Why breast really is best

Breastfeeding is both natural and safe, giving your baby the best possible start in life. When born, infants have no gut faecal flora (healthy gut bacteria), microbes that play an important role in immune defence. The initial milk produced when breastfeeding is known as colostrum, and is high in a specific antibody (IgA) that plays a vital role in mucosal immunity. By coating the lining of the gastrointestinal tract, IgA helps to protect the newborn until its own gut flora is established, and its own immune system is functioning optimally. Breastfeeding also allows mother and baby to form a unique bond, both physically and emotionally. Ideally, women should breastfeed in order to allow their child to obtain the benefits that colostrum offer, one that is not provided by formula milk. In fact, the Department of Health actually recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life, and this can continue to benefit the baby along with solid foods for many months after.
However, choosing to bottle feed rather than breast feed is not always simply for reasons of convenience. Indeed, not all mothers are able to breast feed. Such examples are: babies born prematurely, or women who are HIV positive or who are undergoing chemotherapy. Furthermore, women taking specific medications, either prescription or over-the-counter, are often advised against breastfeeding. It is important therefore that formula milk offers the best possible benefits for the newborn. The preferred food for premature infants is fortified human milk, either from the infant’s own mother or from milk ‘banks’. However, the number of surviving children born prematurely has increased substantially over the last two decades and this increase in survival rates is, in part due, to the progess that has developed in enteral nutrition and the development of formulas specifically designed for premature infants. The goal in supplying to these infants is to achieve growth that is similar to foetal growth but that is coupled with satisfactory functional development. Currently the maximum concentration of AA in preterm infant formulas is 0.6% of total fatty acids, DHA is 0.35% of total fatty acids, and the maximum concentration of EPA is no more than 30% of the concentration of DHA.

For many years, baby formula manufacturers have been fortifying and reformulating their products in an effort to produce variations that are ‘equal’ to that of natural breast milk. Formula milk now comes in 3 forms: ready-made, concentrate and powder. Each has its advantages and disadvantages and these generally condense down to convenience and cost. Baby formulas are derived from either cow’s milk or soybean, and are fortified with iron and Vitamin D (which can be lacking in breast milk) and contain a form of sugar called lactose (although lactose free varieties are available). Different brands will generally contain different levels of sugar and protein and some will be fortified with docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (AA), long chain omega fatty acids that are vital for normal growth and development.

The ongoing debate associated with the benefits of breastfeeding over that of bottle feeding centres, in part, on observational findings that link breast milk to higher scores on cognitive tests. These scores are related to head size; it has therefore been hypothesised that breast milk mediates cognitive effects by promoting brain development, particularly that of white matter growth. The two most abundant long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in the brain are DHA and AA, where they have a functional and structural role in infant development. DHA is concentrated in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, an area important for association and short-term memory, and in some retinal cells. Concentrations of these fatty acids in human breast milk are relatively consistent during the first year of life, and studies have shown that breast-fed infants have a greater mean weight percentage of DHA and a greater proportion of DHA in their red blood cells and brain cortex than formula-fed infants. Furthermore, cortex DHA in breast-fed infants increases with age, probably due to the length of feeding.

However, human milk is also rich in EPA, another long chain omega-3 that, whilst present in white and gray matter at relatively low levels when compared with DHA, actually plays an important and significant role in myelination and brain function. EPA also plays an important immunomodulatory role by expressing potent virucidal activity, thereby reducing the risk of mother-to-child transmission of infections.

Given the importance that EPA plays in the structure and stabilisation of nerves and brain function as well as its predominant role in the immune system, it is surprising to me that formula milk development has not progressed to include this fatty acid. The rational for this is that EPA competes with AA and that this may cause displacement of AA within membranes. However the research behind individual physiological roles of each fatty acid has developed immensely in the last few years alone and given the presence of EPA within breast milk would suggest to me that there is a role in the development and welfare of the infant. The importance of DHA and AA for brain development is certainly acknowledged by milk formulation companies who have begun in the last few years to add these important fats to their milk products. The Expert Panel recommended that the maximum concentration of AA be 0.6% of total fatty acids, that the maximum concentration of DHA in preterm infant formulas be 0.35% of total fatty acids, and that the maximum concentration of EPA be 30% of the concentration of DHA.

However, commonly available formulas such as Cow & Gate and SMA only include AA and DHA and therefore the only source of EPA for the newborn baby is via its mother’s breast milk, so fully supporting the concept that breast really is best.

Le Huërou-Luron I, Blat S, Boudry G. (2010) Breast- v. formula-feeding: impacts on the digestive tract and immediate and long-term health effects. Nutr Res Rev. 23:23-36.

Puri BK, Stannard JP. (2006). The essentiality of eicosapentaenoic acid in breast milk during human lactation: implications to formula milk manufacturers. AGRO FOOD IND HI TEC. 17:7-8.

Common false impression – getting sufficient quantities of omega-3 from fortified foods

The media may be saturated with the message that omega-3s are good for us, but it seems that there is still a lack of knowledge over what omega-3 is, and what exactly we are consuming when we eat foods that are fortified with omega-3. In the latest omega-3 report – 2010 US Consumers’ Choice: Omega-3 Nutrient Products – dairy products and beverages fortified with omega-3 are the two categories that have seen the highest sales increase over the past two years in the omega-3 market. Other foods commonly fortified are bread and spreads. Consumers, it seems, are influenced mainly by what they see on the television and what they read on the internet.

What consumers really need to understand is that not all omega-3s are created equal, particularly when it comes to such things as heart health and brain function. In fact, it is well established that dietary omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids are involved in health promotion and disease prevention, but specifically and uniquely those omega-3s that are derived from fish. It is these omega-3s and these omega-3s only that are needed for proper growth and development in foetuses, infants and children, and for the regulation of immune function, inflammatory function and cardiovascular regulation at all ages.

The difficulty with adding marine derived omega-3s to everyday food items is that these long chain fatty acids are prone to rancidity when exposed to air, raising issues with both taste and the product’s shelf life. However, fortifying food items with the short chain omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) derived from plants does not pose with the same problems, as ALA is significantly more stable than the long chain fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexanoeic acid (DHA). However, whilst ALA is an omega-3 fatty acid, is does not offer the same health benefits as that of EPA or DHA, as it is simply a precursor to these longer chain fats. Indeed, consumed sources of ALA (such as flaxseeds and hemp seeds) must be physically modified before offering any significant health benefits, a process that is extremely inefficient in humans. In fact, the conversion of ALA to EPA and DHA is consistently low in most people; less than 8% of ALA is metabolised to EPA and only between 0.02% and 4% is metabolised to DHA. Although there is currently no Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for omega-3 fats in the UK, the government do suggest a daily intake of 450mg a day for adults and 200mg for children. However, these figures are specifically for long chain omega-3s. Consumers may still be under the false impression that they’re getting sufficient quantities of omega-3 simply by using a fortified spread or breads when the reality is that many fortified foods often contain fairly insignificant levels of omega-3, or are fortified with short chain ALA, and they would need to eat huge amounts to achieve any significant health benefits.

So if you are under the impression that you are boosting your intake of beneficial fats as you place your ‘omega-3 laced’ loaf of bread into your trolley, you may have to think again. Make sure you read the label as this will give a clear indication as to the source, and if it doesn’t state EPA or DHA then you might want to head for the fish counter. The alternative is, of course, to supplement your diet with a quality fish oil (I recommend omega 3 fish oil Vegepa) and, if you really are not a fish lover, try supplementing with echium oil; Echiomega may not be a fish oil but it’s certainly superior to other plant sources of omega-3.

Man’s best friend and more?

Last week saw a rather unusual story in the headlines in which a jack Russell took it upon itself to remove an infected toe from his sleeping owner. Jerry Douthett, a 48-year-old musician from Rockford, USA, had been out drinking, and on returning home had fallen into a deeper than usual sleep. He awoke, some hours later, to find the sheets of his bed blood soaked, and on further investigation, found the big toe that had been infected for several weeks, but for which he had not sought medical attention, had disappeared. It turned out that Kiko, the family dog, had detected the infection and chewed the toe to the point that is was completely removed. Whilst the story had a an edge of humour to it, it came to light that Mr Douthett had in fact been suffering from type II diabetes, a condition he was unaware of, but for which he is now is being treated. Some of the long term damaging effects of diabetes are to the blood vessels and nerves that supply the limbs. Neuropathy is the direct damage of nerves and results in gradual loss of sensation and, if the skin is damaged, can result in infection, as experienced first hand by Mr Douthett. Unfortunately, many people have type II diabetes for years without knowing it, simply because any early symptoms can be vague and may not cause undue concern, or seem important at the time. Symptoms, amongst others include feeling thirsty all the time, frequent urination, unexplained tiredness and unexplained weight loss, muscle wasting and frequent infections, or slow-healing sores. It is important, therefore, to be aware of these symptoms and visit your GP if you have any concerns. Catching diabetes early is a key factor to managing the condition successfully. In Mr Douthett’s case he had his dog’s ability to smell his infection to thank, as it has enabled him to now regulate his glucose levels and hopefully avoid any further losses!

A dogs’ ability to detect infection is not surprising, given their acute sense of smell, believed to be around 100,000 times more acute than that of humans. The distinct olfactory gift that is associated with the canine species has, in fact, led scientists to conduct small-scale studies of dogs’ ability to detect the chemical markers of cancer, specifically melanoma, with extremely promising results. Much of the research in this area is based on the theory that a disease causes subtle chemical changes in the body, or alterations in metabolism, which in turn releases a different smell or chemical marker to which dogs can be trained to recognise. Whilst the concept that dogs may be used as a cancer diagnostic tool is doubtful, their use in heath care is certainly of significance. Indeed, their use as guide dogs and hearing dogs is now advancing to their use to warn their owners of epileptic seizures, low blood sugar and heart attacks to name but a few. So they really are man’s best friend!

Remembering the importance of lifestyle choices

There has been a flurry of journal publication lately focusing on methods that can help stave off cognitive impairment and dementia. According to the most recent study, published in this month’s British Medical Journal, making dietary and lifestyle changes that ultimately reduce the risk of developing diabetes and depression, could have a significant impact on an individual’s future risk of developing dementia (Ritchie et al, 2010). The study, led by French researcher Dr Karen Ritchie, of the French National Institute of Medical research, analysed the lifestyle and health of 1,433 people over the age of 65 living in the south of France over a period of seven years. Whilst there is an element of genetic risk associated with the development of dementias such as Alzheimer’s disease, the role of diet and lifestyle are long known to be of significance, and that risk can be manipulated through specific changes. Dr Ritchie was quoted as saying “health chiefs should focus on encouraging literacy, prompt treatment of depressive symptoms and early screening for glucose intolerance and insulin resistance”. The study also highlighted the importance of consuming plenty of fruit and vegetables associated with a more ‘Mediterranean’ style of eating, which would also involve the consumption of foods such as seafood which is rich in neuroprotective omega-3s. In regards to the protective role that long term education has on brain health, this recent publication supports the findings of a study published in last months journal Brain. This study involved examining the brains of 872 participants in ECLIPSE (Epidemiological Clinicopathalogical Studies in Europe), a collaboration between three large population-based studies of ageing, in which a positive association was found between education and a reduced risk of developing dementia symptoms (Brayne et al, 2010). What was particularly interesting about this study was that education had no protection on dementia itself, but only on the symptoms. When the brains of individuals were examined, those individuals who had stayed in education still, showed the pathological and molecular signs of dementia, although whilst living, those individuals showed no physical symptoms of dementia. This would suggest that education in early life appears to enable some people to cope with a lot of changes in their brain before showing dementia symptoms.

So what do we learn from this? It seems that the same messages re-emerge over and over. That exercise, education and adoption of a ‘healthy’ diet offer protection against a myriad of diseases and conditions that are often considered to be just a part of growing old. However whilst it appears that we have a lot more say in our long term fate, putting into practice the advice offered by scientist may take both time and dedication as many of us are very settled in our ways. Educating people is the first step in initiating long term lifestyle changes.

Ritchie K et al. (2010) Designing prevention programmes to reduce incidence of dementia: prospective cohort study of modifiable risk factors. BMJ August 2010

Brayne C et al. (2010) Education, the brain and dementia: neuroprotection or compensation? Brain 133:2210-2216

Boil, steam or fry: are we getting the best from our vegetables?

The message that we need to consume our 5-a-day (about 800g of fruit and vegetables in total) is one that appears to be making a positive impact on people’s food choices. By eating fruits and vegetables that are of a variety of different colours, you can get the best all-around health benefits. Fruit and vegetables are termed ‘whole foods’, and are rich in a large amount of nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, fibre and phytochemicals. Tomatoes for example are extremely rich in lycopene, a phytochemical that is suggested to reduce risk of cancer by activating special cancer preventive enzymes called phase II detoxification enzymes, which remove harmful carcinogens from cells and the body. When it comes to children, we all know how fussy they can be, and it’s often useful to offer them small amounts of different coloured types that can be less overwhelming than one large portion of dreaded broccoli.

Whilst many types of fruit and vegetable can be eaten as they are, many can’t, and many of us choose not to consume them in their raw state. But what is the effect of different cooking methods on their macronutrient and antioxidant capacity?

Microwave cooking has gained considerable importance as an energy-saving, convenient, and time-saving cooking method. However, the effects on our food remain controversial. Whilst the effects of microwave cooking on nutritive values of moisture, protein, carbohydrate, lipid, minerals, and vitamins appear minimal, it is the actual changes in the molecular structure of nutrients that still seem unclear and as a consequence many people choose to avoid or certainly limit its use.

Generally, water is not the cook’s best friend when it comes to preparing vegetables. Many of the vitamins and minerals within vegetables and fruit are water soluble, and therefore any cooking process that involves contact with water will deplete levels of nutrients to different extents (boiling is the worst, whilst steaming is much more nutrient friendly). Stir frying on the other hand, usually involves the use of some kind of culinary oil into which water soluble nutrients are unable to enter. Not only does stir frying help retain nutrient levels, but also the resulting texture and colour can be more appetising than other cooking methods (and it’s quick!).

Overall, there will always be a loss in nutritional value of foods, however, the degree of vitamin and mineral losses from food is influenced by various factors, for example the type of food, variety of food, the way of cutting, preparation, duration and method of cooking.

Why must man play God in the food chain?

There was a time when the phrase ‘cloning’ only really existed in science fiction novels and the minds of small boys. However, our ability to progress scientifically blossomed in 1996 in the form of Dolly the cloned sheep; hitting the headlines, she caused quite a stir, highlighting the endless possibilities of such a feat as well as many ethical dilemmas. Dolly was cloned from a single mammary cell (and therefore very aptly named after the singer Dolly Parton) by a process called ‘nuclear transfusion’ in which the nucleus of one cell is injected into the empty shell of another, creating a ‘new cell’ with the ability to divide like a normal developing embryo. Dolly lived for 6 years and produced 6 lambs of her own, remaining the most famous sheep in the world. Whilst cloning of animals can be viewed as a viable tool for preventing the extinction of species, and even possibly for reviving extinct species, it seems that such a procedure is being vastly misused. I awoke this morning to the news that milk from the offspring of cloned cows has made its way into UK supermarkets. As a result the Food Standards Agency, the authority responsible for accepting novel food applications, is currently investigating such claims, as the sale of milk from such cows is currently illegal under UK food regulations. It both amazes and concerns me that we don’t seem to have enough dairy cattle in the first place, and that as consumers, we have no say in such processes, and no ways of identifying such products on our shelves as, apparently, the milk in question is neither labelled nor identified in any way.

There are huge ethical concerns over the long-term health consequences that arise from such procedures as cloning, and consequences that we should really have learn from past errors in playing God in the food chain. Take transfats for example. The hydrogenation process by which trans fats are formed was first discovered around the turn of the 20th century, and so with it was born the first man-made fat to join the food supply. American kitchens were the first to introduce partially hydrogenated vegetable oil in 1911 with a product called Crisco®. The incorporation of transfats in to many food products soon became popular with consumers and food manufacturers because they acted as a preservative, giving foods a longer shelf life but also giving foods a more appealing taste and texture. The devastating effects of these fats are now abundantly clear, with links to cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome, and consequently we are now desperate to deplete these fats completely from our diets. So it seems we have learnt very little from past mistakes.

Cloning is one form of genetic manipulation to suit a dietary ‘need’; another is the genetic modification of plants to produce genetically modified (GM) end products. This process isolates and modifies genes, usually so that they function better, before inserting into a new species. The end result is to develop an organism that expresses a novel trait that is not normally associated with that species. GM foods first hit the market in the early 1990s and were restricted to transgenic plant products such as soybean, corn, canola, and cotton seed oil. The objections that are raised against GM foods include possible safety issues, ecological and economic concerns – all of which are still prominent and, consequently, use of GM in the food chain is still of great concern.

Another such potential use of a GM plant species is to genetically modify plants to produce essential omega-3 fatty acids that are usually only associated with fish and fish oils. The drive behind such a process is an attempt to increase omega-3 in human diets without adding pressure to fish stocks. If successful, the resulting plants are aimed at feed for farm animals, and for incorporation into the food chain through direct inclusion in food products as an indirect way of increasing our omega-3 levels. Consequently, the consumer may be completely unaware of such processes, and that GM products are even being incorporated into every day food products. Whilst GM omega-3 may not be the next trans fat, and that it is hoped that the heath positive benefits outweigh any heath negative attributes, we do not know at this point the long term heath consequences of such actions.

I would like to have the choice to make up my mind and not have to actively seek out foods that are free from GM. Would you?

Why being depressed can make your brain shrink!

For many sufferers, depression brings on many kinds of emotions and feelings including anxiety, guilt and shame, so it’s not surprising that many people fail to seek help. Often, many of the feelings that are associated with depression are, in part, caused by a general lack of understanding of the condition, not only by the sufferer, but by family members, friends, employers and colleagues. And yet the majority of people will experience some psychological problems during their lives. In fact very few people will go through life without experiencing some form of mental trauma of some description. But what is it that goes on in your head when you are feeling depressed?

There is increasing scientific focus on the mechanisms that occur within the body and brain of depressed patients. Indeed, it is becoming much clearer that inflammation significantly contributes to the cause and progress of depression, and that this triggers a myriad of processes that all contribute to the symptoms associated with the condition. It is difficult to comprehend that inflammation can trigger depression, because it is generally thought of as a response to injury or irritation that is characterised by physical processes such as pain and swelling.

However, inflammation need not be physical or obvious, and inflammatory processes and brain-immune interactions are now known to be involved in the development of major depression. Inflammation is certainly suggested to contribute to the dysfunction of biological systems involved in the production of important neurotransmitters (brain hormones) such as serotonin and noradrenalin. Indeed, increased levels of inflammatory products called cytokines (produced by immune cells, and involved in relaying messages between cells) have consistently been reported in patients with depression. Pro-inflammatory cytokines have many physiological functions but, significantly, have been reported to modulate central nervous system functions including a process called neurogenesis, which is simply the method by which nerve cells are generated. Excessive inflammation, and the production of cytokines amongst other things, causes a series of processes that ultimately damage neurones leading to their death. When cells within the brain die, this causes atrophy, or shrinking, by which there is loss of brain gray matter. Structural brain changes detected by a process called MRI scanning in depressed patients have been reported in several brain regions.

However, there appears to be hope offered through supplementing with fish oil. EPA is an omega-3 fatty acid known to help the symptoms of depression and reduce levels of inflammatory cytokines, whilst producing beneficial anti-inflammatory products. There is increasing scientific interest in the ability of EPA to prevent neuronal cell death and therefore reduce or prevent gray matter loss. Much of the pioneering work has focused on the role of EPA in Huntington’s disease with extremely promising results. Given the evidence that omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial for conditions in which there is reduced gray matter atrophy, such as Huntington’s disease, supplementing with ethyl-EPA may have further positive benefits on gray matter volume in individuals with depression, and further studies to support this hypothesis are certainly warranted.

Puri BK, Bydder GM, Manku MS, Clarke A, Waldman AD, Beckmann CF. (2008)
Reduction in cerebral atrophy associated with ethyl-eicosapentaenoic acid treatment in patients with Huntington’s disease. J Int Med Res. 36: 896-905.

Song C, Wang H. Cytokines mediated inflammation and decreased neurogenesis in animal models of depression.Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 2010 [Epub ahead of print]

Omega 3 and depression

IMG_0650There is growing evidence for the role of omega3 fish oil, not only in the etiology of major depression, but also as a treatment method. Given the numerous and undesirable side effects associated with conventional pharmaceutical treatments it is no wonder that many individuals actively seek natural alternatives, and the pure EPA fish oil (eicosapentaenoic acid – EPA) may just be what the doctor ordered.

Indeed, several studies have highlighted that abnormal cell membrane fatty acid composition is related to risk and incidence of major depression, and that supplementation with omega-3, and specifically with EPA, appears to normalize fatty acid levels and reduce the symptoms associated with this condition. However different studies can report different findings, and whilst several studies may appear to give varied and often conflicting results, performing a meta-analysis gives an indication of general findings by ‘pooling’ the data from several studies to give an overall picture and therefore adding clarity to a concept.

A recent meta-analysis of 14 studies comparing the levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids between depressive patients and control subjects found that omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid levels were significantly lower in those individuals suffering from depression (Lin et al, 2010). Because the primary sources of these long-chain omega-3 fats are fish and shellfish, it is not surprising that those individuals with the highest consumption are the least likely to suffer from depression (Suominen-Taipale et al, 2010). Treating people who suffer with depression using fish oils is therefore a viable method for alleviating symptoms whilst restoring omega-3 levels. Given that low levels of omega-3 are also associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease, as well as several other chronic disorders and conditions, the overall health benefits of raising omega-3 levels reach out much further as a nutritional approach to improving health.

Encouragingly, improvements in depressive symptoms can be seen as quickly as 8 weeks after commencing treatment. Indeed, a group of Montreal researchers have recently confirmed that taking omega 3 fish oil supplements, at doses higher than that normally consumed in an average diet, is superior to placebo in treating symptoms and that results can be observed within a two month time period (Lespérance et al, 2010). The results of this particular study also confirm EPA to be the predominant active ingredient responsible for the benefits of omega-3.

A meta-analysis of 28 trials investigating as to whether either EPA or docosahexanoeic acid (DHA) or both are responsible for the reported benefits showed that those trials in which EPA was the predominant or only fatty acid used, gave the most significant findings. Furthermore, it was suggested that the effects of 1g daily of EPA could be enhanced and prolonged by the addition of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), an omega-6 fatty acid found in evening primrose oil (Martins 2009). Given that 1 in 4 individuals will suffer from depression at some point in their life, it is encouraging to know that there is a safe and natural way not only to treat depression but also as a method that could reduce the possibility of developing the condition in the first place.


Lespérance F, Frasure-Smith N, St-André E, Turecki G, Lespérance P, Wisniewski SR. The Efficacy of Omega-3 Supplementation for Major Depression: A Randomized Controlled Trial. J Clin Psychiatry 10.4088/JCP.10m05966blu

Lin PY, Huang SY, Su KP. A Meta-Analytic Review of Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid Compositions in Patients with Depression. Biol Psychiatry. 2010 May 7. [Epub ahead of print]

Martins JG EPA but not DHA appears to be responsible for the efficacy of omega-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation in depression: evidence from a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. J Am Coll Nutr. 2009 28:525-42.

Suominen-Taipale AL, Partonen T, Turunen AW, Männistö S, Jula A, Verkasalo PK.Fish consumption and omega-3 polyunsaturated Fatty acids in relation to depressive episodes: a cross-sectional analysis. PLoS One. 2010 May 7;5:e10530.

Echium seed oil – your superior choice of omega fatty acids

Echium Plantagineum
Originating from the borage family, this biennial plant with its striking purple flowers is native to western and southern Europe, northern Africa and south western Asia. In November 2009 the European Commission acknowledged that refined echium seed oil complies with the Novel Food Legislation granting it novel food status and therefore making Echiomega the most effective omega-3, -6 and -9 oil that is now available to vegetarians and vegans.

Echiomega is a vegetarian omega 3 which offers a unique combination of essential fatty acids and, unlike other oils, is particularly rich in ALA, SDA and GLA (Figure 1). Because of the shortfall in omega-3 intake and concerns regarding sustainability of many fish species there has been great scientific interest in finding sustainable sources of plant sourced omega-3 oils that are capable of significantly raising levels of long chain omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA.

SDA is easily converted to EPA
Because EPA is the major precursor to the formation of anti-inflammatory products known as eicosanoids, it is essential that a plant sourced oil is able to produce satisfactory amounts to ensure the health needs of the body are met. ALA is at the top of the omega-3 pathway and converts to EPA through several enzyme mediated steps. However, only 2-5% of ALA converts to EPA and this inefficiency is caused by the ‘rate limiting’ actions of
the enzyme Δ6-desaturase. Any oil that contains significant amounts of SDA will overcome this problem, as Δ6-desaturase is not needed to convert SDA to EPA. Indeed, it has been shown that the conversion of SDA to EPA is 5x more effective than that of ALA, the predominant omega-3 found in flaxseed oil.

The benefits of GLA
In addition to Echiomega’s high SDA content, this unique oil is also a significant source of GLA. Known for its anti-inflammatory actions in the area of skin and for its benefits with both premenstrual syndromes and health joints, the GLA in Echiomega adds to the unique anti-inflammatory properties of this novel oil.

The synergy between SDA and GLA
Both SDA and GLA are precursors to anti-inflammatory products through their conversion to EPA and DGLA. However these two important fatty acids work in synergy not only to increase the production of anti-inflammatory products, but through the ability of GLA to ensure higher levels of EPA are produced from SDA. Indeed, studies show that GLA and SDA combined result in significantly higher levels of EPA than SDA on its own. Furthermore, EPA in turn prevents the formation of inflammatory products arising from omega-6 AA via the conversion of DGLA offering excellent benefits for the function of the cardiovascular system and for optimal brain function .

The health benefits of Echiomega
Considering the unique anti-inflammatory properties of Echium seed oil, Echiomega provides numerous health benefits (Figure 3). The combination of ALA, GLA and SDA in Echiomega provide powerful anti-inflammatory actions that ensure optimal support of the cardiovascular, immune and inflammatory pathways.

Vegetarian, Vegan Omega 3 Sources

Vegetarian Omega 3

I’m giving a talk in a couple of weeks at the Bristol Eco Veggie Fayre on plant based sources of Essential Fatty Acids, focusing mainly on echium oil. If you want to find out more about how echium seed oil compares with other oils such as flax and hemp, check out this new website which has some really good comparisons www.vegetarian-omega3.com. It would be great to see some of you at the Veggie fayre; my talk is being held in the Veggie Nutritional Room on Sunday 30th at 2pm. It’s a fun day out for all the family, with lots of good veggie food and free samples of vegetarian friendly products to take home!

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