A look at omega fatty acids

DEBATE ABOUT omega fatty acids has increased over the last decade. While separating fact from myth can be frustrating, let’s attempt to do just that.

What are omega fatty acids?

Contrary to popular belief, fat has important biological functions, from making up the basic structure of our cells to storing energy. But some fats are good for us, while others are not. Saturated fats often come from animal sources. An excess of saturated fats is bad for us, in part because they raise our bad LDL cholesterol, clog our arteries and cause heart attacks and strokes.

On the other hand, unsaturated fats, which include monounsaturated fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), are generally considered healthier. Omega fatty acids refer to a whole family of PUFAs: omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids. (It’s a little complicated, but the numbers refer to the fatty acid’s chemical makeup.)

Trans fats, incidentally, are unsaturated fats that have been partially hydrogenated. They’re found in deep-fried foods and other products, and are at least as artery-clogging as saturated fats.

Where do omega fatty acids come from?

Nature provides a bounty of sources of fatty acids. Here’s a short list:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids: flaxseed, fish oils
  • Omega-6 fatty acids: vegetable oils such as corn, sunflower, soybean, evening primrose, and borage and blackcurrant seed oils
  • Omega-9 fatty acids: olive oil

How can this food chemistry lesson help me improve my health?

In general, people who consume higher amounts of omega-3s are healthier because they have fewer problems with a variety of maladies, including plaque in their arteries, heart attacks, high blood pressure, macular degeneration, depression, menopausal symptoms, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis symptoms and some types of infections.

There is currently some controversy over the beneficial effects and even the safety of omega-6s, given that the typical North American diet is often too high in omega-6.

Typically, you can consume 10 to 30 times more omega-6 than beneficial omega-3, and while there is no consensus on what a healthy ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 is, consuming more omega-3 helps balance out the ratio. Increasing your intake of omega-3 by eating more fish can potentially expose you to
some of the toxins found in the fish, such as mercury, PCBs and dioxin, but quality supplements bearing a Natural Product Number have had those toxins removed or reduced to within Health Canada safety limits.

CHRONIC HEALTH CONDITIONS Leaky Gut

Leaky gut is the root cause of many chronic health conditions—including food allergies and autoimmune disease—as it allows unwanted organisms and larger antigenic moieties into the bloodstream. This causes the immune system to “react” to these foreign invaders, as it assumes these particles are dangerous and creates antibodies against them. This can also lead to a situation where different foods set off an immune reaction every time they are eaten. These antibodies may also attack cells in the body that are structurally similar to the unwanted antigens.

Autoimmune diseases include psoriasis, eczema, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, lupus, Crohn’s and inflammatory bowel disease, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, diabetes type 1, rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, autoimmune hepatitis, ankylosing spondylitis, pernicious anemia, Sjögren’s syndrome, and multiple sclerosis. To prevent and manage these conditions, it is important to fix the gut.

1) Remove the potential causes of the leaky gut or damage to the intestinal lining. Such things include a long list: alcohol, caffeine, parasites, bacteria, chemical food additives, inadequate chewing, excessive fluid with meals, enzyme deficiencies, refined carbohydrates, processed food, prescription hormones such as birth control pills, medications, fungus or mold, mercury amalgams and other dental toxics, gluten (a protein found in wheat and other grains), and stress.

2) Replace all the enzymes necessary for the digestion of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats, including protease, cellulose, and lipase, strengthening the system and improving overall digestive function.

3) Reinoculate with probiotics or friendly bacteria such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium to help restore the proper bacterial balance in the gut. Bifidobacteria should predominate in the small intestine while Lactobaccilli should be the predominant species in the colon.

4) Repair the intestinal lining to prevent further damage. Fortunately, if the offending substances are removed and other nutrients are added, new intestinal cells can emerge, tightening the junctions and repairing the leaky gut condition.

Tazorac Help on Psoriasis

The hereditary skin disorder known as psoriasis produces red, scaly skin patches. There is no cure. A new non-greasy gel may provide some patients the best results yet.

As her children grow up, Charlotte Vaughan wonders whether they, too, will suffer from psoriasis. Charlotte was 17 when the unsightly patches surfaced. “It gets scaly and sometimes itchy. Just having the bumps themselves is kind of embarrassing,” she says.

Charlotte isn’t embarrassed anymore. Her psoriasis has almost disappeared with the help of a new topical gel called Tazorac. “It took two weeks to see some results,” says Charlotte. “About two or three days after that they were gone.”

Fourteen-year-old Evan Hawkins had similar results. “It’s really great. It’s helped me a lot,” he says.

Doctors say this vitamin A derivative works by targeting abnormal skin cell growth, which causes psoriasis. This picture was taken before treatment. After eight weeks of Tazorac, the patches and inflammation are almost gone.

Alan Menter, M.D., is a dermatologist at Baylor Psoriasis Center in Dallas, Tex. “The majority of patients, over 80 percent, will get significant improvement in their psoriasis,” he says.

Unlike other treatments, Tazorac is applied only once a day. There is a side effect, however. Doctors say too much can irritate the surrounding skin.

Yet, Dr. Mentor says, “As compared to all the other preparations we’ve had to put on the skin, this seems to work for a longer period of time.” For Charlotte, it’s kept her psoriasis manageable longer.

Tazorac runs $60 to $75 for a month’s supply. It has also been FDA-approved for the treatment of acne.

The future holds good news for psoriasis patients

Psoriasis affects between 6 million and 7 million Americans, and while it is a condition of the skin, it leaves the patients with emotional issues due to the change in their appearance. The condition presents itself as raised, thickened patches of red skin covered in silvery-white scales. It can affect any part of the body including the nails and the scalp.

In addition to the creams that have long been available to treat the condition, the FDA has recently approved a foam called clobetasol propionate. In this form, it can penetrate the skin easily and is not as messy as many of the other medications. The medication has been found especially useful in treating the scalp, the upper torso and the extremities.

While most topical creams used to treat psoriasis have been corticosteroids, a new variety of non-steroidal creams are now available. These include Tazarotene, a cream made from vitamin A that has until recently only been available as a gel. Also, topical immunomodulators such as tacrolimus ointment are showing success in treating psoriasis on the face and other sensitive areas.

Finally, two drugs that have been used to treat Crohn’s disease, remicade and etanercept, are proving effective in treating psoriasis. These interfere with specific immune responses and have fewer side effects than other similar drugs.

The latest developments in psoriasis therapies are really a positive step forward in finding innovative ways to treat this chronic skin condition.

SOURCE: American Academy of Dermatology Summer Scientific Meeting in New York, July 31-Aug. 4, 2002

Psoriasis

A common skin disorder that affects 2 percent of the population, psoriasis is characterized by thick patches of raised, reddish skin that is covered by what looks like silvery-white scales. In this condition, the body products new skin cells at a much faster rate than normal; however, the old skin cells on the surface are shed at a slower, more normal rate. Because of this, the cells beneath the surface of the skin accumulate and form thick patches, while the “scale” on top are actually unshed dead skin cells. These patches, which typically appear on the scalp, elbows, knees, and lower back, often itch and may crack and bleed.

Although psoriasis is not contagious, it generally occurs in members of the same family. Flare-ups are followed by periods of healing, although the condition never disappears. The duration and severity of the cases range – some are so mild that people don’t even realize they have the condition, while others are so severe the patches may cover large areas of the body. The cause of psoriasis is not known, although breakouts can be triggered by stress, infections, overexposure to the sun, and alcohol abuse. Medications, including beta blockers and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), are other possible triggers.

Psoriasis is not curable, but it is treatable. Keeping this condition under control requires lifelong therapy. Treatments, which can be recommended by a healthcare professional, will vary depending on the severity of the condition.

Supplements to treat psoriasis

• B-complex vitamins
• Copper
• Dandelion – If you have gallstones or obstructed bile ducts, consult your doctor before taking.
• EPA/DHA (fish oil)
• Evening primrose oil
• Glucosamine
• Methylsulfonyl-methane (MSM)
• Milk thistle
• Probiotics
• Taurine
• Tea tree oil – Do not ingest or use in ears, eyes, or other mucous membranes.
• Vitamin A and mixed carotenoids
• Vitamin C
• Vitamin D