Editorial Comment by Ginger: Supplements will not correct a lousy diet. If you are filling your kids
with trans fats and then taking a fatty acid supplement, WHATEVER its omega content, you are fighting a losing battle. Much of my reading and study of late has been dietary in nature and I am more convinced than ever that this is the real key to fatty acid balance, not just pills.
I want to do a very short chemistry lesson on fats before we start in, because I think a slightly deeper understanding of fat chemistry is in order before we start talking about the peripheral topics. It really helps to know the difference between a saturated fat, an unsaturated fat and a trans fat before we start discussing omegas and so forth. It's taken me awhile to sort it all out, so let me lay this stuff out on the table before we proceed.
A fatty acid is, mostly, a chain of a bunch of carbons and hydrogens. Carbons have 4 bonding sites. (For completion, oxygen has 2 bonding sites and hydrogen has 1.) In other words, 4 things can be attached to a carbon. If you think of tinker toys, it is a spoke with 4 holes in it to plug other stuff into. When a carbon is in a chain, 2 of those sites are attached to the carbons on either side. A fatty acid is a chain of carbons with hydrogens everywhere except one end. On that end is a carboxylic acid group (this being why it is called a fatty ACID) which means that it has 2 bonds to an oxygen, and a hydroxyl, or oxygen with a Hydrogen on the other open bond. Here is a drawing of a 4 carbon, short-chain, saturated fatty acid called butyric acid. This fatty acid is almost exclusively available in the diet from butter from grass-fed cows (dietary sources of fatty acids will be discussed later).
Fatty acids are characterized by the number of carbons in the chain (the carbon "skeleton"), whether or not they have any double bonds between the carbons (unsaturated bonds), where those bonds are (the omega number) and whether or not those bonds are "cis" (the natural form) or "trans" (the
mostly man-made form - bad, bad, bad!)
A saturated fat is one where the carbons in the chain are connected to each other with single bonds, and have hydrogens on all other available bonds (except the acid end). When one of the bonds between the bonds is a double bond, the fatty acid is now said to be monounsaturated - or one point of unsaturation. If 2 or more bonds are double bonds, the fatty acid is said to be polyunsaturated.
Unsatured fats are further characterized by the "omega" number. An omega-3 fatty acid has its first double bond between the third and fourth carbon counting from the non-acid end. An omega-6 fatty acid has its first double bond between the sixth and seventh carbon, etc.
Now let's talk about cis versus trans bonds. Yes, I hear the groans. It is important to understand this to deeply understand why trans fats are so bloody dangerous to our kids!! When a carbon is single bonded to another molecule, say another carbon, it really isn't in a straight line like drawn above. It is really more like a zig-zag like this:
It should look like carbons connected to each other in a zigzag. The angle between bonds is 109 degrees. When a carbon double bonds to something else like another carbon, that bond angle changes to 120 degrees.
So, if you were looking at a carbon chain with a "cis" double bond in space, it would look like it had a "kink" in the chain. If there was another point of unsaturation later on, the chain would have another kink in it. These kinks are very important in terms of the function of these molecules, and
also in terms of how the enzymes in the body (which turn these fatty acids into lots of other important stuff like hormones, prostaglandins, triglycerides, phospholipids, etc.) "see" them. Enzymes are highly shape dependent, and if the molecule is the wrong shape, the enzyme won't work.
So, back to our kinky chains. (There, that should spice this up a little!!) In real life, most of our fatty acids should have cis bonds - this is a description of what happens to the chain on the either side of the double bond. If you have a cis bond, the carbons on either side of the double bond would be on the same side. Visually, it makes a bowl instead of a stair.
Here’s a drawing of a Cis bond:
What you should have is a carbon with a bond down to another carbon with a double bond to a third carbon with a single bond back up to the fourth carbon. You see what I mean about it looking like a bowl?
Now, here is a trans bond:
The carbon is bonded down to a second carbon double bonded to a third carbon, bonded down to a fourth carbon. See how it looks like a stairstep?
If you hang a carbon chain out on those carbons that I have drawn on the ends, you will see that the cis bond gives you something with a kink in it, but that the chain with the trans bond ends up looking almost straight.
Enter the enzymes. "I am an enzyme that operates on unsaturated fatty acids. I am in search of a curvaceous, single fatty acid with a kink in her sixth carbon for walks on the beach and eventual permanent bonding." He's going to examine all fatty acids that respond to his ad, and summarily
reject any fatty acid that does not have the right shape, such as the one with the trans bond. All the enzymes for saturated fats will think she's the right shape, but there's that unsightly double bond. So, poor little trans-fat, after being rejected by enzyme after enzyme, will run away from home, pierce her bellybutton, buy a Harley, and run around with a bad crowd of free radicals crashing cell membranes, loitering in arterial plaque, and otherwise making mischief. It is very hard for the body to deal with these fats, because all of the enzymes are set up for fully saturated fats or cis-unsaturated fats. Trans fats, being neither fish nor fowl, are just not dealt with very well. I understand from those who have studied it that it takes YEARS for the body to rid itself of trans fats.
So, where do you get these trans fats? Look on the labels for "partially hydrogenated (whatever kind of) oil". It's in practically every baked good in the standard grocery store. It's in standard brands of peanut butter. (Choosy mothers pitch Jif!!) It's in every fried good in every fast food restaurant. It is the main ingredient in Crisco or other shortening. We are practically swimming in the stuff. That's one of the reasons that I shop at the local Fresh Fields - it's still packaged stuff, but at least it is organic and it doesn't have trans fats. You can find replacements for most familiar products, although they will taste a little different.
OK, enough on Frankenfats.
So, you've pitched the Jif, the Ritz, the goldfish (yes, those too!), and burned your Safeway savings card in effigy. You have replaced them with Eastwind Almond Butter (yummy!), Hain crackers etc. So where do we go from here?
Based on my reading, I have come to the conclusion that the first thing we ought to consider doing is replacing a lot of the unsaturated fats in the diet with saturated and monounsaturated fats. Yes, you read that right. A collective gasp goes up from the audience. THIS IS HERESY!!
You know, I bought into the whole saturated-is-bad-monounsaturated-is-good-high-fat-is-bad-lowfat-is-good-eat-lots-of-grains-and-complex-carbs for a lot of years. I mean big time. I have my own grain grinder to make my own flour to prove it!! And cases of canola oil. And I also have the extra 40 pounds or so to prove it. Up until about 6 months ago, I was busy eating my "healthy" diet, and
unwittingly aiming myself right at type 2 diabetes.
I have been studying the work of Weston A. Price, who did research on long-lived people, and who came to the conclusion that many of the societies that lived the longest had diets with huge percentages of fat and very low grain consumption. Most of these cultures ate a lot of fish (here's where the omega fats come in) and huge amounts of coconut and other tropical, saturated oils!!
Every cell membrane in the body is made up of phospholipids, and phospholipids are made up of one saturated fatty acid and one unsaturated fatty acid!! I was floored. People on the coconut oil list
that I am on have had their kids lose behavior problems, cleared up excema, boosted their thyroid- all from eating a few tablespoons of coconut oil every day instead of the equivalent of polyunsaturated oil. Yikes - talk about having been barking up the wrong tree for a lot of years!! And
furthermore, we have enzymes specifically to take saturated fats and convert them to unsaturated fats.
Along with the wrong flavors of fats, this whole high-carbohydrate thing is on the chopping block for me. People who have been following moderate programs such as the Zone, the Schwartzbein diet, Protein Power, or even more radical programs like the Atkins diet, are dropping pounds, triglycerides, cholesterol numbers - exactly the opposite of what has been the mainstream mantra. This one is right up there with vaccines and "it's genetic, you can't do anything, just take them home and love them." It is dogma, it is substantiated with flimsy research, and I am finding that I need to totally reeducate myself on diet. For example, they have lumped trans-fats in with saturated fats when coming to the conclusion that saturated fats are bad for you. Well, folks, they are not the same thing. If you look at cultures that eat a lot of saturated fat, they seem to be quite healthy, thank you very much. However the poor coconut farmer in the Phillipines does not have the same political clout as Archer-Daniels-Midland and their seed-oil business, so they get tossed out with false propaganda.
I am learning that insulin, which is boosted by carbohydrate intake, is the real culprit, not the fat. My big complaint with the Atkins diet is that being in a state of constant ketosis is also not good for you. The body is highly acid in that state, which is not good, and it is burning the fuel that the body uses during starvation. The other more moderate regimes are aimed at controlling insulin, not going into ketosis. They focus on removing grains and sugar, and eating lots of vegetables and clean proteins.
OK, back to business. Another subject, which fortunately shouldn't tax too many more brain cells but is important in understanding fat metabolism is the length. You have perhaps heard about short-chain fatty acids, medium-chain fatty acids and long-chain fatty acids? Not surprisingly, the distinction between these is how many carbons are in the carbon chain. Short chain fatty acids have 8 or less carbons. Medium chain fatty acids have between 9 and 13 and Long chain fatty acids have 14 or more. The significance is in how these are digested and what end products they make. Short and medium chain fats are absorbed and digested much more readily than long chain fats. Long chain fats are basically herded into fat droplets, and transported through an entirely different mechanism. Medium chain fats are very easy for the body to turn into energy, so many people who start eating coconut oil, which is very heavy in lauric acid, a medium chain fat, find that they get a huge burst of energy. Long chain fatty acids, whether saturated or not, are what the body uses as building blocks for most other things, such as cell membranes, prostaglandins, hormones and cholesterol.
Here is where the omega 6 versus omega 3 hits the road. One of the big issues in Down syndrome, and probably what that dietician was talking about in terms of the metabolic nightmare, is that if you have too many of the omega 6 fats, they can be converted into inflammatory prostaglandins. The last thing we need is more inflammation going on in our kids bodies. Like anything else, the body is looking for a balance, and when the balance is off, such as in the standard American diet which is so high in trans fats and omega 6 oils, the body suffers.
Finally, and this is where I am doing my reading right now to try to understand the implications is the subject of lipid peroxidation. Remember our belly-pierced trans fat? Well, the other biker chicks that she hangs out with are oxidized unsaturated fats. Remember that fatty acids are carbons and hydrogens all along the chain until you get to the very end? Places that have double bonds in that chain are very susceptible to being oxidized by free radicals. (One of the reasons high hydrogen peroxide is so dangerous in our kids is that it oxidizes the fats in the cell, including the membrane.) As I understand it from my organic chemistry, oxidation of a hydrocarbon means converting a double bond on a carbon to an alcohol (an -OH on the carbon where the second bond used to be) and perhaps further to a ketone (the other hydrogen on the carbon taking a hike with the hydrogen on the -OH and forming a double bond to the oxygen.) So, is this what an oxidized lipid looks like? Regardless, there is no enzyme that's going to recognize these oxidized lipids. Talk about unsightly bumps and bulges!!
Let me now point you to a chart that I have found to be very helpful in terms of dietary fat. http://optimalhealth.cia.com.au/OilAnalysis.gif. To help make sense of it, in the first column, is the name of the fat, and then there is the number of carbons followed by a : followed by the number of
double bonds. So, butyric acid would have 4 carbons, with zero double bonds (i.e. it's saturated.) Further down you find Omega 6 LA 18:2 Poly which means omega 6 linoleic acid, 18 carbons long, 2 double bonds (therefore polyunsaturated). The rest of the chart shows the analysis of various
dietary oils according to their fatty acid content. I believe he included cold-pressed, organic, unhydrogenated oils. That is not necessarily what is out there on the shelves in the stores, so be careful out there!!
Later in the chart, he gives the peroxidation index. It's as simple as this- the more unsaturated an oil, the more likely it is to become oxidized (aka go rancid!). That's why flax oil was removed from the Nutrivene protocol a few years ago and replaced with the Efalex in the first place. Dr. Dave did an analysis in his lab and found that most bottled flax oil was already pretty rancid when it got to the health food store!!
At this point in my analysis of fats, I have come to the conclusion that for dietary purposes, I need to be using butter (organic, grass-fed for sure, and we are using raw butter which has an even higher butyric acid content), olive oil and virgin coconut oil. The reasons I have come to those conclusions is to maximize the availability of the short- and medium-chain fatty acids that are just not available from other sources, and to minimize our dietary consumption of omega-6 fats. I am supplementing this with Cod Liver Oil (unfortunately not included in his chart!) for DHA and fat-soluble vitamins, fresh-ground flax seed for linolenic acid, and fish oil for the longer chain omega 3’s. According to Dr. Mercola, the fish oil sold at Costco, the Kirkland brand, is the best stuff because it is sold so quickly that it is always fresh. It's quite reasonably priced too.
Now for the question that I have really been struggling with in terms of Down syndrome. Since our kids have a very high level of oxidative stress going on in their bodies almost perpetually, what can I do to keep the good polyunsaturated oils from being attacked once they hit the body? I am certainly giving a hefty dose of antioxidants in the Nutrivene and other supplements, but how quickly are these fats absorbed and tucked away safely into end products which are safer from free radicals? I don't know the answer to that. I guess my concern is that given the DS biochemistry, can we assume that supplementing these oils is doing the trick?