Allergies

The steep rise in the amount of omega-6 fats in the diet and the huge drop in omega-3 fats is a major driver of the increase of inflammatory allergic reactions. The omega-6 fat LA is made into arachidonic acid in the body, which gives rise to hormones that promote inflammation. So high levels of omega-6s can encourage allergic inflammation. On the other hand, omega-3s reduce inflammation as they compete for the enzymes that convert omega-6s into arachidonic acid, thus blocking production of inflammatory hormones.

Asthma

Asthma is a chronic, inflammatory lung disease characterised by recurrent breathing problems. The UK has one of the highest rates for asthma in the world, along with New Zealand, Australia and Ireland, with one in eight children and one in 20 adults affected.

During an asthma attack, the lining of the airways becomes inflamed and constricted, leading to coughing, wheezing, difficulty in breathing and tightness across the chest. The causes of asthma include a genetic susceptibility (asthma in the family) and environmental triggers such as cigarette smoke, chemicals, dust mites or diet. As food allergies are responsible for around five per cent of all asthma cases, and as cow’s milk is a primary cause of food allergies, it may be useful to consider avoiding cow’s milk and dairy products in the treatment of asthma.

Changing the diet in other ways has been shown to help, reducing the need for drugs.Supplementing the diet with plant-based fatty acids may relieve the symptoms of asthma in some people. In one study, borage oil (containing GLA) reduced the symptoms. Lowering the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats from 10:1 to 2:1 helped other people with asthma, while a ratio of 10:1 made symptoms worse.

Eczema

The increasing rates of eczema in the UK have also been linked to the rising levels of omega-6 fats and the falling levels of omega-3 fats in the typical Western diet.

Supplementing eczema patients with omega-3 fats has been shown to relieve symptoms. Again, the anti-inflammatory effect of these omega-3s is attributed to
their role in stopping arachidonic acid being used to make inflammatory hormones.

Supplementing the diet with DHA and EPA from fish has been shown to increase blood levels of both long chain omega-3s. But the higher levels of EPA could result either directly from the EPA in the supplement, or from ‘retroconversion’ of DHA into EPA. This is very important as it shows that an algal supplement supplying DHA could increase both DHA and EPA levels in the body.

The study referred to above used preparations from tuna fish, however, in an email to Viva!Health, the author said:

“I personally think, and we also have already experimental data, that algal sources would work as well.”

In short, there is no need to expose yourself to harmful toxins found in fish oils when you can obtain effective treatment from omega-3 fats from plant foods and algal supplements.

Summary

Because many people dislike the taste or smell of fish oils, even when provided in capsules, and because of dwindling fish stocks, interest in plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids has increased tremendously. A well-balanced plant-based diet, low in saturated fats but providing a good balance of omega-6s and omega-3s, and algal supplements when deemed necessary, can protect against a range of inflammatory (and other) diseases without exposure to the insidious toxic pollutants found in fish oils.

A large number of vegetarian and vegan studies convincingly show that plant-based diets have numerous health benefits, including the prevention and treatment of many common chronic diseases. Furthermore, since vegetarian and vegan diets are more sustainable, environmentally and economically, they certainly deserve more consideration in the prevention and treatment of disease.