Wth the meeting of the 10thCongress of the International
Society for the Study of Fatty Acids & Lipidsbeginning from May 26, 2012,
in Vancouver, Canada, where scientists fromacademia and government, and health
professionals would interact, we will getto learn more about the cutting edge
science related to biology of fatty acids.
So, what are fatty
acidsbasically? Chemically, they are carboxylic acid with long hydrocarbon
chains.Literally, they are fats that are important source of fuel to the cells
as theybreak down into ATP providing energy to the heart and skeletal
Fatty acids can
either besaturated (SFA) or unsaturated. Omega-3 fatty acids [that includes
EPA(eicosapentaenoic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), and ALA (alpha-linolenicacid)] and omega-6 fatty
acids are considered essential polyunsaturated fattyacids (PUFA) because they
are required by our body to synthesize prostaglandinsand other physiological
regulators. Health benefits of these fatty acids,especially omega-3, include
reducing inflammation as well as lowering the riskof chronic diseases such as
cardiovascular disease (CVD), coronary heartdisease (CHD), cancer, diabetes,
high cholesterol, and arthritis. They are alsoimportant for cognitive and
behavioral functions. Studies have found low levelsof omega-3 may cause
disorders such as attention-deficit hyperkinetic disorder(ADHD), bipolar
disorder, schizophrenia, and depression.
A recent review study
publishedin the journal Advances in Nutrition,summed up the health benefits of
omega-3 as 'The omega-3 PUFA EPA and DHA areimportant throughout life and are a
dietary necessity found predominantly infish and fish-oil supplements. The
omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA areessential for proper fetal development, and
supplementation during pregnancyhas also been linked to decreased immune responses
in infants includingdecreased incidence of allergies in infants. Omega-3 fatty
acid consumption hasbeen associated with improved cardiovascular function in
terms ofanti-inflammatory properties, and reduced major coronary events'.
Along with omega-3, omega-6
fattyacids help with brain functions. They also look after the bone health,
regulatemetabolism, and stimulate hair and skin growth. Linoleic acid (LA), an
omega-6,is amongst the most important essential fatty acids. LA gets converted
togamma-linoleic acid (GLA) and then to arachidonic acid (AA) in the body. GLA
isthought to actually reduce inflammation. Omega-6 fatty acids, especially
GLA,is useful for health conditions such as ADHD, allergies, high blood
pressure,diabetic neuropathy, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, menopausal
symptoms,and premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
In short, essential fatty acids such as omega-3 and omega-6
areindispensable for normal growth and development and they provide
healthbenefits throughout life. Incidentally, the body cannot make these
essentialfatty acids. So, these must come from dietary sources.
Omega-3 fatty acids can be obtained from foods such as
soybean oil,canola oil, olive oil, sunflower oil, walnut, flaxseed, and fish
such as trout,herring and salmon.
Omega-6 can be obtained from vegetable oils such as soybean
oil, cornoil, safflower oil and other oils mentioned above.
Normally, omega-6 is
plentiful inan average diet. Rather, modern diets have more of omega-6 than
omega-3 andthis imbalance may promote diseases such as asthma, CVD, autoimmune
andneurodegenerative diseases. According to a US study published in the journal
Biomedicine and Pharmacotherapy, 'humanbeings evolved on a diet with a ratio of
omega-6 to omega-3 essential fattyacids (EFA) of approximately 1 (that is,
equal proportion) whereas in Westerndiets the ratio is 15/1-16.7/1'. The
researchers further stated 'A ratio of2.5/1 reduced rectal cell proliferation
in patients with colorectal cancer,whereas a ratio of 4/1 with the same amount of
omega-3 PUFA had no effect. Thelower omega-6/omega-3 ratio in women with breast
cancer was associated withdecreased risk. A ratio of 2-3/1 suppressed
inflammation in patients withrheumatoid arthritis, and a ratio of 5/1 had a
beneficial effect on patientswith asthma, whereas a ratio of 10/1 had adverse
consequences. These studiesindicate that the optimal ratio may vary with the
disease under consideration'.Thus, a lower omega-6 / omega-3 ratio ismore
desirable in order to reduce the risk of chronic diseases.
There is another type
ofunsaturated fatty acid that is currently a hot topic for discussion
-trans-fats. Natural sources of dietary trans-fats are fatty parts of meat
anddairy products. Artificial trans-fats are found in foods that
containhydrogenated oil. Artificial trans-fats are found in margarines and
vegetableshortenings, frozen pizzas, baked goods such as cake, cookies, pie,
and also incoffee creamers, fast food, and other processed foods. According to
the CDC,'Consuming trans-fat increases low-density lipoprotein (LDL,
or"bad") cholesterol contributing to the leading cause of death in
theU.S. - coronary heart disease (CHD). Trans-fat may also have other
adversehealth effects like decreasing high-density lipoprotein (HDL,
facts, the FDArequired mandatory trans-fat labeling on all packaged food and a
few yearslater some states in America
have issued a trans-fat ban and a rule requiringfast food restaurants to post
calorie info on menus. More recently,legislations have been passed banning
trans-fats in schools as well.
The American Heart
Association'sNutrition Committee recommends restricting intake of total fat to
less than25-35 percent of total calories required per day, with saturated fat
intake toless than 7 percent and trans-fat intake to less than 1 percent of
total dailycalories. The Committee suggests that 'remaining fat should come
from sourcesof monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats such as nuts, seeds,
fish andvegetable oils'.
Significant research studies arestill being carried out to know more about the health benefits of fatty acids.In view of this, we await the results of the advances made in fatty acid andlipid research.