Nothing fishy about oils' health benefits

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How’s this for a conundrum: We have all heard that most of our heart problems were related to the consumption of fat, mostly saturated fat. But then came the startling fact that the culture with the least cardiovascular disease is the Greenland Inuit, whose intake of fats is close to 70 percent of their diet.

What’s going on here?

Indeed, their diet is high in fat, but as researchers have found, the fat the Inuit eat is much different than the fat we eat.

And the composition of a fat has a profound influence on its ability to cause blood clots, the cause of most cardiovascular and cerebrovascular deaths.

The most common form of heart attack occurs when a blood clot (thrombus) blocks a coronary artery that feeds your heart muscle. The leading cause of stroke occurs when a blood clot occludes, or obstructs, an artery supplying blood to your brain.

The question then was, how is this fat different?

To answer that question we have to go back to the origin of these fats (oils).

The blubber or fat the Inuit eat begins in the very cold waters of the Arctic Ocean, specifically within the bodies of tiny plankton. We all know that if put into a refrigerator most oils will begin to cloud and harden. Hence, in order for these tiny plankton to live in the cold arctic water, they need a very special oil in their bodies that does not harden in the cold. The plankton are eaten by krill, which are eaten by other fish and so the fat goes up the food chain. At the end of that chain are the Inuit, who receive in their diet an abundance of these very special omega-3 oils called EPA and DHA.

It also happens that when eaten by people, EPA has a profound effect on our blood clotting mechanism by making it less likely to form clots in our blood. It is that effective.

Although the figures vary, it is estimated that in America alone over a million deaths each year are caused by blood clots in heart, lungs, brain and extremities.

Now, you’ve heard it said that eating fish is good for the heart. To a certain extent that is true, but it does not hold true in all cases. Here’s why. The plankton are mostly ocean creatures. Furthermore, they must be exposed to the coldest water for them to form these special omega-3 oils.

In fact, the companies that gather and sell these “fish oils” only gather their fish in winter and spring because summer and autumn fish will have fewer of omega-3 oils.

As an added bonus one of these two fatty acids, DHA, is very helpful in infant brain development and it is now being used in some infant formulas.

One scientific article has called this “the health discovery of the century.” I am inclined to agree.

A second conundrum is this; if these oils are so very important in human nutrition, by reducing blood clots and hence the number of cardiovascular deaths, shouldn’t this information be headline news?

References to these data are available in my book, “The Second Dilemma.”

Retired chiropractic doctor Francis Trapani’s background includes active practice for 41 years; investigative reporting for many years on stations KTRG and KPOI on Hawaii radio and exercise/fitness yoga TV broadcasts on channel KHVH, also in Hawaii. He has written three books and is working on a fourth; a yoga self-help manual “The Doctor Prescribes Yoga.” For more information, go to drftrapani.com.

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