A Fishy Dilemma September 12 2014
Fact: Omega-3 and 6 fatty acids are vital for our health.
Myth: To get a good supply of these in your diet, you must eat oily fish or take fish oil supplements on a regular basis.
Fact: Plant-based sources of omega-3 and 6 fatty acids are a healthy alternative, and one of the best is hemp seed oil!
What are Essential Fatty Acids?
Essential fatty acids, or EFAs, are fatty acids that humans must ingest (consume through food) because the body requires them for health but cannot syntesize them.
Two fatty acids are known to be essential to humans: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA, an omega-3 fatty acid) and linoleic acid (LA, an omega-6 fatty acid.
Fun fact! When the two EFAs were discovered in 1923, they were designated "vitamin F", but in 1929, research showed that the two EFAs are better classified as fats than as vitamins.
Alpha-Linoleic Acid (ALA)
Our bodies convert ALA to the longer chain fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Both are essential for good health. They are powerful anti-inflammatory compounds, which is beneficial as inflammation is the cause of many degenerative diseases. EPA & DHA also lower blood pressure and triglycerides, which can reduce the risk of strokes and heart disease.
Interesting studies have shown numerous benefits of including more omega-3 in the diet: increased reading ability in children; decreased risk of post-partum depression for pregnant women; and a reduction in the risk of cancer due to reduced inflammation.
Linoleic Acid (LA)
LA is the precursor to gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). Omega-6 fatty acids are commonly consumed as they are found in cooking oils like soybean, sunflower, and canola, as well as poultry and eggs.
The recommended ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 is 3:1. Problem is, Western diets have an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of 15:1! So, we are told to consume more oily fish such as mackerel, salmon and sardines, or take supplements that contain concentrated amounts of EPA & DHA to boost our omega-3 intake.
Something Smells Fishy
While fish and fish oil supplements are an excellent source EPA and DHA, they are not without health and environmental issues.
1. Our oceans are polluted with toxins like methylmercury, PCB's and dioxins, which the fish absorb first, followed by us. Mercury is particularly dangerous to unborn babies as it prevents the brain and nervous system from developing.
The medical consensus is that the benefits of eating fish far outweigh the risk to human health from these toxins. However to be on the safe side, many people choose to avoid fish and fish oil supplements altogether.
2. Then there is the environmental concern. In 2010, Time Magazine published an article asking, "Is the fatty-acid craze threatening our ecosystem?" They noted that the market for omega-3 supplements doubled to $1 billion US dollars between 2006 - 2010.
Fish oil companies in general deny that they are having an effect on declining fish stocks. However, a Canadian research group argued that the recommended dose of 100 mg of fish oil per day was not sustainable - and would lead to fish stocks collapsing by the middle of the 21st century.
3. Then there is the question of whether it is ethical to kill fish for fish oil at all (not to mention, that many fish oil supplements can be of questionable origin and quality).
So, Is Hemp Seed Oil a Better Alternative?
While EPA & DHA are only found in oily fish, the body can convert ALA to EPA and DHA. The conversion is inefficient - only 2-5%. However, hemp seed oil naturally contains stearidonic acid (SDA) and if taken directly, the conversion to EPA is much better.
Plus, hemp is a source of the rare omega-6 fatty acid, gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), which has many of the health benefits of EPA.
Hemp seed oil contains LA (omega-6) and ALA (omega-3) in the optimum 3:1 ratio for human health.
Sidenote: Flax vs. Hemp
You may have heard that flax contains more ALA than hemp. While true, it does not contain SDA to help the EPA conversion. Many people that try flax oil find it has a strong aftertaste, and it has a short shelf life, needs to be used as quickly as possible after pressing otherwise it turns rancid.
In comparison, hemp has a pleasant nutty taste. It does need to be kept refrigerated to preserve the quality of the oil, but is more robust and doesn't go off as quickly as flax oil.
Just a Spoonful Will Do You
According to the Good Oil Website, a daily dose of 1 tbsp of hemp oil will give you 94% of your recommended allowance of omega-3 and 94% of your recommended daily allowance of omega-6 fatty acids.
Put simply, omega-3 and 6 fatty acids are critical for good health. If you want to avoid fish for any reason, hemp is a fabulous alternative.
Adapted from Natural News