Wednesday, February 13, 2008

There's Nothing Fishy about Flaxseed Oil

Flaxseed oil is mother nature's richest source of essential fatty acids, containing an impressive 57% alphalinolenic acid and 17% linoleic acid. This profile provides an optimal balance of the Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, well suited for human bio-chemistry.

The essential fats, as found in flaxseed oil and fatty acids found in marine animals, have proven effective in the treatment, prevention, and alleviation of many health maladies as validated by numerous scientific studies. Areas of interest include:

  • High cholesterol levels,
  • Prevention of strokes and heart attacks,
  • Angina,
  • High blood pressure,
  • Arthritis,
  • Multiple sclerosis,
  • Psoriasis and eczema,
  • Cancer prevention and treatment.

Despite potential hazards associated with fish oil supplementation, these products are frequently recommended for the above conditions.

Many leading health and nutrition authorities believe flaxseed oil holds numerous advantages over traditional fish oil therapy. Potency, purity, reliability and price are reasons cited for their sentiments.

Fish oils have been highly touted for their high percentage of Omega-3 fatty acids and their active component, eicosapantaonic acid (EPA). Yet organic flaxseed oil contains two times the amount of Omega-3 fatty acids as do fish oils. EPA, in human and animal studies, has been found to be reliably metabolically converted from the alpha linolenic acid found in flaxseed oil. In addition, fish oils are completely devoid of the complementary Omega-6 fatty acids. Fish oils do contain, however, arachidonic acid, a precursor to a hormone-like substance that is known to worsen symptoms of ailments associated with pain, inflammation and swelling.

Equally as important as potency is purity. Practically all sources of fish are now known to contain chemical contaminants. The cancer causing pesticide, DDT, has been reported in deep water fishes in areas as remote as the Arctic. These dangerous compounds are fat soluble and stored in concentrated amounts in lipids found in fish. While farm bred fish may seem a solution, they contain still lower percentages of the beneficial Omega-3 fatty acids and may be raised on pesticide laden meal. In comparison, organic flax crops are meticulously cared for, according to strict, third party, organic farming standards. The care and consideration invested in high quality flaxseed oil does not stop here. Reputable brands should be contained in light resistant (opaque) containers and mechanically expeller pressed without the destructive effects of light, heat and oxygen at temperatures below 98 degrees F (body temperature). In contrast, the manufacturing methods employed by the majority of fats and oils producers, including those of fish oils, permanently damage the delicate polyunsaturated bonds fatty acids contain. The resultant "trans-fatty acids" wreak havoc on the human body.

Further, fish oils are typically contained in light permeable bottles and maintained at room temperature for prolonged periods until sold - an interesting concept, considering that the more highly polyunsaturated nature of fish oils causes them to be much more reactive to the ravages of heat, light and oxygen. The harsh processing, handling and packaging methods as well as the higher number of polyunsaturated bonds has proven to result in very high levels of lipid peroxides (a measure of rancidity) in these products.

Perhaps of greatest concern is the possibility of Vitamin A or D toxicity associated with excessive fish oil supplementation. Unlike fish oils, flaxseed oil contains naturally occurring beta carotene which the body may convert to Vitamin A as needed. Thus, needless to say, no risk of Vitamin A or D toxicity exists. Nutritionally, all of the fatty acids necessary for correct metabolic function and optimal health can be metabolized from the essential fatty acids found in flaxseed oil, while this would be physiologically impossible with fish oils.

Perhaps most telling is the cost of fish oils as compared to flaxseed oil to achieve the same therapeutic result. You could expect to pay $70.00 for fish oils versus $12.00 for organic flaxseed oil for a month's supply.

Best of all, no longer does meeting these important dietary needs have to be associated with initiating a gag reflex from taking countless capsules or swallowing a tablespoon of cod liver oil. The fantastic tasting, delicate, nutty flavor of high quality, organic flaxseed oil facilitates a culinary delight when added to your favorite salad dressing or your favorite foods. (Do not heat or cook with flaxseed oil.)

As is true with all polyunsaturated fats and oils products, flaxseed oil is sensitive to harsh manufacturing, packaging and storage methods. As a result, there are only a few brands available that could truly be considered healthful. Use the summary below to facilitate your efforts in obtaining high quality flaxseed oil.

  • Products certified third party organic (indicated on label and promotional materials).
  • Products extracted by mechanical expeller presses only, below 96 degrees F.
  • Products contained in opaque (light resistant) containers.
  • Products recommended by reputable health and nutrition authorities.
  • Products delivered manufacturer direct to retail health food stores.
  • Products found in the refrigerated section of health food stores.
  • Products supported with educationally based supportive materials.
  • Products extracted without the damaging effects of heat, light and oxygen.

The brand most often recommended by leading health authorities is Barlean's Organic Oils of Ferndale, Washington. Renown author and naturopathic physician, Dr. Michael Murray; Dr. Johanna Budwig, considered the world's expert on fats and oils; and the best selling author of Beyond Pritikin, foremost nutritionist, Ann Louise Gittleman, all recommend Barlean's.

References: 1. The Essential Fatty Acids. Saedesai, V.M. (Nutrition in Clinical Practice, August 1992) 2. High Alpha-Linolenic Acid Flaxseed, Some Nutritional Properties In Humans. Cunnane, S.C.;Gangulis. (British Journal of Nutrition, March 1993) 3. Infant Abnormalities Linked to PCB Contaminated Fish. (Vegetarian Times, Nov. 1984) 4. The Presence Of Oxidative Polymeric Materials In Encapsulated Fish Oils. Vijai, K.S., Perkins, E.G. (Lipids, Vol. 26 #1, 1991) 5. Genetic Toxicology Of The Diet. Liss, Alan R. (New York) 6. Health Effects Of Fish And Fish Oils. Ratnayake, W.M.N., Ackman, R.B. (ARTS Biomedical Publishers) 7. Standard Methods For The Analysis Of Oils, Fats And Derivatives. Paquot, C., Hautfenne, A. (Blackwell Scientific Publications, 1987) 8. Nutritional Impact Of Food Processing. Somogyl, J.C., Muller, H.R. (American Oil Chemical Society #4, 1 987) 9. Purchasing High Quality Flaxseed Oil And Other Essential Fatty Acid Products. Beutler, J.D. (Barlean's Organic Oils, 1993) 10. Potential Use Of Flax In Human Nutrition. Cunnane, S.C., Thomas, M.S. (Dept. of Nutritional Sciences, Faculty Of Medicine, University of Toronto)

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