NEWSLETTER 13 - 2 : The Role of Essential Fatty Acids                       (Edited: 9/14/03. Updated: 10/9/09) 

Brain Function
Cell Membrane integrity
Blood Fluidity
Inflammation and Immunity


In The News

February 3, 2006: Prostate Cancer Risk of Omega-6 EFAs excess

"Omega-6 fats accelerate in vitro prostate cancer cell growth, study findings reported in the journal Cancer Research show"

Bakery and Snacks.com

Cancer Research 66,1427-1433, February 1,2006

February 26, 2008: "A deadly Ignorance"

     A Deadly Ignorance is the title of a front page article in the San Diego Union Tribune describing the risk factors

     for deep-vein thrombosis and a deadly lung embolism. That article completely IGNORES that the prevalence of

    thrombosis in our society results from the excess of omega-6 essential fatty acids in our diet.


Research on Essential Fatty Acids

Since more than twenty years, the interest of research has shifted from fat to Essential Fatty acids (EFAs). The low fat diet is no longer a subject of study, except for its negative consequences on health.

In research, the emphasis is now on the preventive and curative effect of a healthy balance of EFAs in the diet.

Actual research is oriented toward the role of the n-3 EFAs deficiency in the diet emphasizes the great potential of a n-3 EFAs supplementation in restoring health and preventing diseases. It takes years before breakthroughs in research permeate into the daily practice of health professionals and become available for the public. Exceptions are products or procedures covered by profitable patents, pushed by the patent holders. There can be no patent on any advice or diet concerning essential fatty acids. This is why the abundant and conclusive research on n-3 EFAs remained until very recently largely ignored, while many health authorities still promote the obsolete low fat diet.

However, a change is perceptible and it occurs at the highest levels.
Three milestones mark the road of this evolution :

The First Milestone : The Cloister Workshop

In 1999 the National Institute of Health (NIH) started sponsoring conferences on the role of the n-3EFAs in health and diseases.

From this web page, courtesy of the NIH, you have direct access to the videos of the NIH conferences covering the topic.

The Second Milestone : The Harvard Review

The second milestone came three years later. The second milestone is the publication November 2002 in the JAMA, the official journal of the American Medical Association, of an article by two professors of the Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health. ( Read the abstract )

That article concludes that :

(Quote)"Compelling evidence from metabolic studies, prospective cohort studies, and clinical trials in the past several decades indicates that at least 3 dietary strategies are effective in preventing H&VD: substitute non hydrogenated unsaturated fats for saturated and trans-fats; increase consumption of omega-3 fatty acids from fish, fish oil supplements, or plant sources; and consume a diet high in fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains and low in refined grain products However, simply lowering the percentage of energy from total fat in the diet is unlikely to improve lipid profile or reduce the incidence of heart and vascular disease."(End Quote)

It is worth mentioning that in its last sentence the conclusion also kills the low fat diet myth.

This publication in a leading journal and coming from a prestigious university means something more than it had any right to mean. It is a U-turn in medical teaching, and it is the reflection of a time. A time where the medical profession has to awake out of its pharmaceutical and profitable dreams to the reality of human biochemistry.

To prevent or treat a disease it makes sense to correct errors in the diet, to supply our biochemistry with the molecules it needs, and to avoid the molecules that can harm. It makes more sense to do so than to use pharmaceutical to try to erase what results from diet excess and deficiency. The correction of diet excess and deficiency reestablishes the conditions to which our biochemistry and the biochemistry of our human ancestors has been fine tuned during hundreds of thousands of years.

The Third Milestone : A Prompt Letter from the Office of Management And Budget from The Executive Office of The President

May 28, 2003, The Office of Management And Budget (OMB) from The Executive Office of The President published for immediate release prompt letter 2003-13. (What is a prompt letter?)

The document urged the Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Agriculture (USDA) to revise the nation's dietary guidelines to include new information that omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD), while trans fatty acids may increase the risk of CHD.

"Health researchers have found that Americans can significantly reduce the risk of heart disease with a modest change in their diets. The government should make this life-saving information as widely available as possible," said Dr. John Graham, Administrator of OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA).

In the letter, the OMB recommends that HHS and USDA modify the Dietary Guidelines and Food Guide Pyramid, the cornerstones of the government's nutritional information. The Dietary Guidelines affect the content of more than 25 million school lunches, while the Food Guide Pyramid appears on many food products, providing consumers with an outline of what to eat each day. Revised every five years, the Dietary Guidelines are scheduled to be updated in 2005. The Food Guide Pyramid has not been updated since 1992. Read the letter (The loading may take some time and requires The Adobe Acrobat Reader available for free.)

Research on the structural and functional role of essential fatty acids has completely turned upside down the prevalent opinion on fat in food.

Over the last twenty years, research has demonstrated that EFAs :
Are indispensable for cell membranes to achieve their various tasks
Have a fundamental role in brain structure and function
Are the sole building blocks we use to produce the hormones prostaglandins, that (among other things) :
   - Regulate inflammation, coagulation and immunity
   - Reduce blood cholesterol and triglycerides

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Fatty Acids in Nerve, Brain, and Eye

Fatty acids account for a large percent of nerve, brain and eye cell membranes. EFAs have a structural and functional role in nerve, brain and eye cell membranes. It as recently been discovered that an EFA deficiency may well be involved in several nerve, brain and eye diseases from until now ill defined origin.

There are two critical periods for the acquisition of n-3 EFAs (by the cell membranes): during the fetal development and after birth until the biochemical development of brain and retina is completed.

William E. Connor. Importance of n-3 fatty acids in health and disease. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2000,71 (suppl):171s-5s.

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Fatty Acids in Cell Membranes

Cell membranes are not as a plastic wrap insulating cells from their surrounding. On the contrary, cell membranes are the communication media between cells and their surrounding.

Cell membranes are made of fatty acids. The basic structure of a cell membrane, its skeleton, is made of two layers of fatty acids attached two by two by a phophorus containing molecule. Two fatty acids and the phophorus molecule form a phospholipid molecule. Phospholipids constitute 65 percent of the cell membranes, and of the membranes of the internal cell vesicles.

Parts of the cell membranes continuously from little bags that engulf exterior molecules and penetrate in the depth of the cell. Other little bags continuously pop up from the cell depth, and release their content by opening on the surface of the cell, incorporating their own membrane in the cell membrane.

Embedded in the phospholipid layers are numerous molecules with each a specific role: Proteins acting as filters or pumps for molecules entering or exiting the cell. Glucoproteins for reception of messenger molecules and for identification of the cell, and groups of cholesterol molecules for membrane's fluidity.

For more information on the complexity of a cell membrane, please read the text and see the illustration of cell membranes published by Gwen V. Childs, Ph.D. in the web page of the Cell Biology Graduate Program from the University of Texas Medical Branch.

The two phospholipid layers of cell membranes also contain EFAs. Without them, cell functions are compromised.

In short :

the quality of a cell's life and its capacity to fulfill its function closely depends on the quality of its membrane that in turn depends on the variety of EFAs it contains.

The EFAS and the other fatty acids in cell membranes are subject to an intense turnover, with direct consequences for health should the supply of the appropriated EFAs come to dwindle.

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Blood Cholesterol and Triglycerides

It is through their participation in cell membrane structure and function that n-3 EFAs regulate cholesterol and triglyceride levels. (More)

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Regulation of Coagulation, Inflammation and Immunity

EFAs are the sole raw material for the production of prostaglandins, the hormones that among other things regulate inflammation, coagulation and immunity.

Prostaglandins come in two categories.

The prostaglandins from the first category increase blood coagulation, a very useful process if you cut your finger. The prostaglandins from the first category also stimulate inflammatory processes, again very useful when needed, and they initiate and maintain immune reactions.

The prostaglandins from the second category balance the effect of the prostaglandins from the first group. The prostaglandins from the second group maintain blood fluidity, reduce inflammation, and slow down the immune response.

One can say that the prostaglandins from the first group are the accelerators while the prostaglandins from the second group are the brakes.

Our biochemistry synthesizes the prostaglandins through a line of intermediate products. The prostaglandins of the first category are made with n-6 EFAs and the prostaglandins of the second category are made from n-3 EFAs exclusively.

The two synthesis lines utilize the same enzyme sets, the "elongase" and the "Desaturase" enzymes sets. (Figure 1)

One may compare the two prostaglandins synthesis lines to two parallel production lines in a factory, utilizing the same tools and machines to produce from two sources products with opposed properties.

production lines

Figure 1 :
Presentation of the two prostaglandin production lines.
The names of the enzymes are in italic. Arrows indicate the direction of the enzymatic reaction.
The two prostaglandins production lines compete for the same elongase and desaturase enzymes.

As in a factory, the productivity of the prostaglandin lines depends on the supply of raw material. The line with the most abundant supply of essential fatty acids (n-6 for one line and n-3 for the other) shall monopolize most enzymes and produce more prostaglandins.

Furthermore, should the availability of raw material become more abundant for the line that until then had a lesser supply of it, it may take some time before the enzymes like the machines and the tools in the factory of our example, are all switched from one production line to the other and become fully operative.

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1 - Cell Membrane function
2 - Brain growth, brain performance
3 - Blood coagulation and fluidity,
4 - Inflammation and immunity.
5 - Blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels,

Closely depend on :

a - Our capacity to process essential fatty acids (elongation and desaturation)
b - The n-6 and n-3 EFAs supply and the n-6 to n-3 ratio in the diet

Any disturbance in the EFA processing capacity and any imbalance in their supply alter cell and brain functions, alters blood coagulation, inflammation, immunity, blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

What is the best n-6 to n-3 ratio and w hat is the n-6 to n-3 ratio in  Our Diet?

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