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Essential Fatty Acids - Americas Major Dietary Deficiency
America's major dietary deficiency - EFA a panacea for good health
Today you cannot so much turn a corner without seeing a sign on a fast food restaurant's window boasting the "Low Carb" menu. You cannot read a magazine without seeing an ad for "Adkins friendly" foods. Everyone it seems is preaching the Low Carb Diet. You are told what not to eat in a sentence. "Lower your carbohydrate intake" they say, but no one is emphasizing what you should eat. As there is no such thing as an essential carbohydrate for life, we humans can do just fine without bread, rice and potatoes. However, this food group does provide very cheap and quick fuel and has been used throughout history to nourish armies and feed the masses.
Proteins and fats are "essential" and without some in our diet, humans would perish. So I am going to focus on an important component of the diet, once you have cut your carbs down. The American (for that matter the modern) diet is deficient in fats. Yes, fats. The once blacklisted lambasted substance that dieticians had viewed as the single culprit for obesity is now being viewed as the panacea for good health. There is a nationwide fat intake deficiency. Not any fat mind you as the fast food industry is an ample supplier of the "wrong kinds of fats." I am speaking of the omega-3 fatty acids and since the 1850's dietary intake of these fatty acids has taken a nosedive. The omega-3 Fatty Acids (n-3FA) is a structure different from the n-6 and n-9 FA that we are more prone to find in our French fries and double cheeseburgers. Sources of n-3FA are from animal (fish) salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines, and from plant sources such as Flaxseed and Borage oil.
First and foremost, fatty acids are crucial in fetal development and early childhood development from neonates to adolescence. The brain is mostly comprised of fat and requires fatty acids. In particular docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) as building blocks. When someone calls you a fat-head, take it as a complement. The more dietary fat you take in the better chances you have of developing a health central and peripheral nervous system. Recently companies that manufacture infant formula have added lipids high in DHA, Enfamil LIPIL for example. Studies show that children exposed to higher concentrations of fatty acids in their diet tend to do better scholastically.
The health benefits of Omega Fatty Acids (n-FA) abound. Much research was gathered by studying the Inuit diet with a ratio of n-6:n-3 of 1:2.5 and other cultures (Okinawa, Japan for example) that consumed much of their dietary fat from fish in the 6:1 ratios. The Inuit (Eskimo) diet consisted almost exclusively of meat (there is very little space to grow "greens or grains" in the Arctic) and their meat source was overwhelmingly from the sea. Hence, their intake of rather high ratios of n-3 FA gave them near insusceptibility against cardiovascular disease. Since about the turn of the last century our ratios have changed drastically to that of about 20:1 and as a consequence we suffer a grave n-3 FA deficiency. This dietary state happens to be a pro-inflammatory condition. There are very strong scientifically proven connections between diets low in n-3 FA and higher incidences of a number of diseases. They include cardiovascular disease. Heart attacks and strokes are more common in people not consuming enough of this essential FA. There is even a connection with multiple sclerosis, schizophrenia and depression, and even osteoporosis. Research in the last few years has shown marked improvements in depression with high doses of EFA as the only treatment.
Since the link was made some years ago between inflammation and heart disease, it behooves one to do whatever to reduce the inflammation in our systems, beyond relying on a pill. As inflammation relates to many of the arthritises and degenerative diseases of our bodies, nutritionally minded doctors will often prescribe n-3 FA to their patients to help with the pain and progression of arthritis. There is obviously not enough room in this article to discuss specifics, but the take home message here is this. Of the near fifty know essential nutrients our body needs for survival, the one that has the highest daily requirement is the "essential fatty acids" and the consequences of suffering a deficiency has a major impact on the human body.
JP Saleeby, MD is Assistant Medical Director of LRMC-ED, and CEO of VSN a pharmaceutical grade dietary supplement company (http://www.vitasanus.com). Dr. Saleeby also practices integrative preventive medicine in a telemedicine forum, visit http://www.saleeby.net for more information. He can be reached for comment at [email protected].
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