Omega Fatty Acids: #1 Getting to Balance

April 15, 2009

Omega Fatty Acids: #1  Getting to Balance 

 Competency # 13  Fats                      Reference: Minireview, Center for Genetics, Nutr and Health, 2008 

 What on earth are omega fatty acids?  What is the difference between omega-3s and omega-6s?  Where can I get them?  Why are they important?   We all need to know the answers to these questions.  Omega fatty acids might be one of your most important food types.  Getting to balance is a theory suggesting that many of our diseases of modern day medicine have their root in the lack of balance.  Could that be true?  

Let’s explore the evidence.  I suspect this is the beginning of a very interesting story that will continue to unfold. First of all, what are they?  Key Concept #1:  Omega fatty acids are otherwise referred to as PUFAs (Poly Unsaturated Fatty Acids).  They have many unsaturated double bonds.  Regular fats that make up your cell walls are fully saturated, like long and straight pencils.   A box of pencils packs tightly and firmly.  They have no “double bonds” in their carbon skeleton.  A double bond makes the fat unsaturated and bent.  Many double bonds make it “poly” unsaturated and really bent.    When you get to five double bonds the fatty acid is crooked as a corkscrew.  That makes them super liquid.  Liquid fats make for rapid motion of the imbedded proteins.  You want that.  

When you add those bent shapes to a membrane, you mess up the orderly straight structure.  Like adding a bent nail to a box of pencils, the pencils no longer pack tightly.  Instead they become more fluid and roll around a lot.   As an example: beef suet is saturated fats all lined up in a row.  It’s solid at room temperature.  Corn oil, a solution of omega-6 fatty acids, is liquid at room temperature because all the bent molecules make the molecules roll off each other and flow easily. Where do we get omega fatty acids?.  

Key Concept # 2: You have to get them from your diet and your diet only.   You can’t make them.  Oh dear.  You can make your own proteins based on your DNA patterns and the meat you eat.  Your body digests the protein down to its little pieces called amino acids, and you reassemble those amino acids into your own proteins.  Same thing happens with sugars and saturated fats.  But omega fats play a unique little niche role.  You can’t make your own.  You depend on your diet to get them in adequate amounts.  Like vitamins, you depend on an outside source.  

Where is that source?  Green plants only.  In the ocean, blue-green algae are eaten by fish.  On land, grass is eaten by animals. 

 Key Concept # 3: Our diet in the last 150 years has changed dramatically.  Throughout human history, we ate a diet that had 3-7% of our calories coming from omega fatty acids.  The omega-3 family was balanced by the omega-6 family in a ratio of about 1: 1.    Because we no longer eat meat raised on grass (a great source of omega-3) our meat has changed, and because we get abundant omega-6s in the form of cheap, mass-produced vegetable oil, (a great source of omega- 6s,) our dietary ratio has changed dramatically.   Instead of 1:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3, our current ratio is now about 15:1.  As the “junk food” in your diet increases, your ratio increases.  Some folks have a 50:1 ratio. 

 WWW: What will work for me.  I’m thinking about how much fried food and vegetable oil I eat.  I’m trying to learn whether a balance is important.  I think it is.

The column was written by Dr. John E. Whitcomb, MD, Brookfield Longevity, Brookfield, WI, (262784-5300)