Capt. Joseph R. Hibbeln, M.D., discusses the importance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and he shares how you can add these healthy fats to your diet.
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The Importance of Omega-3 And Omega-6 Fatty Acids Hi. I am Dr. Joseph Hibbeln. I am a Captain in the United States Public Health Service and I am the acting chief on the Section of Nutritional Neurosciences at the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. And I am a psychiatrist and a lipid biochemist and something of an epidemiologist. Omega 3 fatty acids are critical bioactive molecules that selectively concentrate in the brain and have profound effects in all parts of the body, but especially in the immune system and in cardiovascular health. Now these are remarkable fatty acids, especially for the fact that they cannot be made by the human body; we have to get them from our diet. So the balance of omega-3 fatty acids versus omega-6 fatty acids alters the composition of our brains, alters the composition of baby’s brains during development, and alters the potential for the immune system to over-react. There’s two sources of omega-3 fatty acids in the diet really – marine fatty acids which have long chains, EPA and DHA, and these are the really biologically active fatty acids. They come from fish oils, from fish flesh and generally from the sea. Another source is shorter chain fatty acids that are 18 carbons long that come from flax oil. Now there’s a problem with trying to get all of your needs from the flax oil and the short chained fatty acids because not all women and not all people can convert the short chain fatty acids to the long chain fatty acids. And as well the enzymes that are needed for conversion are in most US and North American diets, blocked and overwhelmed by the competing omega-6 fatty acids. These omega-6 fatty acids now constitute about eight or nine percent of all the calories in the US diet, but during evolution there were only about one to one-half percent of all the calories. These omega-6 fatty acids support high levels of arachidonic acid. An arachidonic acid is a really bioactive molecule that promotes and initiates inflammatory processes. When you take aspirin, ibuprofen, Celebrex, Viox, you are trying to inhibit the conversion of arachidonic acid to its inflammatory components. But the original source of the arachidonic acid is from the diet and is from the flood of soybean oil in the U.S. diet. So I sometimes make an analogy of the $10 billion drug industry that’s developed to put a finger in the dike to stop arachidonic acid from coming out, whereas we should think about instead of putting a finger in the dike, draining the lake behind the dike and eating less omega-6 fatty acids. When people eat less omega-6 fatty acids down back to evolutionary levels, they can make huge increases in their body’s omega-3 fatty acids. That is, you can make them for free. If you switch from soybean oil to high oleic safflower oil, high oleic sunflower oil and olive oil especially, these are all monounsaturated fats, you free up the enzymes for conversion and you make EPA and DHA for free.
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