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Fixin' Healthcare

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Does Insurance Cover These Things?

The previous post considered how stress, physical activity and macronutrients in food (carbohydrates, protein and fat) influence the hormones insulin, adrenalin and cortisol, and how the relationships between these hormones influence metabolism. This post considers how the dietary essential fatty acids regulate crucial balances within the human body. Both postings are intended to convey the substantial amount of science that supports the validity of lifestyle, health promotion and disease prevention as a basis for optimum health.

The essential fatty acids are necessary for good health but human metabolism cannot synthesize them. They are divided into two groups: Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. The grouping depends upon the location of a double bond due to the absence of a hydrogen atom in the carbon chain backbone. The double bond determines where the carbon chain can bend or fold. Omega-3 fatty acids have fewer hydrogen atoms than Omega-6 fatty acids resulting in increased bending of the carbon chain backbone. This means that Omega-3 fatty acids are more fluid than Omega-6 fatty acids at any given temperature.

The primary Omega- 3 is alpha linolenic acid (ALA) that is found in flaxseeds, flaxseed oil and green leafy vegetables. Plants that grow in colder weather contain more ALA. Human metabolism can convert ALA into eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Ocasionally, some people cannot convert enough ALA into EPA and DHA to supply increased needs. A pregnant woman has increased needs for herself plus the requirements of the fetus for growth and brain development.

Dietary sources of EPA and DHA are cold water fish (salmon, albacore tuna, herring, black cod, mackerel, sardines, anchovies) and wild game. Cold water fish need more flexibility in their cell membranes and they make EPA and DHA in generous amounts. Most fish oil supplements contain 18% EPA and 12% DHA, which is sufficient as a supplement. The fish get their ALA from algae and wild game from grass and leaves.

The primary Omega-6 is linoleic acid that is found in plants (corn and wheat), vegetable oils, organ meats, egg yolks, baked goods and margarine. Modern diets have shifted drastically in the ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 from 4:1 to as high as 20:1. This is the result of more corn and wheat, less green leafy vegetables, little or no flax seeds, more corn and grain fed beef and less fish and wild game.

Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids are contained in every cell membrane in the body and influence every process in the cells. Sixty percent of the DHA is found in the central nervous system. DHA is essential for brain development, especially vision, in infants and it has been associated with improvement of depression in adults.

Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids are the source of the different classes of eicosinoids that are a family of cellular bound, short lived and very powerful hormones that influence a tone and balance throughout the body. Eicosinoids formed from Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory, relieve pain and relax smooth muscle. Eicosinoids fromed from Omega-6 fatty acids are associated with inflammation, pain and increased smooth muscle tension. The amounts and balance of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids influence acute and chronic pain, asthma, hypertension, insulin sensitivity, arthritis, blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, development of the central nervous system and learning and psychological depression.

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