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Fish, Krill, Flax, Oils – Basic Essential Facts

Donald J Reinhardt, April 24, 2017 
A copyrighted Donald Reinhardt Article first and originally published at Suite 101

Omega-3 EPA/DHA Lipids are Proven Nutrients for Heart and Body Health

Studies with humans indicate the value of diets high in fiber and low in saturated fats. This inquiry reviews ideas related to omega-3 oils.

Omega-3 Oils, Oils and Fats – What They Are and How They Look

Lipids fall into 2 distinct triglyceride categories, each with special properties:

  • Fats – glycerol + long chain, saturated (hydrogen-filled) fatty acids
  • Oils – glycerol + long chain, partially saturated, as either mono- or poly- unsaturated (missing 1 or more hydrogens) fatty acids.

Fats are solids at room temperature. Fats are filled completely with hydrogens on each long chain fatty acid. Natural plant oils have fewer hydrogens. Oils are liquids at room temperature. Fatty acids are of 2 basic types: saturated as found in lard, beef, or bacon fat, and unsaturated as expressed in soy, flax, liquid vegetable oils. Unsaturated fatty acids are classified as monounsaturated (e.g., oleic acid in olive oil), or polyunsaturated (e.g., omega 3s).

Omega-3s, as found in krill , fish, and flax oils, are polyunsaturated fatty acids which are essentials for the body and healthy lipid metabolism.

Fish, Krill , Flaxseed, Canola, Soy Oils – Omega-3 Oils Comparisons

Omega-3s are essential fatty acids, i.e., not synthesized by the human body and obtainable only directly from food. Plant omega-3s are 18-carbon acids with 3 double (unsaturated) bonds, and they are converted in animals to omega-3, 20-carbon (eicosapentaenoic, EPA) and 22-carbon (docosahexaenoic, DHA) essential fatty acids.

Wesley Canfield reported in the USDA Newsletter on the Rising evidence of the Value of Omega-3s (2008) . He compared fish oil to flaxseed or canola alpha-linolenic acids plant oils (ALA, or alpha- linolenic acid, is found in flax, canola and soybean oils). The human body converts ALA to EPA, at 7 grams of ALA to1 gram of EPA/DHA. Thus,14 grams (1 tablespoon) of flax oil (50 percent ALA) is needed to give 2 gm of EPA/DHA.

The Dietary Reference recommends ALA consumption of 1.6 and 1.1 grams per day for men and women, respectively. About 1 to 2 grams/day of EPA/DHA should be effective for human health. For vegetarians that is not a problem, if sufficient ALA levels are attained by appropriate plant oil consumption. For omnivores and carnivorous humans, either fish or krill oils, or ALAs, or both, work to promote good lipid balance.

Proven Health Benefits of Omega-3s and Recommendations

Krill oil, or cold-water fish, or their oils, in human and animal diets promotes reduced serum lipid levels and inflammation. Elevated serum lipids and inflammation are both associated with cardiovascular disease risk.

EPA and DHA omega-3s are stored in the tissues of cold-water fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, sardines and even oysters. Cod fish livers contain abundant omega-3s. Scientific evidence indicates that consumption of fish or krill oils reduces risk or intensity of:

  • inflammation
  • poor or bad lipid levels
  • cardiovascular disease
  • asthma
  • some types of cancer
  • type 2 diabetes by promoting normal insulin effectiveness (insulin sensitivity), which helps maintain a normal and healthy body mass.
  • obesity; promotes the loss of body fat

The anti-inflammatory omega-3s reduce the release of white blood cell bioactive chemicals (cytokines). Omega-3s also improves the body’s sensitivity to its own insulin, helps to maintain healthy body weight, and reduces the risk for type 2 diabetes. Consuming about 2 grams of EPA/DHA per day can result in a significant loss of body fat within just two months.

People who consume cold water fish, and limit their input of saturated fats, can improve their lipid profiles. Favorable lipid profiles or reports typically show elevated levels of protective HDLs, and reduced levels of unfavorable LDLs and triglycerides.

Omega-3s, Mediterranean Diets and Other Diets

Mediterranean diets were studied by Dr. Francesco Sofi and associates, who reviewed and assessed: 8 studies for overall mortality, 4 for cardiovascular mortality, 6 for mortality from neoplasm, and 3 for incidence of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. (Adherence to Mediterranean diet and health status: meta-analysis., BMJ Sept 11, 2008;337:a1344, doi: 10.1136/bmj.a1344)

The research team found:

  • a significant reduction in risk for: overall mortality related to heart disease, cancer, Parkinson's and Altzheimer's diseases with increasing adherence to a Mediterranean diet.
  • Mediterranean diets have a beneficial effect for prevention of disease occurrence in industrialized and non-industrialized countries.
  • WHO, American Heart Association, and the U.S. CDC, each encourage people to consume Mediterranean-style diets to reduce risk of the referenced human diseases.

Mediterranean diets, and other diets with similar food varieties, promote overall excellent nutrition and health based upon medical studies. Good health begins with proper nutrition upfront, rather than food supplements and vitamins.

All are encouraged to eat well first, and to use supplements only when necessary. Good health of body and mind is the greatest asset — both should be fed intelligently.

Additional Sources

Castelli, W. P. and G. C. Griffen. 1997. Good Fat Bad Fat. Fisher Books. Tucson, Arizona.