Much has been written on the detrimental effects of fatty acids. However, generally the science of fatty acids is simplified and twisted in order to suit particular agendas and marketing strategies. Most fatty acids are neutral in their effects on health A few, such as the trans fats, have negative effects. However, a growing list of potentially beneficial fatty acids are being reported, the most well known of these being the omega 3 groups of fats.
The Western Diet
The Western diet is bad new. It contains too much salt, too much sugar, too much processed meat and too much omega 6 polyunsaturated fat. In small amounts, the omega 6 polyunsaturated fat linoleic acid is beneficial to the health. In fact it is essential because it is required for correct cellular function. However, when ingested in high amounts, it inhibits the effects of another essential fat, alpha linolenic acid, an omega 3 fatty acid.
Omega 6 To Omega 3 Ratio
The Western diet then is characterised by a high omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acid ratio. While traditionally this ratio would have been around 3 to 1, the ratio now may exceed 10 or 20 to 1. This ratio is important because when in balance the omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids produce beneficial health effects. However, as the ratio tips in favour of the omega 6 fatty acids, inflammation and immune suppression ensue.
Sources Of Omega 3 Fats
Alpha linolenic is an essential fatty acids belonging to the omega 3 family. Theoretically alpha linolenic acid can be converted in humans to all the other omega 3 fatty acids required for health. However, the conversion rate is slow in most people due to a genetic defect in the enzyme responsible, and high intakes of omega 6 fatty acids also inhibit this conversion. Therefore in order to take advantage of the health benefits of omega 3 fatty acids, other sources must be found.
However, fish eat alpha linolenic acid that is present in plankton and convert it into other omega 3 fatty acids. These fatty acids, docodasehaemoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid, bypass the enzyme deficiency that humans possess. Ingestion of fish therefore supplies preformed omega 3 fatty acids that can be used by humans. Fish is therefore a far better source of omega 3 fatty acids that plant foods containing alpha linolenic acid.
How Do Omega 3 Fatty Acids Prevent Cancer?
Epidemiology shows that fish consumption and omega 3 fatty acids consumption reduces the risk of cancer. The mechanisms by which this occurs is not known, but may relate to the immune boosting effects of redressing the omega 6 to omega 3 ratio. Alternatively, omega 3 fatty acids may increase cell apoptosis in cancerous cells, thus preventing cancer promotion and progression, and thereby limiting tumour formation.