by: Ashley Colombe
Downhome Magazine - March 2008
Learning about Omega-3 fatty acids, and why fish and seal oils are more important to our diet now than they were a century ago.
Take a stroll down any supermarket aisle and you will see plenty of evidence that there are “fatty acids” heralded as “essential” for good health. The amazing powers
Of the “Omega-3,” as they’re termed, are emblazoned in bright, bold letters on everything from milk cartons to yogurt containers to pet food boxes. Three decades ago, though, little was known about these nutrients that now enrich our manufactured food supply and are sold as supplements.
In the early 1970’s, scientists were determined to find out how the Inuit people of Greenland had evaded the cardiovascular problems that plagued the western world. Throughout the United States and Canada, many people were stricken with high blood pr4essure, blood clots and heart disease. Yet despite consuming a diet high in fat (mostly from fish and seal meat), the Greenland Inuit were relatively free of such afflictions. The key to their good health, scientists found, was in the effects of Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are highly concentrated in marine oils.
Since this discovery, the medical community has produced thousands of studies proving their health benefits. Perhaps not surprisingly, the research shows that with the modernization of society and our tendency to eat more processed foods, the rate of diet-related disease has risen in concert with these changes.
Striking a Balance
Part of the problem is that the modern diet has created an imbalance between two types of essential fatty acids. When our ancestors consumed natural foods, Omega-6 essential fatty acids (found in vegetable oils) and Omega-3 essential fatty acids were in near-perfect balance. Since we began relaying on processed foods, however, we’ve tipped the scales drastically in favour of the Omega-6 variety.
In his book: Omega-3: The Seal Connection, Dr. Cosmas Ho explains, “The relationship of equivalence between the two Omegas is critical because they self-check each other in a delicate balance to regulate thousands of metabolic functions.” A general practitioner in Newfoundland for more than 40 years, Dr. Ho has been studying Omega-3since the early 1990’s.
He says some experts suggest that modern food trends have most people consuming Omega-6 in volumes up to 30 times the amount of Omega-3, a problem that he and thousands of other medical professionals agree is responsible for a myriad of illnesses.
“Nearly every biologic function is somehow interconnected with the delicate balance of Omega-3 and Omega-6,” Dr. Ho writes. He also explains that this shift is harming our bodies’ control of inflammation, cardiovascular health allergic reactivity, immune responses, hormone modulation, IQ and even behaviour.
Take a look at the ailments contributed to by lack of sufficient Omega-3
The Omega-3’s include Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These act to reduce inflammation, lower the risk of blood clots, promote growth and development in infants, and d support brain functions. Another essential fatty acid, alpha linolenic acid (ALA – found in high doses in flaxseeds) can be converted to EPA and DHA once ingested. (Some medical professionals warn that this conversion is not a sufficient source of Omega-3. Read more on this below.)
The Best Food Sources of Omega-3
before purchasing products that claims to be “enriched with Omega-3.” Carefully read the label. If you’re interested in consuming EPA and DHA directly, make sure these acronyms are listed in the ingredients. Many products that are fortified with OPmega-3 list ALA as an ingredient, which, says, Dr. Ho, is not the most efficient way to reap their benefits.
In his book, he states that the bodies of elderly people and individuals who aren’t completely healthy have difficulty converting ALA to EPA and DHA. Furthermore, Dr. Ho states, an overabundance of Omega-6 (which most average people have) may inhibit the conversion.
He also warns that some companies vie for our money by claiming their products are not only a great source of Omega-3, but also of Omegas 6 and 9 – a 3-for-1 deal. Sounds great doesn’t it? But Dr. Ho says offering this is ridiculous, as the body produces Omega-9 on its own and it is well documented that we already consume far too much Omega-6.
Because the body cannot produce its own Omega-3, Dr. Ho says we must consciously choose foods (or take supplements) that will replenish our supply. Below are some of the main sources of Omega-3 fatty acids to consider implementing into your diet. Before changing your diet or taking supplements, however, seeks the advice of a medical professional to determine what sources and doses of Omega-3 are right for you.
Seeds and Nuts
Whether sprinkled on toast or taken as an oil supplement, many people consume flax in an effort to boost their daily Omega-3 intake. Flax is the common source of Omega-3 in many of the fortified products sold in supermarkets. Walnuts are also high in Omega-3. If you don’t fancy eating seeds or nuts daily, both also come in the form of oil, which can be used to make healthy salad dressings.
Both flax and walnuts contain ALA, the fatty acid our bodies must convert to DHA and EPA before we can reap the benefits. Many experts argue that consuming ALA in an inferior method of increasing our Omega-3 intake. “Humans may be unable to convert enough ALA to achieve optimum levels,” notes Dr. Ho.” Nonetheless, eating foods high in ALA is better than not receiving any Omega-3 fatty acids at all.”
Some of the best sources of essential fatty acids don’t come in brightly coloured packages with “Omega-3” stamped boldly on it. Instead, suggests Dr. Ho, they are found at the fish counter. With 2.5g of EPA and DHA per 100g serving, mackerel is one of the best fish sources of Omega-3. Salmon, herring, tuna and cod also pack a powerful punch. Health Canada recommends two Food Guide servings of fish each week. Krill, shrimp-like crustaceans near the bottom of the food chain, are another potent source of Omega-3.
When researchers traveled to Greenland to uncover the secret of the Inuit population’s lack of cardiovascular problems, their regular consumption of seal meat was found to be a major factor in their remarkable health. Seal meat contains 4.5g of EPA, DHA and DPA (another healthful Omega-3 fatty acid found in large quantities only in seal meat and human breast milk.)That’s nearly double the amount of Omega-3 contained in mackerel and other fish species. And Dr. Ho believes that seal meat and seal oil are superior sources of Omega-3 for other reasons.
“Fish are cold-water animals; seal is mammal – mankind are mammals,” said Dr. Ho during a recent interview with Downhome. He pointed out that like humans, seals filter out many natural impurities found in the fish they eat. “They digest it for us and manufacture it for us.” Dr. Ho also believes seal oil is a superior source of Omega-3 due to its lack of Omega-6, which most people need to reduce dramatically. There are trace amounts of Omega-6 in seal oil, but quantities are doubled, tripled or even quadrupled in flax and fish sources of Omega-3; definitely not an efficient way to restore balance, says Dr. Ho.
His company, Newfoundland Health Foods Corp, was the first to manufacture edible seal oil capsules. And Dr. Ho has been dubbed the “father of seal oil” for his belief in its benefits.
Purchase Dr. Ho's Premium Grade Seal Oil or Marine Oil capsules directly from his website