Laboratory and animal studies indicate that omega-3 fatty acids (specifically, DHA and EPA) may inhibit the growth of prostate cancer. Similarly, population based clinical studies of groups of men suggest that a low-fat diet with the addition of omega-3 fatty acids from fish or fish oil help prevent the development of prostate cancer. Like breast cancer, the balance of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids appears to be particularly important for reducing the risk of this condition. ALA, however, may not offer the same benefits as EPA and DHA. In fact, one recent clinical study evaluating 67 men with prostate cancer found that they had higher levels of ALA compared to men without prostate cancer. More research in this area is needed.

Other

Although further research is needed, preliminary evidence suggests that omega-3 fatty acids may also prove helpful in protecting against certain infections and treating a variety of conditions, including autism, ulcers, migraine headaches, preterm labor, emphysema, psoriasis, glaucoma, Lyme disease, systemic lupus erythmatosus (lupus), irregular heart beats (arrhythmias), multiple sclerosis, and panic attacks. Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation may also help to reduce stress and the effects it has on the body.

Dietary Sources
Fish, plant, and nut oils are the primary dietary source of omega-3 fatty acids. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are found in cold-water fish such as salmon, mackerel, halibut, sardines, tuna, and herring. ALA is found in flaxseeds, flaxseed oil, canola (rapeseed) oil, soybeans, soybean oil, pumpkin seeds, pumpkin seed oil, purslane, perilla seed oil, walnuts, and walnut oil. Other sources of omega-3 fatty acids include sea life such as krill and algae.

Available Forms
In addition to the dietary sources described, EPA and DHA can be taken in the form of fish oil capsules. Flaxseed, flaxseed oil, fish and krill oils should be kept refrigerated. Whole flaxseeds must be ground within 24 hours of use, otherwise the ingredients lose their activity. Flaxseeds are also available in ground form in a special mylar package so that the components in the flaxseeds stay active.

Be sure to buy omega-3 fatty acid supplements made by established companies who certify that their products are free of heavy metals such as mercury, lead, and cadmium.

How to Take It
Dosing for fish oil supplements should be based on the amount of EPA and DHA in the product, not on the total amount of fish oil. Supplements vary in the amounts and ratios of EPA and DHA. A common amount of omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil capsules is 0.18 grams (180 mg) of EPA and 0.12 grams (120 mg) of DHA. Five grams of fish oil contains approximately 0.17 - 0.56 grams (170 -560 mg) of EPA and 0.072 - 0.31 grams (72 - 310 mg) of DHA. Different types of fish contain variable amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, and different types of nuts or oil contain variable amounts of a-linolenic acid. Fish oils contain approximately 9 calories per gram of oil.

Children (18 years and younger)

The precise safe and effective doses of all types of omega-3 fatty acid supplements in children have not been established. Omega-3 fatty acids are used in some infant formulas, although effective doses are not clearly established. Ingestion of fresh fish should be limited in young children due to the presence of potentially harmful environmental contaminants, including mercury. Fish oil capsules should not be used in children except under the direction of a health care provider.

Adults

Individuals taking more than 3 grams daily of omega-3 fatty acids from capsules should do so only under the supervision of a health care provider due to an increase risk of bleeding.

For healthy adults with no history of heart disease: The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends eating fish at least 2 times per week.

For adults with coronary heart disease: The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends an omega-3 fatty acid supplement (as fish oils), 1 gram daily of EPA and DHA. It may take 2 - 3 weeks for benefits of fish oil supplements to be seen.

For adults with high cholesterol levels: The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends an omega-3 fatty acid supplement (as fish oils), 2 - 4 grams daily of EPA and DHA. It may take 2 - 3 weeks for benefits of fish oil supplements to be seen.

Precautions
Because of the potential for side effects and interactions with medications, dietary supplements should be taken only under the supervision of a knowledgeable health care provider.

Omega-3 fatty acids should be used cautiously by people who bruise easily, have a bleeding disorder, or take blood-thinning medications, including warfarin (Coumadin) or clopidogrel (Plavix), because excessive amounts of omega-3 fatty acids may lead to bleeding. In fact, people who eat more than three grams of omega-3 fatty acids per day (equivalent to 3 servings of fish per day) may be at an increased risk for hemorrhagic stroke, a potentially fatal condition in which an artery in the brain leaks or ruptures.

Fish oil can cause flatulence, bloating, belching, and diarrhea. Time-release preparations may reduce these side effects, however.

People with either diabetes or schizophrenia may lack the ability to convert alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) to eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), the forms more readily used in the body. Therefore, people with these conditions should obtain their omega-3 fatty acids from dietary sources rich in EPA and DHA. Also, individuals with type 2 diabetes may experience increases in fasting blood sugar levels while taking fish oil supplements. If you have type 2 diabetes, only use fish oil supplements under the supervision of a health care provider.

Although studies have found that regular consumption of fish (which includes the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA) may reduce the risk of macular degeneration, a recent study including 2 large groups of men and women found that diets rich in ALA may substantially increase the risk of this disease. More research is needed in this area. Until this information becomes available, it is best for people with macular degeneration to obtain omega-3 fatty acids from sources of EPA and DHA, rather than ALA.

Similar to macular degeneration, fish and fish oil may protect against prostate cancer, but ALA may be associated with increased risk of prostate cancer in men. More research in this area is needed.

Fish (and fish oil supplements) may contain potentially harmful contaminants, such as heavy metals (including mercury), dioxins, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). For sport-caught fish, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends that intake be limited in pregnant or nursing women to a single 6-ounce meal per week, and in young children to less than 2 ounces per week. For farm-raised, imported, or marine fish, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends that pregnant or nursing women and young children avoid eating types with higher levels of mercury (such as mackerel, shark, swordfish, or tilefish), and less than 12 ounces per week of other fish types. Unrefined fish oil preparations may contain pesticides.

Possible Interactions
If you are currently being treated with any of the following medications, you should not use omega-3 fatty acid supplements, including eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), without first talking to your health care provider.

Blood-thinning medications -- Omega-3 fatty acids may increase the effects of blood thinning medications, including aspirin, warfarin (Coumadin), and clopedigrel (Plavix). While the combination of aspirin and omega-3 fatty acids may actually be helpful under certain circumstances (such as in heart disease), they should only be taken together under the guidance and supervision of a health care provider.

Blood sugar lowering medications -- Taking omega-3 fatty acid supplements may increase fasting blood sugar levels. Use with caution if taking blood sugar lowering medications, such as glipizide (Glucotrol and Glucotrol XL), glyburide (Micronase or Diabeta), glucophage (Metformin), or insulin, as omega-3 fatty acid supplements may increase your need for the medication(s).

Cyclosporine -- Taking omega-3 fatty acids during cyclosporine (Sandimmune) therapy may reduce toxic side effects, such as high blood pressure and kidney damage, associated with this medication in transplant patients.

Etretinate and topical steroids -- The addition of omega-3 fatty acids (specifically EPA) to the drug therapy etretinate (Tegison) and topical corticosteroids may improve symptoms of psoriasis.

Cholesterol-lowering medications -- Following certain nutritional guidelines, including increasing the amount of omega-3 fatty acids in your diet and reducing the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio, may allow a group of cholesterol lowering medications known as "statins", including atorvastatin (Liptor), lovastatin (Mevacor), and simvastatin (Zocor) to work more effectively.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) -- In an animal study, treatment with omega-3 fatty acids reduced the risk of ulcers from nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), including ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil) and naproxen (Alleve or Naprosyn). More research is needed to evaluate whether omega-3 fatty acids would have the same effects in people.

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Review Date: 5/1/2007
Reviewed By: Participants in the review process include: Ruth DeBusk, RD, PhD, Editor, Nutrition in Complementary Care, Tallahassee, FL; Jacqueline A. Hart, MD, Department of Internal Medicine, Newton-Wellesley Hospital, Harvard University and Senior Medical Editor Integrative Medicine, Boston, MA; Gary Kracoff, RPh (Pediatric Dosing section February 2001), Johnson Drugs, Natick, Ma; Steven Ottariono, RPh (Pediatric Dosing section February 2001), Veteran's Administrative Hospital, Londonderry, NH. All interaction sections have also been reviewed by a team of experts including Joseph Lamb, MD (July 2000), The Integrative Medicine Works, Alexandria, VA;Enrico Liva, ND, RPh (August 2000), Vital Nutrients, Middletown, CT; Brian T Sanderoff, PD, BS in Pharmacy (March 2000), Clinical Assistant Professor, University of Maryland School of Pharmacy; President, Your Prescription for Health, Owings Mills, MD; Ira Zunin, MD, MPH, MBA (July 2000), President and Chairman, Hawaii State Consortium for Integrative Medicine, Honolulu, HI.
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Omega 6 Fatty Acids

Omega-6 fatty acids are considered essential fatty acids (EFAs), which means that they are essential to human health but cannot be made in the body. For this reason, they must be obtained from food. Omega-3 fatty acids are another important group of essential fatty acids. Together, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids play a crucial role in brain function as well as normal growth and development. EFAs belong to the class of fatty acids called polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). They are generally necessary for stimulating skin and hair growth, maintaining bone health, regulating metabolism, and maintaining reproductive capability.

Deficiencies in EFAs can lead to reduced growth, a scaly rash called dermatitis, infertility, and lack of ability to fight infection and heal wounds. Lack of omega-6 fatty acids, however, is extremely rare in diets of those living in certain Western countries, particularly the United States, as well as Israel. In fact, North American and Israeli diets tend to have too much omega-6, particularly in relation to omega-3 fatty acids. This imbalance contributes to long-term diseases such as heart disease, cancer, asthma, arthritis, and depression. A healthy diet should consist of roughly one omega-3 fatty acids to four omega-6 fatty acids. A typical American diet, however, tends to contain 11 to 30 times more omega-6 than omega-3 fatty acids.

In contrast, a Mediterranean diet is made up of a healthier and more appropriate balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. The Mediterranean diet includes a generous amount of whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, olive oil, and garlic; plus, there is little meat, which is high in omega-6 fatty acids.

There are several different types of omega-6 fatty acids. Most omega-6 fatty acids are consumed in the diet from vegetable oils as linoleic acid (LA; be careful not to confuse this with alpha-linolenic acid [ALA] which is an omega-3 fatty acid). Linoleic acid is converted to gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) in the body and then further broken down to arachidonic acid (AA). AA can also be consumed directly from meat, and GLA can be ingested from several plant-based oils including evening primrose oil (EPO), borage oil, and black currant seed oil.

Excess amounts of LA and AA are unhealthy because they promote inflammation, thereby leading to several of the diseases described above. In contrast, GLA may actually reduce inflammation. Much of the GLA taken as a supplement is not converted to AA, but rather to a substance called dihomogamma-linolenic acid (DGLA). DGLA competes with AA and prevents the negative inflammatory effects that AA would otherwise cause in the body. In addition, DGLA becomes part of a particular series of substances, called prostaglandins, that can reduce inflammation. Having adequate amounts of certain nutrients in the body (including magnesium, zinc, and vitamins C, B3, and B6) helps promote the conversion of GLA to DGLA rather than AA.

It is important to know that many experts feel that the science supporting the use of omega-3 fatty acids to reduce inflammation and prevent diseases is much stronger than the information regarding use of GLA for these purposes.

Uses
Some clinicians and preliminary research suggest that omega-6 fatty acids may be useful for the following purposes:

Anorexia Nervosa
Studies suggest that women, and possibly men, with anorexia nervosa have lower than optimal levels of PUFAs and display abnormalities in the use of these fatty acids in the body. To prevent the metabolic complications associated with essential fatty acid deficiencies, some recommend that treatment programs for anorexia nervosa include PUFA-rich foods such as organ meats and fish.

Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
Studies suggest that children with ADHD have lower levels of EFAs, both omega-6s and omega-3s. Given the relationship of EFAs to normal brain and behavioral function, this makes sense. Because of this logical connection and the low levels of EFAs measured in those with ADHD, scientists have speculated that replacement of EFAs through food or supplements may help lessen the behaviors and symptoms of this condition.

Research to date has suggested an improvement in symptoms and behaviors related to ADHD from omega-3 fatty acids. Results of studies supplying omega-6 fatty acids in the form of GLA from EPO or other sources to children with ADHD, however, have been mixed and, therefore, not conclusive. More research on GLA for ADHD is needed before conclusions can be drawn. In the meantime, ensuring a healthier balance of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids in the diet seems worthwhile for those with this behavioral condition.

Diabetes
Omega-6 fatty acid supplementation, in the form of GLA from EPO or other sources, may assist nerve function and help prevent nerve disease experienced by those with diabetes (called peripheral neuropathy and felt as numbness, tingling, pain, burning, or lack of sensation in the feet and/or legs).

Eye Disease
GLA may be beneficial in dry-eye conditions such as Sjögren's syndrome (a condition with symptoms of dry eyes, dry mouth, and, often, arthritis).

Osteoporosis
A deficiency in essential fatty acids (including GLA and EPA, an omega-3 fatty acid) can lead to severe bone loss and osteoporosis. Studies have shown that supplements of GLA and EPA help maintain or increase bone mass. Essential fatty acids may also enhance calcium absorption, increase calcium deposits in bones, diminish calcium loss in urine, improve bone strength, and enhance bone growth, all of which may contribute to improved bone mass and, therefore, strength.

Menopausal Symptoms
Although EPO has gained some popularity for treating hot flashes, the research to date has not demonstrated a benefit of GLA or EPO over taking a placebo. With that said, there are individual women who report improvement; therefore, it may be worthwhile to talk to your doctor about whether it is safe for you to try EPO or another form of GLA supplements to alleviate hot flashes.

Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)
Although results of studies have been mixed, some women find relief of their PMS symptoms when using GLA supplements from EPO or another source. The symptoms that seem to be helped the most are breast tenderness and feelings of depression as well as irritability and swelling and bloating from fluid retention. Breast tenderness from causes other than PMS may also improve with use of GLA.

Acne and Psoriasis
Some speculate that dietary LA (from, for example, corn oil) may prove beneficial for these skin conditions by replenishing the low levels of LA in these lesions. Research in this area is needed to determine whether this theory has any basis.

Eczema
Several early studies suggested that EPO is more beneficial than placebo at relieving symptoms associated with this skin condition such as itching, redness, and scaling. However, more recent studies have not had the same positive results testing GLA derived from EPO. The bottom line is that whether EPO supplements work for someone with eczema may be very individual. Talk to your doctor about the possibility and safety of trying EPO for this condition.

Alcoholism
EPO may help lessen cravings for alcohol and prevent liver damage. Some of this information comes from animal studies; more research in people is needed.

Allergies
People who are prone to allergies may require more EFAs and often have difficulty converting LA to GLA. In fact, women and infants who are prone to allergies appear to have lower levels of GLA in breast milk and blood.

To date, the use of EFAs to prevent allergic reactions or reduce their magnitude has had mixed results. There have been some reports of individuals lessening their allergic reaction by taking GLA from EPO. For example, one young boy who broke out in hives when around dogs, no longer had this response after taking EPO for one month. Well-conducted research studies are needed to determine whether EPO can be helpful for large numbers of people with allergies.

On the other hand, a study evaluating dietary intake of omega-6 fatty acids relative to the risk of having hay fever (called allergic rhinitis) found different results for this other type of allergic reaction. Nurses in Japan with higher amounts of omega-6 in their diet were more likely to have hay fever.

Omega-6 fatty acids from the diet or supplements, such as GLA from EPO or other sources, have a longstanding history of folk use for allergies. Whether this supplement improves your symptoms, therefore, may be very individual. Work with your healthcare provider to first determine if it is safe for you to try GLA and then follow your allergy symptoms closely for any signs of improvement or lack there of.

Rheumatoid Arthritis
Some preliminary information indicates that GLA, from EPO, borage oil, or black currant seed oil, may diminish joint pain, swelling, and morning stiffness. GLA may also allow for reduction in amount of pain medication used by those with rheumatoid arthritis. The studies to date, however, have been small in size. Additional research would be helpful, including testing a proposed theory that using GLA and EPA (an omega-3 fatty acid from fish oil) together would be helpful for rheumatoid arthritis.

In the meantime, talk to your doctor about whether using GLA is safe for you and then pay attention, over 1 to 3 months of use, to whether your symptoms get better or not. In terms of borage oil, some researchers theorize that it may not be safe to use with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs such as ibuprofen, which are commonly used for arthritis). This theory needs to be tested. See Possible Interactions.

Cancer
Results of studies looking at the relationship of omega-6 fatty acids to cancer have been mixed. While LA and AA are cancer promoting in studies of colon, breast, and other cancers, GLA and EPO have shown some benefit for breast cancer in certain studies. The information is not conclusive and is somewhat controversial. The safest bet is to eat a diet with the proper balance of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids (see How To Take It), starting from a young age, to try to prevent the development of cancer.

Weight Loss
Results of studies regarding use of EPO for weight loss have been mixed and, therefore, use of this type of supplement won't work for everyone. One study suggests that if the supplement is going to work, it does so mainly for overweight individuals for whom obesity runs in the family. In addition, a few other small studies suggest that the more overweight you are, the more likely that EPO will help. In fact, if your body weight is only 10% above normal (for example, 10 to 20 pounds above average), EPO is unlikely to help you lose weight.

High Blood Pressure and Heart Disease
Animal studies suggest that GLA, either alone or in combination with two important omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA both found in fish and fish oil, may lower the blood pressure of hypertensive rats. Together with EPA and DHA, the GLA helped to prevent the development of heart disease in these animals as well. It is unclear whether these benefits would occur in people.

In one study evaluating people with peripheral artery disease (blockage in the blood vessels in the legs from atherosclerosis [plaque] causing cramping pain with walking), men and women with this condition did experience improvement in their blood pressure from the combination of EPA and GLA. Much more research is needed in people before conclusions can be drawn. Plus, it may not be the GLA conferring the benefit at all – the omega-3 fatty acids, which are better known for improving blood pressure and the risks for heart disease, may be solely responsible.

Tuberculosis
Animal studies suggest that guinea pigs fed a diet rich in omega-6 fatty acids were better able to fight this infection than guinea pigs fed a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Whether this would help people with tuberculosis is not known.

Ulcers
Very preliminary evidence from test tube and animal studies suggest that GLA from EPO may have anti-ulcer properties. It is premature to know how this might apply to people with stomach or intestinal ulcers or gastritis (inflammation of the stomach).

Dietary Sources
The American diet provides more than 10 times the needed amount of omega-6 oils in the form of linoleic acid (LA). This is because it comprises the primary oil ingredient added to most processed foods and is found in commonly used cooking oils, including sunflower, safflower, corn, cottonseed, and soybean oils.

Omega-6 fatty acids in the form of gamma linolenic acid (GLA) and LA are found in the plant seed oils of evening primrose, black currant, borage, and fungal oils.

Arachidonic acid (AA) of the omega-6 series is found in egg yolk, meats in general, particularly organ meats, and other animal-based foods.

Available Forms
Omega-6 fatty acids are commercially available in supplemental oils that contain LA and GLA. Spirulina (often called blue-green algae) also contains GLA.

How to Take It
For general health, there should be a balance between omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids; the ratio should be in the range of 1:1 to 4:1; the typical North American diet, however, normally provides ratios from 11:1 to 30:1.

Pediatric

For nursing infants, adequate amounts of essential fatty acids are generally supplied in breast milk if the mother is adequately nourished.

For older children, essential fatty acids should be obtained through the diet. Because it is important to maintain a balance of fatty acids within the body, it may be appropriate to check fatty acid levels before considering supplements for children.

It is important to note that although dietary guidelines as described have been suggested, there are no established therapeutic doses for omega-6 fatty acid supplements in children. Some suggest that EPO 2,000 to 4,000 mg per day may be used safely in children for eczema; research is needed to confirm.

Adult

The recommended dosage for rheumatoid arthritis is 1,400 mg per day of GLA or 3,000 mg of EPO.

For diabetes it is 480 mg per day of GLA.

For breast tenderness or other symptoms of PMS, 3,000 to 4,000 mg of EPO per day is the dose suggested.

For other conditions discussed in Uses, a specific safe and appropriate dose for omega-6 supplements has not yet been established.

Studies have suggested that up to 2,800 mg of GLA per day is well tolerated.

Precautions
Because of the potential for side effects and interactions with medications, dietary supplements should be taken only under the supervision of a knowledgeable healthcare provider.

Omega-6 should not be used if you have a seizure disorder because there have been reports of these supplements inducing seizures.

Borage seed oil, and possibly other sources of GLA, should not be used during pregnancy because they may be harmful to the fetus and induce early labor.

Doses of GLA greater than 3,000 mg per day should be avoided because, at that point, production of AA (rather than DGLA) may increase.

Possible Interactions
If you are currently being treated with any of the following medications, you should not use omega-6 supplements without first talking to your healthcare provider.

Ceftazidime
GLA may increase the effectiveness of ceftazidime, an antibiotic in a class known as cephalosporins, against a variety of bacterial infections.

Chemotherapy for cancer
GLA may increase the effects of anti-cancer treatments, such as doxorubicin, cisplatin, carboplatin, idarubicin, mitoxantrone, tamoxifen, vincristine, and vinblastine.

Cyclosporine
Taking omega-6 fatty acids during therapy with cyclosporine, a medication used to suppress the immune system after an organ transplant, for example, may increase the immunosuppressive effects of this medication and may protect against kidney damage (a potential side effect from this medication).

Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)
Theoretically, use of NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen, together with borage seed oil or other omega-6 fatty acids may counter-act the effects of the supplement. Research in this area is needed to know if this theory is accurate.

Phenothiazines for schizophrenia
Individuals taking a class of medications called phenothiazines (such as chlorpromazine, fluphenazine, perphenazine, promazine, and thioridazine) to treat schizophrenia should not take EPO because it may interact with these medications and increase the risk of seizures. The same may be true for other omega-6 containing supplements.

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Review Date: 4/1/2002
Reviewed By: Participants in the review process include: Ruth DeBusk, RD, PhD, Editor, Nutrition in Complementary Care, Tallahassee, FL; Jacqueline A. Hart, MD, Department of Internal Medicine, Newton-Wellesley Hospital, Harvard University and Senior Medical Editor Integrative Medicine, Boston, MA; Gary Kracoff, RPh (Pediatric Dosing section February 2001), Johnson Drugs, Natick, Ma; Steven Ottariono, RPh (Pediatric Dosing section February 2001), Veteran's Administrative Hospital, Londonderry, NH. All interaction sections have also been reviewed by a team of experts including Joseph Lamb, MD (July 2000), The Integrative Medicine Works, Alexandria, VA;Enrico Liva, ND, RPh (August 2000), Vital Nutrients, Middletown, CT; Brian T Sanderoff, PD, BS in Pharmacy (March 2000), Clinical Assistant Professor, University of Maryland School of Pharmacy; President, Your Prescription for Health, Owings Mills, MD; Ira Zunin, MD, MPH, MBA (July 2000), President and Chairman, Hawaii State Consortium for Integrative Medicine, Honolulu, HI.


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