The Truth About Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs)
Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) are unsaturated fatty acids that must be consumed, as they are not made within the body itself. Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids are types of EFAs. Most consumers recognize the terms "Omega-3" and "Omega-6" though know little about them or only utilize these products AFTER a disease has arisen. In truth, these supplements should be added proactively, BEFORE a disease process or issue has arisen, from birth into the senior years. Our goals in this article include shedding some light on why marine oils are necessary, identifying guidelines for consumers on selecting marine oil and, specifically, illustrating how this should be done in your pets.
Omega-6 fatty acids are prevalent in modern, processed diets. They are found in foods such as vegetable oils, nuts, seeds (and oils extracted from them), grain-fed beef and grain-fed chicken and are an essential component of a balanced diet. While these are an essential component of our diet, consuming too many Omega-6s, with a deficiency of Omega-3s, initiates inflammation and subsequent disease.
Omega-3 fatty acids are EFAs touted as having unique health benefits due to their direct incorporation into the cell membrane. There are two critical Omega-3s that get a lot of press, called EPA and DHA that support the body systems and decrease the risk of chronic disease. Nutritional sources of EPA & DHA are limited. They can be found many cold-water fish, (such as salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel, black cod, bluefish), and to a lesser extent, in grass-fed meats, some grass-fed dairy, sea plants and some fermented foods. The plant-based sources actually contain a precursor of Omega-3 called ALA, which the body must convert to DHA & EPA. The actions of the Omega-3 Fatty acids, EPA & DHA, include but are not limited to:
- Modulating the body's normal response to the natural inflammatory process
- Supporting blood flow, maintaining blood vessel function and regulating blood clotting
- Lowering triglycerides
- Providing important benefits to controlling high blood pressure
- Building cell membranes and supporting cellular health
Sadly enough, the typical American diet (human and pet) is excessively high in Omega-6, and glaringly inadequate in Omega-3 quantities, which sets the stage for disease. In addition, the majority of the sources for Omega-6 oils are genetically modified, which brings in an entirely separate issue. (Please see What the <bleep> Is a GMO? in the next issue of Got Nutrients? for more details.)
- Optimal omega-6: omega-3 ratio is 4:1 in humans and 5:1 in pets (a lower ratio is more beneficial)
- Modern human diets are 20:1
- Modern processed pet diets are actually much higher
- Prevalent use of corn and soybean oil (GMO) creates the excessively high ratio
In fact, Omega-6 fatty acids actually promote the cancer pathway, thus supplementation of Omega-6 oils is NOT recommended in any form of cancer. In holistic veterinary medicine, one of the first things done in the treatment of chronic disease is to eliminate a commercial processed diet in favor of a selected whole food diet, then to implement a strategic supplementation with marine oils BEFORE a targeted disease treatment approach is employed.
Why only marine oils?
In the human population, plant sources of Omega-3 EFAs are readily available in soybeans, walnuts, flaxseed, chia seeds, olive oil, etc. However, dogs and cats specifically need animal-based (i.e. marine oil origin) EFA's as pets are missing the enzymes needed to properly convert the plant-based omega 3s to the EPA & DHA. Does this mean that adding a little olive oil to Fido's dinner is harming him? Olive oil is a rich source of Omega-9 and Omega-6, both of which should not be over-supplemented, and minimal amounts of Omega-3. To condense a long scientific explanation, Fido would do much better with a whole sardine (in water) than a plant-based oil. One of my mentors always used to say, "A sardine a day keeps the vet away." He ain't kidding!
Essential Fatty Acids, specifically those from marine oil sources, are beneficial and required for us and our pets through all stages of life and hopefully, in the name of prevention and general good health, before a disease process is present. While we can utilize plant and marine sources of EFAs, our pets cannot and therefore require us to choose marine oils for them. In doing so, two of the lesser known marine oils that can be included in your pet's (and your) marine oil supplement rotation are cod liver oil and tuna oil, both rich in Omega-3s.
Cod liver oil contains CoQ10, and Standard Process Cod Liver Oil contains the natural fractions needed for the absorption of Vitamin F, which is important in Vitamin D absorption and conversion. Tuna oil from Standard Process provides a source of DHA and EPA in the proper 5:1 ratio, just as it occurs naturally in the body. Choose your supplements wisely with attention to purity and accountability from the manufacturer and you and your pets will be adding essentials for better living.
Take Home Points
- EFAs are critical in all species, most notably Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids
- EFAs cannot be synthesized in the body and must be consumed
- Commercially processed food diets are excessive in their Omega-6 content and markedly deficient in the Omega-3, further creating inflammation & disease
- Dogs and cats cannot take plant sources of Omega-3s as the they are deficient in the enzymes necessary to convert them for use in the body
Everyone should take them from the very young through the senior years
Purity, Third-Party Assays & Rotation
One of the functions of the Omega-3 fatty acids is to build cell membranes. When a patient ingests a source of Omega-3, those EFAs are woven into the architecture of the bazillion cells in the body. Yet marine oils are some of the most contaminated supplements on the market! Consequently, independent laboratories should verify the purity of the product for contaminants such as heavy metals, lipid peroxidases and pesticides. These standards guarantee quality products by setting maximum allowances. In addition, the manufacturing process used should maintain the freshness of the oils as much as possible, such as no-heat, and no-chemical and low-oxygen processes. It is important to remember:
- Testing of the oils that is performed within the company that produces the oil is not sufficient.
- An independent laboratory must be used for the purpose of authenticity and accountability.
- Governmental fish oil quality standards do not exist in the United States.
- Look for a company that adheres to and exceeds the stringent European Pharmacopoeia Standard (EPS) as well as the voluntary standards set by the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) and the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3 (GOED) for their oils.
Nutrient Balance and Exposure of Supplementing Marine Oils
There are many marine oils that contain these vital EFA's and your pet should be on a rotation of tested oils to achieve a good balance. The concept is to provide the rich source of EPA & DHA, but also to increase the exposure for nutrient acquisition. Certainly using a single source of Omega-3 fatty acid will provide the recommended amount of oil. However, from a whole food perspective, a rotation will allow the body to nutrients that may not be available in a single product. The rotation can be monthly between three to five different oils. To make it easier to remember, choose your three oils of Atlantic salmon, cod liver, tuna and tuna, for example, and rotate them alphabetically.
At VPC, we recommend using the following marine oils as a part of your rotation:
- Standard Process Cod Liver Oil (note: this is the only Cod Liver Oil we recommend)
- Standard Process Tuna Omega Oil
- Standard Process Calamari Oil
- Nordic Naturals Omega-3 Pet
- Carlson's Lab Norwegian Salmon Oil
- Krill Oil
With a marine oil product that is not listed above, call the company directly and ask if they do independent, third-party assays on their products. If so, request a fax of the batch test results for that particular product in your hand. Keep in mind that some employees may not understand the concept, especially if that company does not participate in these methodologies.