Monday, March 07, 2011

Essential fatty Acids (EFAs) interview, Natural Products Marketplace magazine, January, 2011

The awareness of EFAs, especially the Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, is large and growing larger. The accumulating mountain of evidence and the endorsement by popular health “gurus” assures continued growth in this important product category. As the benefits of specific fatty acids for regulation of various healthy body functions – such as inflammatory processes, hormonal health, and maintaining brain/nerve/cellular structures – becomes even more well known, more and more people recognize the potential for EFAs to positively affect their health.

While there are combination products that deliver Omega-3, Omega-6, and Omega-9 fatty acids together, the focus has been more on specific sources such as fish or flax, along with some more unusual ones. Of course, natural oil sources are not comprised of a single fatty acid. For example, natural fish oil can not only supply EPA and DHA but also originally supplies ALA, cholesterol, triglycerides, and other fatty acids; though many of these components can be removed during processing to provide purer and stronger materials that are richer in EPA and DHA to require far fewer capsules to reach desired levels of these two fractions. Flax oil is best known as a vegetarian source of the omega-3 fatty acid ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), but ALA levels are only about 55% of the total; flax oil also contains about 19% omega-9 as oleic acid, 14% omega-6 as linoleic acid, and 12% saturated fats. The conversion of ALA to EPA is a significant metabolic hurdle. Women do this conversion better than men; people who consume the most omega-6 in their diets have a more difficult time converting ALA to EPA. Typically between 5% and 15% of ALA converts to EPA and about 2% to 5% of ALA converts to DHA, making flax a much more dilute and less certain source of EPA-DHA.

Fish oil is subject to environmental concerns related to both sustainability and contaminants. Manufacturers audit their suppliers and set strict identity/safety specifications to assure the quality of products.

Most fish oils are molecularly distilled to remove contaminants, manufactured under strict quality assurance standards, and screened to be free of potentially harmful levels of contaminants and heavy metals, such as mercury, PCB’s, dioxins, and others.

Other types of EFAs include Flax seed oil, Evening Primrose Oil, Pumpkin seed oil, Black Currant seed oil, Wheat Germ oil, Castor Oil, and Virgin Coconut Oil.

Purity, potency, and freshness are always the challenges with EFAs.

The trend is toward more concentrated products of higher purity that allow people to get their EPA and DHA with smaller quantities of capsules or less volume of liquid. Liquids and smaller capsule sizes allow more children and seniors to enjoy the benefits of fish oils, while high strength capsules better hit the main demographic in between.

All fish oil supplements are typically hundreds of times safer than eating a serving of fish in relation to environmental factors; and typical esterified products have the added benefit of being free of cholesterol and triglycerides, which are undesirable food components for those with high cholesterol. By far, most of the studies proving the health benefits of supplemental fish oils have been with the esterified (ethyl ester) form, rather than the triglyceride form found in cold water fatty fish. There is very strong science supporting the use of this form.

Esterified fish oils also have been shown to sustain human serum levels better than the triglyceride form, over both a 24-hour period and a one-month period, which better supports a healthy heart rhythm. Notably, the most concentrated products are available only as esterified fatty acids. The ability of a consumer to get the 1-3 grams daily of EPA + DHA recommended by many health experts is enhanced by modern formulas that concentrate these essential fatty acids into fewer capsules and smaller serving sizes with fewer undesirable components, thus increasing customer compliance with a healthy nutritional protocol.

Both triglyceride and esterified ethyl ester fish oils are available in the marketplace, and both forms have their advocates. In the body, both forms must first be digested, stripping off the triglycerides or ethyl esters and leaving only free fatty acids that can be readily absorbed. These free fatty acids are then combined with triglycerides present in the liver before entering general circulation; so the circulating form will actually be the triglyceride form, no matter which form of fish oil one consumes. Both forms provide great value and important nutrients for the consumer; but the triglyceride form has no more proven value than the ethyl ester form, despite some excessive marketing claims.

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