Saturday, August 8, 2009
What is it? To understand flax oil you have to understand what essential fatty acids (EFA's) are and what they do. The definition of an essential nutrient is anything the body cannot synthesize itself and therefore must be obtained from the diet. We need to eat an assortment of vitamins, minerals, approximately nine to eleven amino acids, and two fatty acids to stay alive and healthy (There is no such thing as an essential carbohydrate, but we'll have to discuss that at another time and place).
The two essential fatty acids we need in our diets are Linoleic acid (LA) which is an Omega#6 fatty acid and Alpha •Linolenic acid (LNA) which is an Omega#3 fatty acid. The highest known source of the Omega#3 fatty acid LNA is flax oil which also contains a small amount of LA (flax oil has 4:1 ratio of LNA to LA). Minimum requirements for essential fatty acids are 3#6% of daily calories for LA and 0.5#1% of daily calories for LNA.
What is it supposed to do?
As with most vitamins and minerals, it is virtually impossible to get optimal amounts of unprocessed essential fatty acids (especially the Omega#3 fatty acids) from our heavily processed food supply.
The term "Omega#3 fatty acid" should ring a bell for you
Fish oils are well publicized Omega#3 fatty acids that have been shown to have many benefits. Although early research told us we need a bit more LA than LNA, in practice we find that a diet higher in LNA gets the best results for a reduction in bodyfat levels.
Americans tend to get their fats from saturated fats, rancid fats, and highly processed fats (which contain byproducts such as trans fatty acids), thus giving fats a bad name.
EFA's are not to be avoided as a "bad fat" because all fats are not created equal. From a general health standpoint, EFA's are involved in literally thousands of bodily processes essential to our health and general well being. Immunity, aging, hormone production and hormone signaling... well, you get the point.
As one would expect, EF A's have been found to have many health uses including cholesterol reduction, cancer treatment and prevention and treating inflammatory conditions.
In particular, the Omega#3 fatty acids are antHipogenic (they block fat storage), anti#catabolic, anti#inflammatory, and they increase beta oxidation (fat burning!), improve insulin sensitivity, increase thermogenesis, and a whole lot more positive effects on fat loss we don't have the space, time, or need, to cover in this little booklet.
Recent research has found that EF A's, in particular the Omega#3 lipids, control gene transcription. For the more technically adept: Omega#3 lipids play essential roles in the maintenance of energy balance and function as fuel partitioned in that
they direct glucose toward glycogen storage, and direct fatty acids away from triglyceride synthesis and assimilation and toward fatty acid oxidation.
Omega#3 lipids appear to have a unique ability to enhance thermogenesis and thereby reduce the efficiency of body fat deposition. EFA's exert their effects on lipid metabolism and thermogenesis by up#regulating the transcription of the mitochondrial uncoupling protein#3, and inducing genes encoding proteins involved in fatty acid oxidation (e.g. carnitine palmitoyltransferase and acyl#CoA oxidase) while simultaneously down#regulating the transcription of genes encoding proteins involved in lipid synthesis (e.g. fatty acid synthase).
A lack of EFA's, in particular the Omega#3 EFA's, appears to be one of the dietary factors leading to the development of obesity and insulin resistance seen in Syndrome X (see section on Chromium for more information of Syndrome X).
Of particular interest, the body makes something called prostaglandins (as well as other highly unsaturated compounds) from both of the essential fatty acids. Prostaglandins are high active shortlived hormone#like substances that regulate cellular activity on a moment to moment basis. Prostaglandins are directly involved with regulating blood pressure, inflammatory responses, insulin sensitivity, immune responses, anabolic/catabolic processes, and hundreds of other functions known and yet unknown.
The long and the short of all this, without going into a long and boring biochemical explanation: Omega#3 fatty acids are responsible for forming the anti •inflammatory prostaglandins, and Omega#6 derived prostaglandins are responsible for making many of the pro#inflammatory prostaglandins (in addition other products derived from EFA's of which there are many).
Obviously, it's a lot more complicated than that, but hey, I only have so much space to write. It is probably easy to see from just reading this section that the metabolism of EFA's is quite complicated. If you are interested in a solid easy to read primer on the many functions of EFA's and uses of flax oil, read my book Priming the Anabolic Environment which has a chapter on the topic. For even more details on the many benefits of flax oil, as well as many other oils, read Fats that Heal Fats that Kill by my good friend Dr. Udo Erasmus.