Thursday, October 8, 2009

Vitamin F – Essential/Omega Fatty Acids

I wanted to title this article ‘Vitamin O’ for omega, but is seems that way back in the day before they knew these were fats, they were called vitamins so I thought I would honour history.

Essential fatty acids come in different forms. The first is DHA (DocosaHexaenoic Acid), EPA (EicosoPentaenoic Acid), DPA (Docosapentaenoic acid), and ALA (alpha- linoleic acid). DHA and EPA are found primarily in fish oils. ALA is mostly found in plants and which is converted by the body into DHA or EPA. DPA is found in breast milk and seal oil. There are two basic categories of essential fatty acids- omega-3 and omega-6.

Some of the food sources of omega-3 are raw nuts, seeds, legumes, grape seed oil and flaxseed oil. Sources of omega-6 fatty acids include fish, canola oil, and walnut oil. Be cautious of mercury and PCB intake when consuming fish oils (supplements tend to refine their oils in order to removes these products, but check the label).

Deficiencies may be indicated by hair loss, eczema, and damage to the kidneys, heart and liver. Behavioral disturbances are also noted when deficient. The immune system can become less efficient with resultant slow healing and susceptibility to infections.

All following studies indicate further research in their results:

“…there is convincing evidence that add-on omega-3 fatty acids to standard antidepressant pharmacotherapy results in improved mood. There is no evidence that fatty acid monotherapy has a mood-elevating effect, with a possible exception for childhood depression.” (1)

“While it is not currently possible to recommend omega-3 PUFA as either a mono- or adjunctive-therapy in any mental illness, the available evidence is strong enough to justify continued study, especially with regard to attentional, anxiety and mood disorders.” (2)

“…positive effects of omega-3 as an adjunctive treatment for depressive but not manic symptoms in bipolar disorder.” (3)

“The available evidence suggests that omega-3 fatty acids are a potential treatment of depressive disorders, but not mania.” (4)

“…the possible positive effects of omega-3 supplementation and fish consumption against sudden cardiac death in patients with schizophrenia.” (5)

I could find very little evidence about negative effects of supplementation on mood disorders. Indeed, all of the studies could find no major side effects. Yet, my bottle of vitamins specifically warns against use for people who have mania or schizophrenic. I looked at about five other brands and could find no warnings other than for bleeding disorders and pregnancy. After much searching, I found one website which warned against possible induced mania (I suppose given the antidepressant qualities of EFAs, this makes sense. I consulted with a pharmacist and she gave a similar answer, but nothing specific). If any readers have more information on this, please share.

Side effects: gastrointestinal discomfort, may act as an anticoagulant, high blood sugar, or allergic reactions.

More specific side effects of Omega-3 indicating bleeding problems: easy bruising or bleeding; black, tarry stools; bright red blood in the stool; or vomiting of blood (signs of gastrointestinal bleeding). Signs of a hemorrhagic stroke (bleeding in the brain), such as vision or speech changes, weakness or numbness in an arm or leg, or a severe headache.

References: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

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