Avoiding depression; is it really possible?

Whilst many forms of depression can be easily treated in primary care, many people chose not to undertake, or are certainly reluctant to begin, the journey that takes them on this route of self-help. Whilst there is a high prevalence of mental health problems and disorders that develop in adolescence and early adulthood, pharmaceutical intervention is not necessarily the key to all treatments. In fact diet, as well as alternative therapies, can be key players in recovery. Most foods, if not all, bring about chemical reactions in the body and have an impact on how we feel. Some make us feel energetic, alert and happy, yet others can make us fatigued, irritable, angry and even depressed. Indeed, food can directly influence our mood, and our diet is even more fundamental when we’re feeling low.

Long term fish consumption is one way to directly affect a person’s tendency to develop depression due to the mood-stabilising effects of omega-3 fatty acids, particularly the long-chain omega-3 EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). Similarly, antioxidants also have a role in mood, and it is likely a combination of these factors which affects risk. Furthermore, those people whose diets include a high intake of whole foods, fruit, vegetables, whole grains and fish, are less likely to report depression symptoms. Those people who are more susceptible to depression generally haver a higher intake of processed meat, sweets, chocolate, fried foods, refined grains and dairy than people who don’t suffer from depression. Possible explanations for this outcome include the high levels of folate in cruciferous and leafy vegetables, beans and pulses, in line with studies which link low levels of folate with altered brain chemistry. The link between diet and depression using data from observational and clinical studies is giving a clear message: we need to change our dietary patterns.

It is important to consume as many vitamins and minerals as possible, in order to create the foundations for a healthy body and mind. Try eating at least the recommended 5 portions of fruit and vegetables per day, but make sure you eat a variety of them. The omega-3 fatty acid EPA, which occurs naturally in oily fish such as salmon, anchovies, mackerel and tuna, is crucial for brain health and function. EPA moderates mood in two ways: firstly, it regulates the mood-influencing hormones serotonin and dopamine; secondly, it addresses the inflammatory element of depression by switching off inflammation pathways, as well as EPA itself being converted to anti-inflammatory substances. It is also responsible for a range of other health benefits, from combating heart disease to improving the appearance of your skin, nails and hair. With the government recommendation not to exceed 3 portions of fish weekly, it is not advisable to obtain high a dosage of EPA by way of eating fish. Most people eat just a fifth of the amount recommended for good health. The fact of the matter is that most people do not consume enough oily fish to reap the benefits of fatty acids, so supplementation with fish oils is a more viable option for most. In choosing a fish oil supplement, be sure to avoid liver oils. As well as being less sustainable, oils sourced from larger species of fish tend also to be less clean. A good way to overcome this is to take a highly purified fish oil supplement which has undergone a filtration process of molecular distillation to eliminate heavy metals, PCBs and dioxins. Quite as important as eating the right type of food is the process of eliminating the ‘bad’ foods; where possible, reduce intake of caffeine, alcohol and foods high in sugar and ‘bad’ fats, because they de-stabilise blood sugar levels and create mood slumps, which only aggravate symptoms of depression. Unfortunately, many comfort foods fall into this category, but try to resist the temptation as it is likely your mood will worsen soon after.

There is so much information on the internet on self-help and advice for people with depression that it can be quite overwhelming! That’s why I’ve formulated a nice, easy to read, info pack that people can download, read online or print. It covers depression facts and various treatments, including conventional treatments, dietary changes that are known to help, as well as alternative treatments to pharmaceutical drugs. You can download a Depression Pack by clicking here.

Going back to the 50s; why we need to increase our children’s omega-3 intake to secure their long term health.

The message that we need to ‘increase our omega-3 intake’ is one that most of us are aware of. We regularly hear how fish oils, or EPA, can help protect our heart and reduce cardiovascular disease, offer hope to dementia patients, or in some cases even propose the possibility of a future treatment for cancer. These are however, related to conditions that are well established and, in some cases, take years to develop; rather a case of ‘shutting the barn door after the horse has bolted’. Indeed, as adults we focus on repair, but by introducing omega-3 into the diets of our children before these conditions develop and take hold, we can offer them better protection against the risk of developing many chronic diseases. Given that intakes of polyunsaturated fatty acids, especially long chain omega-3, in children and adolescents do not currently meet nutrient intake goals recommended by the World Heath Organisation (WHO) for prevention of chronic diseases (WHO/FAO, 2003), we should be taking more responsibility for our children’s health by ensuring their needs are met. One Vegepa Chewable daily would provide the necessary amount of long chain omega-3 to help improve cardiovascular and immune function, and control inflammation whilst also supporting brain health.

Also known as polyunsaturated fatty acids, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids play a crucial role in brain function as well as normal growth and development. Both families of fatty acids are considered essential, as they must be consumed in the diet. Infants who do not get enough omega-3 fatty acids from their mothers during pregnancy are known to be at risk for developing vision and nerve problems. Furthermore, if children continuously fail to consume adequate amounts of omega-3 in early years and on through childhood, they stand a significant chance of developing a severe deficiency, with symptoms that include: fatigue, constant infections (coughs/colds) poor memory, attention difficulties, cognitive difficulties, dry skin, frequent urination and difficulty in sleeping, amongst others. In fact, the increasing incidence in a variety of childhood-related neurodevelopmental disorders, including ADHD, autism, dyslexia and dypraxia, are being directly associated with omega-3 status and are indicative of a massive deficiency problem. Research shows that increasing omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce many of these symptoms, as well as the symptoms associated with neurodevelopmental disorders, by normalising fatty acid status.

The concept of supplementing with EPA as a fish oil is far from new. In fact, the idea originated with the introduction of cod liver oil into children’s diets over a hundred years ago. Our knowledge of omega-3, and the importance of the individual fatty acids EPA and DHA has advanced dramatically in this time, with purified EPA acknowledged as far superior in health benefits to those of the unpurified cod liver oil taken previously.
Cod liver oil was first used by the fishing communities of Scotland, Iceland, Norway and Greenland to protect them from the intense cold. During the 1890s, it began to be used to treat malnourished children, with daily doses also advised to relieve rheumatism, aching muscles and stiff joints in adults. During World War II, and through the 1950s, children were routinely given cod liver oil to supplement what was considered to be a meagre diet. However, as rationing ceased, concerns were raised about the high content of vitamins A and D (toxic in high doses) , diets improved and supplementation stopped.
The post-war period saw major changes in our eating habits, with the increasing availability of processed and refined foods, the introduction of concentrates, trans fats, artificial sweeteners, colourants and preservatives, all aimed at improving taste, shelf life and affordability. However, what were considered to be advances in food technology methods have now progressively impacted on the type and quality of the fat consumed, with a severe impact on omega-3 status. Whilst deficiency can occur through the increased consumption of omega-6 (upsetting the balance within the body), the confusion for the consumer about the type and different sources of omega-3 means that many adults are under the misconception that they, and their children, are consuming adequate amounts. Many children do not eat fish regularly, and for those who do, cod (fish and chips/fish fingers) and tinned tuna, whilst common favourites, do not provide as much omega-3 as oily fish such as salmon or sardines. Furthermore, there is often confusion regarding products that claim to be fortified with omega-3. These products, such as milk and bread are not fortified with long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, but with omega-3 derived from seeds and grains, and do not offer the same benefits as EPA. Indeed, not all omega-3 are born equally.

WHO/FAO (2003). Diet, Nutrition and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases: Report of a Joint WHO/FAO Expert Consultation. WHO Technical Report Series No. 916. World Health Organization: Geneva.

Ritalin in the headlines again.

Yet another Ritalin horror story hits the headlines! It seems that every week I can open a newspaper, or magazine, or turn on my PC, and be faced with another story, or article, or news headline, in which I am informed of the the increasing trend in incidence of children with neurodevelopmental disorders (autism, dyslexia, ADHD and dyspraxia). Given the repeated message of the side effects experienced by these children outweighing the benefits, the rise in the number of children routinely taking pharmaceutical drugs, like Ritalin, is both concerning and alarming. Why is it that these pharmaceutical offerings continue to be dished out, and why are parents not informed of alternative treatments that are not only are proven to work, but also come without side effects?

There has been a twelve-fold increase in autism over the last 30 years, and it would be easy to relate this to changes in food processing methods and the corresponding impact on our children’s diets. An association does not, however, necessarily imply cause, and care must be taken when making such statements. Indeed, whilst more research is certainly needed to confirm the dietary link to such conditions, some scientists seem almost reluctant to admit that such a concept is even plausible. For much of its history, autism has been considered a discrete psychological disorder, managed largely with behavioural intervention techniques. However, many studies have outlined, with great interest, its co-morbidity with other neurodevelopmental disorders, such as ADHD, dyslexia and dyspraxia, where pharmaceutical intervention is a given part of the treatment. A common feature existing in children with neurodevelopment disorders is the specific differences and/or deficiencies in the type of fats (phospholipids) that make up their nerve cell membranes. It has been suggested, and shown, in many well structured trials, that supplementation with specific fatty acids can not only rectify deficiencies, but also be used as a safe alternative to drugs such as Ritalin.

Phospholipids are a major component of every cell membrane, including nerves. Made up of a stabilising ‘polar head’ coupled with fatty molecules, the phospholipid content, and in particular the specific type of phospholipid within nerve cell membranes, dictates many cell functions. A dysregulation in phospholipid
metabolism, as has been suggested in neurodevelopmental disorders, would have a profound influence on brain processes, and may account for many of the symptoms. Phospholipids are constantly being synthesised and broken down, and whilst the enzymes responsible for this normal turnover are under genetic control, the key essential fatty acids of neuronal phospholipids must come from the diet.The type of fat consumed, therefore, can have a profound effect on neurone function, and consequently brain function.

The two major polyunsaturated fats with the brain are the omega-6 AA and omega-3 DHA, which account for around 20% of the dry brain weight. DHA is known to be involved in cell signalling and has an important structural role in the brain, whilst AA is crucial for brain growth. EPA, another major omega-3, is present in most cell membranes, though it has little structural role within brain neurones. However, unlike DHA, EPA is considered vital for the regulation of brain function and not only converts to DHA, but also protects membrane DHA from breakdown through influencing the phospholipase enzymes that act like scissors and are involved in the release of DHA from membranes. Overactive phospholipase enzymes can release DHA unnecessarily and therefore sufficient EPA must be present in the diet, not only to protect detrimental loss of DHA from neurones but also to ensure that the brain functions normally.

The dysregulation in phospholipid metabolism believed to occur in children with neurodevelopmental disorders is thought to be two-fold, firstly, through an increased turnover of the phospholipid membrane, and secondly through a reduced capacity to replenish the phospholipid membrane. Either would result in disruption of the membrane’s normal structure, a combination would have more severe consequences. As humans have a low capacity to synthesise long-chain fatty acids, they must rely on dietary sources such as fish, or fish oils, to meet demands. Low dietary intake of long-chain omega-3 will exacerbate the condition and, understandably, supplementation with long-chain omega-3 will be beneficial. There have been numerous trials investigating the use of ‘fish oils’ in neurodevelopmental disorders and, whilst not all results have been favourable, it appears that the lack of clear and decisive results have been due to the choice of oil used, the dose, and the trial length. For example, given that fatty acid supplementation may take up to 3 months to substantially influence fatty acid deficiencies, it may not be appropriate to look for behavioural changes immediately upon commencing supplementation. Dosage is also key; it appears that for a supplement to have both neuroprotective and neuroregulatory actions, the amount of actual long-chain omega-3 needs to be higher than present in most common generic oils, and that the ratio of EPA to DHA needs to be higher than is typical of these oils. Using pure ethyl-EPA at a dose of 0.5-1.0g, for a period of at least three months is currently the most favoured and proven supplementation regime for treating neurodevelopmental disorders: a regime that not only offers other health benefits, but is easy to implement and with no unpleasant side effects. It’s time to open our eyes to the possibility that pharmaceutical drugs are not always the answer and that, as parents, we have the right to choose the best and safest treatment to help our children.

Obesity: don’t feed the problem

The National Obesity Forum (NOF) has announced that National Obesity Week (NOW) kicks off on the 23rd January 2011. Originally established by medical practitioners in May 2000, NOF aims to raise awareness of the growing health impact that being overweight or obese is having on patients and the National Health Service (NHS). Given that obesity is linked to a myriad of health conditions, including metabolic syndrome and type II diabetes, educating individuals in the area of prevention is of key interest to practitioners.

Obesity is a growing problem in the UK, and the most recent estimates for England suggest that some 8.5% of 6 year olds and 15% of 15 year olds are obese. Obese children are more likely to become obese adults and consequently will suffer from a range of chronic diseases in adult life. Whilst changes in patterns of physical activity and the adoption of a more sedentary lifestyle are likely to be important factors behind the growing incidence of obesity, food choice is particularly relevant. Certainly, the development of modern food processing and refining methods means that we now eat very differently from how we did around 50 years ago. Processed food, which is made up of heavily refined ingredients and likely to have a higher ratio of calories to other essential nutrients than unprocessed foods, is now commonplace in our diets. However, our love of junk food, which is high in calories, fat, salt and sugar, and low in any real nutritional value, is having a devastating impact on our long term health. An adult’s choice in food is determined by factors including what is available (for example, seasonal vegetables), what is accessible (how close the shops are), and what is affordable (possibly the greatest influence in some cases). However, a child’s food choice is primarily influenced by what is offered to them; in the early years of life, parents and close relatives are the primary influences on a child’s diet. As children reach nursery and primary school, the variety of foods offered to them will change and expand. For this reason, we should encourage our children to develop an appetite for ‘good’ food that offers them the best nutritional value in the first years of life. Certainly, whilst food habits are not rigid during a person’s lifetime, a base for healthy food habits can be created in early childhood. Any parent is probably aware that children often appear fussy, unwilling to try new foods and new flavours. However, early experience of a particular food is a major determinant in developing a child’s food acceptance pattern, with a child’s food habits influenced by their parents’ food habits and choices. Making children aware of ‘good’ foods and ‘bad’ foods and how these impact on health can be incorporated into meal planning and preparation. Eating together, and eating the same food, is an important element of relationships and the relationship that we have with food. We know that the choices made when we are young can impact on our health as adults; teaching our children about the kind of food we eat is incredibly beneficial in encouraging them to choose the right kinds of food to give them the best chance of enjoying good health later in life. Why not start now?

World Mental Health Day: how tea and talk may be more beneficial than you think!

A ‘nice cup of tea’ has been, for decades, associated with healing; for making things better or just as an excuse to sit down and talk. In fact, ‘tea and talk’ is the theme for this year’s awareness of World Mental Health Day, an international event which is annually held on 10th October. The event aims to bring general awareness to, and about, mental health issues, and this year’s focus surrounds the association between mental health disorders and chronic illness.

If you are participating in an organised tea and talk event this year, you might want to choose your tea wisely. Whilst ‘milk and two sugars’ may well be a common favourite way of drinking your brew, swapping to green tea this Sunday may help the way forward to feeling a little more cheery! Green tea has been, for a long time reported to have various beneficial effects (eg, anti-stress response and anti-inflammatory effects) on human health. It is these functions that are thought, in part to be associated with the development and progression of depressive symptoms. Regular consumption of green tea not only has benefits in reducing stress and therefore and depressive symptoms (Niu et al, 2009), but may even help reduce cognitive impairment by helping to protect from neuronal damage (Kuriyama, et al, 2009). Green tea is a favourite with populations such as the Japanese. Probably best known for their high intake of omega-3 from fish and other seafoods, alongside low intake of red meat, diet and lifestyle within the Japanese population plays a major role in contributing towards their low incidence of depression, as well as chronic diseases.

However, if the green type is not your cup of tea, and you prefer to stick to something more familiar like PG tips, then worry not. Green tea extract, probably more noted for its use in slimming products is widely available in supplement form. As is often the case, supplements can provide a useful alternative when the real deal just simply isn’t on the menu.

Niu K, Hozawa A, Kuriyama S, Ebihara S, Guo H, Nakaya N, Ohmori-Matsuda K, Takahashi H, Masamune Y, Asada M, Sasaki S, Arai H, Awata S, Nagatomi R, Tsuji I. (2009) Green tea consumption is associated with depressive symptoms in the elderly. Am J Clin Nutr. 90:1615-22.

Kuriyama S, Hozawa A, Ohmori K, Shimazu T, Matsui T, Ebihara S, Awata S, Nagatomi R, Arai H, Tsuji I. (2006) Green tea consumption and cognitive function: a cross-sectional study from the Tsurugaya Project 1. Am J Clin Nutr. 83:355-61.

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?

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
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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