EFA, Essential Fatty Acids are an important nutritional topic and
hopefully this will help cut through the confusion and the myths. Here
What makes them essential?
There are many fatty acids that the mammalian body uses in virtually
every cell in the body. The EFA, Essential Fatty Acids are the fatty
acids which cannot be made by the body but which must be obtained
Lets breakdown the types of Fatty acids.
There are two main groups of EFAs: Omega 3 FA and Omega 6 FA. Their
name comes from the placement of a double bond between carbon
molecules. Omega threes have the final double bond at n-3 position and Omega 6's
have them at n-6. Thus they are often referred to as n-3 FA and n-6
FAs. ( Don't worry, I won't bore you with going into any more detail of
the biochemistry of it all).
Omega 6 - Beware of too much of these...
Omega 6 is plentiful and easy to find in many foods including: canola
oil (rapeseed), most vegetable oils, eggs, cereals, safflower oil,
sunflower oil, nuts, whole grain breads, poultry, baked goods, etc...
While Omega 6 FA are necessary for life, too much of a good thing is a
bad thing! n-6 FA's are responsible for precursors to inflammation. One
of the most important n-6's is Arachidonic Acid. (no it isn't spider
acid but for the many bad things it can do - it might as well be!). To
be fair, we need arachidonic acid to live in so much as we need
inflammation as part of our immune system. Arachidonic acid it is
responsible for the Arachidonic Cascade which produces the hormones of
inflammation such as leukotrienes, prostaglandins and many more. While
many animals can convert other forms of n-6 FA into the Arachidonic
acid (also a n-6 FA), many obligate carnivores (like our beloved house
cat) cannot easily make this transition. Thus they can obtain what they
need from a meat based diet. One study involving feeding arachidonic
acid to mice suggests a possible link to Alzheimer's disease.
(not so fun to forget where your cheese is!) What else does too much
n-6s do? Well they interfere with the wonderful effects of n-3 FAs by
using the same enzymes that n-3 FA's use to do their job (this is
called competitive inhibition for other geeks like me out there who
might be reading this.)
Furthermore "excessive production of n−6 eicosanoids is associated with
heart attacks, thrombotic stroke, arrhythmia, arthritis, osteoporosis,
inflammation, mood disorders and cancer" (Calder, Philip C. (June
2006). "n−3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids, Inflammation, and Inflammatory Diseases". American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (American Society for
Nutrition) 83 (6, supplement): 1505S-1519S).
Ratio of Omega 6 to 3
Spawning Atlantic Salmon
So what do we do? Not eat the myriad of food that has n-6? And if we
don't eat any we die? Is this hopeless?? Not at all. The key lies in
the ratio of omega 6 to omega 3. The Greeks 'Golden Mean'.
The proper or ideal ratio is typically thought to be 5:1 to 10:1 of
Omega 6 to 3. But doesn't that seem like a lot of Omega 6? Remember
with the almost ubiquitous locations of omega 6, this ratio will be
hard enough to find as it is! But yes this is the ratio that is
An excerpt from The Government's Big Fish Story by Sabrina Rubin
Erdely, "Changing agricultural techniques have worsened the situation.
The natural omega-3 contents of meat, milk, and eggs have plummeted now
that our livestock no longer graze on ALA-rich grass, instead consuming
corn, wheat, and other grains that are loaded with another group of
fatty acids, called omega-6s. In fact, the disappearance of omega-3s
from our diets has coincided with an upsurge in omega-6s, mainly in the
form of cereals, grains, and processed foods made with hydrogenated
oils. Dr. Simopoulos estimates that in caveman days, we ate an equal
amount of the two types, but that the average American now eats 16
times more omega-6s than omega-3." A link is provided for this article,
it is well worth reading.
Omega 3 FAs
Of the Omega 3s, there are 3 of them: α-linolenic acid (ALA),
eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). ALA is
found in nuts, seeds and plants.
ALA (α-linolenic acid)
We will see them in rapeseed (canola), soybeans, walnuts, flaxseed
(Linseed), and others. It is also found in broad leaf greens. These
greens are eaten by many animals and thus the animals that consume
these greens, themselves become a source of ALA. It is important to
note that the sources of ALA are often those that we also see as a
source of n-6.
This n-3 may not be as great as its two siblings. While as noted above,
its lack of feeding to livestock has helped make the search for a
proper 6 to 3 ratio more difficult; it is not the FA we need to be
necessarily reaching for. While it has been associated with lowering
cardiovascular disease risk, it is not clear whether or not it is from
ALA itself or the fact that the body can convert ALA to DHA and EPA.
Can we just take ALA and avoid eating fish? No, sorry. The conversion
of ALA to EPA is limited and too much ALA may actually inhibit EPA.
Furthermore from wikipedia... "Some studies have linked α-linolenic acid
with rapidly progressing prostate cancer and macular
degeneration, increasing the risk 70% over control subjects (over
those that did not receive α-linolenic acid)." Where end note 8 is:
Brouwer IA, Katan MB, Zock PL (2004). "Dietary α-linolenic acid is
associated with reduced risk of fatal coronary heart disease, but
increased prostate cancer risk: a meta-analysis.". Journal of Nutrition
134 (4): 919-922. PMID 15051847. Retrieved on 13 November 2006. PMID
15051847 and end note 9 is: Eunyoung Cho, Shirley Hung, Walter C
Willett, Donna Spiegelman, Eric B Rimm, Johanna M Seddon, Graham A
Colditz and Susan E Hankinson (2001). "Prospective study of dietary fat
and the risk of age-related macular degeneration". American Journal of
Clinical Nutrition 73 (2): 209-218. PMID 11157315.Retrieved on 13
November 2006. PMID 11157315
So ALA is like n-6s in that we need them, but in moderation.
DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentanoic acid)
These are the n-3s that are obtained solely (no pun intended) from
fish! The n-3s originate from photosynthetic and heterotrophic
microalgae which are consumed by fish, which are often consumed by
other fish. Ergo, any fish will do! Also as we get higher up the food
chain, there is a higher concentration of the n-3 FAs! Great news for
seafood lovers. (at the end of this lecture I have a weblink for
seafood choices that are safe for the environment).
What is so great about DHA and EPA? To begin with virtually every cell
requires them. The brain and eye especially need DHA. In fact, a
neuron's plasma membrane is made of about 50% of DHA! From the
Government's Big Fish Story, "While omega-3s reduce our body's
inflammation response, omega-6s encourage it." This means that DHA and
EPA are where we see so many of the medical benefits with our dog and
cat patients with inflammatory diseases such as skin allergies and
Hill's Science diet recognized the powerful benefits of EPA and
formulated their joint diet called j/d. It contains 3374 mg of Omega 3
FAs per cup of j/d. The EPA levels are so concentrated that after two
weeks of being on j/d many inflammatory mediators will stop being
formed. In fact j/d is so concentrated in fish oils that a medium sized
dog would need to eat 33 fish oil capsules every day in order to get
the same amount of EPA as j/d! Hill's took this diet to the FDA and
asked them to test it by the same rigid requirements that they would
for a new arthritis pain medication; and it passed! Also a few
important points for those concerned about Science Diet Formulas: 1)
there are absolutely NO artificial preservatives.
J/D is preserved with tocopherol (from soy bean oil, and is a dietary
sourced of Vitamin E), citric acid and rosemary extract. The fish
source is menhaden fish (a cold water fish from the Chesapeake Bay,
also known as a mossbunker or pogy). None of their fish have been
treated with artificial preservatives and this included ethoxyquin! So
as far as diets go: it is has the highest level of Omega 3 FA of any
dog food available and has absolutely no preservatives. For those that
don't trust Science Diet - this may be an exception to consider or at
least a reason to find a source of EPA for any pets with arthritis.
Unfortunately there is not a feline J/D available at this time. Now
Beyond the vast area of reducing inflammation of skin, joint arthritis,
immune mediated disease and other allergic disorders, DHA and EPA have
been shown to be beneficial with the human diseases of Alzheimer's
disease and rheumatoid arthritis. Also in humans, DHA and EPA helps
lower blood pressure, lower blood triglyceride levels, decrease risk of
stroke, reduce the risk of breast, prostatic and colonic cancer,
stimulate blood circulation, and help reduce depression. This is not
even a complete list by any means. In other Hill's Science Diet foods
it is used in c/d to help reduce bladder inflammation and treat FLUTD
as well as crystalluria, in k/d to promote increased kidney blood flow
and health in renal failure cases, in b/d to help promote brain
function and treat pets with CDS (Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome), in
h/d to improve cardiac health, in d/d to reduce dermal inflammation in
pets suffering from atopy and other causes of dermatitis and also used
in n/d to help cancer patients not only battle cancer but to help them
deal with the chemotherapeutic agents that might be given to them.
These are listed as examples of n-3 FA uses in veterinary medicine;
there are any other diets such as Nutromax, Eukanuba, Blue Buffalo and
many others which utilize the healing benefits of Omega 3 FAs.
To summarize, in veterinary medicine we can help promote the health of
the brain, skin, heart, kidney, bladder, and joints as well as to help
cancer patients. From extrapolation from human medicine, we think that
they help promote a mental state of wellbeing and fight against
depression. Pretty cool stuff these fish oils are.
What doses can we use if we are on another diet? According to Joe
Bartges, DVM, PhD, DACVIM, DACVN from the University of Tennessee, "10-200 mg/kg/day". There are various doses specifically for cancer,
arthritis, etc which seem to fall on the higher end near 200 mg/kg/day.
There are many forms of fish oils out there. One of my favorites is
Derm Caps 3V Free Form Liquid by DVM products that focuses on a high
Omega 3 Fatty Acid supplement in a convenient liquid pump which has a
air tight bladder to preserve freshness.
"Just throw some olive oil on top of the food... or raw eggs..."
Ants and bees release oleic acid when they die
If you have read to this point, this statement which I hear from many
people, unfortunately including some veterinarians should be apparently
a foolish statement but let's look into it a bit more anyways. Olive
oil is made up primarily of a monounsaturated fatty acid called oleic
acid. It is not an essential fatty acid, and nope, it doesn't have any
n-3s at all as it is from an olive and not a fish. In fact at high
levels oleic acid and other monounsaturated fatty acids might be linked
to an increase risk of breast cancer in humans: (Valeria Pala, Vittorio
Krogh, Paola Muti, Veronique Chajes, Elio Riboli, Andrea Micheli, Mitra
Saadatian, Sabina Sieri, Franco Berrino (2001). "Erythrocyte Membrane
Fatty Acids and Subsequent Breast Cancer: a Prospective Italian Study".
JNCL 93. PMID 11459870. Retrieved on 30 November 2008.)
As an unusual side note from Wikipedia, "Oleic acid is emitted by the
decaying corpses of a number of insects, including bees and
Pogonomyrmex ants and triggers the instincts of living workers to
remove the dead bodies from the hive. If a live bee or ant is daubed
with oleic acid, it is dragged off as if it were dead."
Now with that said, I used some extra virgin olive oil to cook my
dinner of Puttanesca tonight, which I might add was delicious. To note,
this meal was apropos as it has anchovies in it. Thus it helps balance
my Omega 6 to Omega 3's and adds a little oleic acid for that wonderful
Italian taste! So the point is not to stop using olive oil... just stop
using to it help skin allergies and put it back where it belongs - in
some wonderful cooking creation; then go and buy some fish oils for
So what does olive oil do for the pet? Not much for the skin. It might
have a laxative effect, and bees might think your pet is not feeling so
What about eggs? Or vegetable oil for that matter? Remember these guys
are sources of Omega 6. We are already getting our full share in the
kibble. If you are giving eggs for taste or other reasons, go ahead but
do not add it for help with skin allergies. It doesn't; it makes it
worse by increasing the Omega 6s in comparison to the Omega 3s and thus
driving inflammation up. And vegetable oil? Let's cut that out all
together. Not only do we not want to increase skin inflammation but we
don't need a bout of pancreatitis either.
"Hey these capsules are great - they have 3, 6 and 9!"
Ack... No more 6's please! Many formulations in the grocery store, health
food store and pet store have 3, 6 and sometimes 9 as combination
formulas. Many of the human brands boast about it, as if it were more
complete that the Omega 3 fish oil bottle sitting next to it. If you
eat like most normal humans, we are already consuming far too much
Omega 6s and most of us can make our own Omega 9s (again, it is not an
EFA). Finally remember it is all about ratios. If we naturally eat n-6
FA, then take a supplement of 3 and 6 we are just wasting of time,
money and the effort of swallowing pills.
Thanks to those that have born with me on this journey of fatty acids
without lapsing into a coma - or perhaps I should say... thanks to those
that have regained consciousness and finished reading it. I hope this
has taken an important subject and made it as simple as I can without
jeopardizing the core information.
My goal here is neither to promote Hill's Science Diet nor to have you
stop eating certain foods. My goal here is to promote the use of Omega
3 Fish Oils and to have everyone think about reducing the omega 6
intake to maintain a proper ratio between Omega 6 and Omega 3 FAs. My
second goal is to help dispel the myths of bottles promoting Omega
3,6,9 and the use of olive oil or other alternatives to fish oils. Fish
oils are not very expensive and are well worth the money.
Finally I have attached links to a couple of the Omega Fish Oils that I trust. I also
have a link to the Government's Big Fish Story which covers the
benefits of fish oils with humans. There is also a link to the Monterey
Bay Aquarium seafood watch for green seafood choices.
Which Omega 3 Fish Oils should I Get?
Omega 3s originate from microalgae, not corn
It should be noted that fish oils are neither food nor drug. As such,
they are not regulated by the FDA. Therefore all fish oils are not
created equal. Many do not have what they claim. Even worth than this,
some have other compounds within them.
While the oils
collected from fish do not differ whether labeled for dogs or cats, I
have only evaluated the pet labeled versions. Below are some of the
ones I recommend. This does not mean that others are not good; but
these are ones that I feel are worth the money spent.
Always know the Fish Source: Wild or Farmed.
Is the fish wild caught or farm raised? In general you want wild caught.
Why? Farm raised fish have a number of problems which are important not
only when you order some for dinner but also for benefits to health.
Farm raised fish are kept in high densities that are unnatural which
lead to the frequent use of antibiotics because the fish are constantly
rubbing against each other can damaging themselves. There is the
concern of residue antibiotics levels. Furthermore many times, the fish
are fed vegetable derived proteins and even straight corn. The
beneficial Omega-3s (DHA and EPA) originate from photosynthetic and
microalgae which are consumed by fish; not corn. There is also an
environmental concern as the high levels of waste and antibiotics may
lead to local habitat destruction and contamination in some cases.
Aller G3 from Vet Solutions / Vetoquinol
Fish Source: Wild caught Sardines and Wild caught Anchovies from the New Brunswick area of the North Atlantic.
Economical Choice: "Each 8oz. bottle is equivalent to 219 medium breed capsules."
Forms: soft gels or liquid pump. Pumps can be convenient as you can just put it on top of the food.
Ingredients: Fish oil, dl-alpha Tocopherol (from soybeans and a source of Vitamin
E), Vitamin A palmiate, Vitamin D3
Levels: 1 pump delivers: EPA 180mg and DHA 120mg.
Additional Information: There is absolutely no ethoxyquin (a common artificial preservative used in fish) used. Squeeze bottle - guaranteed to expiration date.The levels of DHA and EPA have a guaranteed label claim to FDA specification.
Welactin from Nutramax Laboratories
Fish Source: Norwegian wild caught salmon. Also uses other fish such as anchovies to raise the levels of EPA.
Ingredients: Salmon oil, d-alpha tocopheryl acetate, mono-and diglyceriedes, tocopherols, soybean oil, citric acid, and rosemary extract. Note: tocopherol is derived from soybeans, is all natural and is a nutritional source of Vitamin E.
Levels: Each canine soft gel contains: EPA 165mg, DHA 105mg. Each feline soft gel contains: EPA 150mg, DHA 100mg. Additional Information: There is absolutely no ethoxyquin (a common artificial preservative used in fish) used. Squeeze bottle - guaranteed to expiration date.The levels of DHA and EPA have a guaranteed label claim to FDA specification.