Archive for December, 2011

Importance of Omega-3 Fats in Health and Disease

Thursday, December 8th, 2011

, Interest in omega-3 fatty acids began in the 1950s, with several thousand papers in the scientific literature supporting their benefits. Little doubt remains that omega-3 fatty acids are important in human nutrition. As significant structural components of the cell membranes of tissues throughout the body, they are especially rich in the retina, brain, and sperm, in which docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) constitutes 36.4% of total fatty acids. Membrane fluidity is essential for proper functioning of these tissues. In the retina, where omega-3 fatty acids are especially important, deficiency can result in decreased vision and abnormal electroretinogram results. Several studies clearly illustrate the effects of omega-3 deficiency in both animals and humans.

For purposes of discussion, the most prominent forms of Omega-3 fatty acids include alpha-linolenic acid (ALA, 18:3), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA, 20:5), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA, 22:6). ALA is present in plant-based sources such as flaxseed oil; EPA and DHA are present in animal and marine sources, such as liver, krill, and fish.

Omega-3 Fatty acids are essential fatty acids, necessary from conception through pregnancy and infancy and throughout life: The ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids has increased in industrialized societies because of reduced consumption of foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids and increased consumption of vegetable oils rich in omega-6 fatty acids, i.e., linoleic acid in the form of soy, corn, safflower, and canola oils. Another important feature of omega-3 fatty acids is their role in the prevention and modulation of certain diseases that are common in Western civilization. The following is a partial list of diseases that may be prevented or ameliorated with omega-3 fatty acids, in descending order of importance based on available scientific literature:

  • Coronary heart disease and stroke,
  • Essential fatty acid deficiency in infancy (retinal and brain development),
  • Autoimmune disorders (e.g., lupus and nephropathy),
  • Crohn’s disease,
  • Cancers of the breast, colon, and prostate,
  • Mild hypertension, and
  • Rheumatoid arthritis.


Dietary ALA vs. dietary DHA: Within the health community, some debate the ability of individuals to convert dietary sources of ALA into the longer forms of EPA and DHA, which are used by the body for many metabolic functions. This question remains heavily debated despite studies that show the removal of dietary ALA promotes Omega-3 fatty acid deficiency, including DHA, and in spite of many experiments demonstrating dietary inclusion of ALA raises Omega-3 tissue fatty acid content, including DHA. Research shows that ALA is converted to DHA, EPA, and docosapentaenoic acid (DPA, 22:5), depending the body’s needs. Like many other fatty acids, the by-products of metabolizing ALA are reused for synthesizing cholesterol and other fatty acids. In addition, numerous in vitro and animal studies show ALA exerting identical metabolic effects as DHA, although longer treatments or higher concentrations of ALA were needed compared to consuming dietary DHA.

The differences between how the body uses dietary DHA compared to dietary ALA have led to the dogma that ALA is not a useful fatty acid for maintaining DHA levels in human tissues. On the contrary, numerous studies indicate that dietary ALA (found in abundance in flaxseed oil) is a crucial dietary source of Omega-3 fatty acids and including it in one’s diet is critical for maintaining EPA, DPA, and DHA levels in human tissue.


Cardiovascular Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids: The strongest evidence of connecting omega-3 fatty acids and disease prevention is found in the inverse relationship between the amount of omega-3 fatty acids in the diet, blood, and tissues and the occurrence of coronary heart disease and its complications. Effects of omega-3 fatty acids on coronary heart disease have been shown in hundreds of experiments in animals, humans, tissue culture studies, and clinical trials. Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to be protective of heart disease and, by a variety of mechanisms, prevent deaths from coronary disease, particularly cardiac arrest.

The unique properties of omega-3 fatty acids in coronary heart disease first became apparent while investigating the health of Greenland Eskimos who consumed diets very high in fat from seals, whales, and fish and yet had a low rate of coronary heart disease. Further studies clarified this paradox. The fat the Eskimos consumed contained large quantities of the very-long-chain and highly polyunsaturated fatty acids of EPA and DHA, which are abundant in fish, shellfish, and sea mammals and are scarce or absent in land animals and plants. EPA and DHA are synthesized by phytoplankton, which are the equivalent of oceanic plants that serve as the base of the food chain for marine life.

Dietary omega-3 fatty acids act to prevent heart disease through a variety of actions, including the following:

  • Preventing arrhythmias (ventricular tachycardia and fibrillation),
  • Acting as prostaglandin and leukotriene precursors,
  • Having anti-inflammatory properties,
  • Inhibiting synthesis of cytokines and mitogens,
  • Stimulating endothelial-derived nitric oxide,
  • Acting as an antithrombotic,
  • Having hypolipidemic properties with effects on triglycerides and VLDLs, and
  • Inhibiting atherosclerosis.

EPA and DHA have strong anti-arrhythmic action on the heart. In experimental animals and tissue culture systems, EPA and DHA prevent the development of ventricular tachycardia and fibrillation. Where omega-3 fatty acid intake was increased, total mortality has been improved in several studies. In one study, men who consumed salmon 1 time/wk had a 70% less likelihood of cardiac arrest. In another study overall mortality was decreased by 29% in men with overt cardiovascular disease who consumed omega-3 fatty acids from fish or fish oil, probably due to reducing cardiac arrests. According to a 1998 Physician’s Health Study in the United States, consumption of 1 fish meal/week was associated with a 52% lower risk of sudden cardiac death compared with consumption of <1 fish meal/month in 20,551 male physicians.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids Essential Components of Cell Membranes in Infancy: Two critical periods are worth noting for adequate consuming omega-3 fatty acids: during fetal development and after birth until the biochemical development in the brain and retina is completed. As already noted, the omega-3 fatty acid DHA is an important constituent of the cell membrane of these neural structures. Omega-3 fatty acid deficiency is manifested in both the blood and in tissue biochemistry. Of note is a strikingly low concentration of DHA, which may fall to as much as one-fifth of the normal amount, which the body attempts to replace with Omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3–deficient diets fed to pregnant rhesus monkeys that continued after birth induced profound functional changes such as reduced vision, abnormal electroretinograms, impaired visual evoked potential, more stereotypic behavior (e.g., pacing), and disturbed cognitive ability.

Some of these findings have been replicated in infants fed formulas deficient in omega-3 fatty acids. Most studies of premature infants have shown visual impairment and abnormal electroretinograms. A recent study in full-term infants compared standard infant formula with human milk and formulas enriched with DHA, the results of which unequivocally demonstrated the considerable differences in cognitive ability.

All human studies substantiated the omega-3 fatty acid deficiency state in plasma, red blood cells, and occasionally in tissues from autopsied infants. The lower concentrations of DHA in plasma and erythrocytes are mirrored by lower concentrations in the brain and retina. Formula-fed infants have lower concentrations of brain DHA than do infants fed human milk. They also have lower intelligence quotients. During pregnancy, both the mother’s stores and dietary intake of omega-3 fatty acids are of critical importance in insuring that the baby has adequate amounts of omega-3 fatty acids at the time of birth.

All polyunsaturated fatty acids, including DHA, are transferred across the placenta into fetal blood. In addition, EPA and DHA in the mother’s adipose tissue can be mobilized as free fatty acids bound to albumin and be made available to the developing fetus via placenta transport. Several studies in monkeys have indicated that when the mother’s diet is deficient in omega-3 fatty acids, the infant at birth is also deficient with low DHA concentrations observed in their plasma and red blood cells. In humans, consuming fish oil or sardines to pregnant women led to higher DHA concentrations in both the mother’s plasma and red blood cells and in cord blood plasma and red blood cells at the time of birth. Once membrane phospholipids have adequate concentrations of DHA, the brain and retina retain these fatty acids, even though the diet may be deficient afterwards.

Barcelo-Coblijn G, Murphy EJ (2009) Alpha-linolenic acid and its conversion to longer chain n-3 fatty acids: Benefits for human health and a role in maintaining tissue n-3 fatty acid levels. Progress in Lipid Research 48:355-374.

Conner WE (2000) Importance of n-3 fatty acids in health and disease. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 71(suppl):171S-175S.

Take Heed – Nearly Every Processed Food You Eat is Contaminated with GMOs

Friday, December 2nd, 2011

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In Europe genetically modified foods and ingredients have to be labeled.

In the United States, they do not.

But the truth is, if and when GM labeling is finally required in the United States, you’re going to see changes to the majority of food labels in your supermarket, as GM foods already widely appear in our food supply.

Most people are not aware that nearly EVERY processed food you encounter at your local supermarket that does not bear the “USDA Organic” label is filled with GM components.

This is due to the amount of GM crops now grown in the United States (over 90 percent of all corn is GM corn and over 95 percent all soy is GM soy).

As you might suspect, it’s in the interest of the industry to keep the prevalence of GM ingredients quiet and they won’t go down without a fight.

Biotech Industry Spends More Than Half a Billion to Influence Congress

In just over a decade, the food and agriculture biotechnology industry has spent more than $572 million in campaign contributions and lobbying expenditures, according to an analysis by Food & Water Watch.

Key among the goals of this intense lobbying effort is to prevent GM food labeling and keep Americans in the dark about the contents of their food.

The analysis states:

“The food and agriculture biotechnology industry has been flexing its financial political muscle to ease the regulatory oversight of genetically modified foods. Lobbying efforts for some of these firms and groups have included approval of cloned food and genetically engineered food, animals and livestock.

Companies are also fighting to eliminate or prevent labeling on genetically modified foods in the United States and preventing other countries from regulating genetically modified foods. These efforts have dovetailed with lobbying to tighten intellectual property law protections over patented seeds and animals in attempts to further benefit the biotech industry.”

Over 95 percent of Americans polled said they think GM foods should require a label, stating it’s an ethical issue and consumers should be able to make an informed choice. Like people in Europe, Americans are suspicious of GM foods, and a large part of why many continue to buy them is because they are unaware that they’re already in the food. A prominent GM food label would be a death sentence to U.S. GM crops, which are right now enjoying a free for all when it comes to entering the food market.

As Ronnie Cummins of the Organic Consumers Association stated:

“Why are there basically no genetically engineered foods or crops anywhere in Europe, while 75 percent of U.S. supermarket foods—including many so-called “natural” foods—are GE tainted?

The answer is simple. In Europe genetically modified foods and ingredients have to be labeled. In the U.S. they do not. Up until now, in North America, Monsanto and the Biotechnocrats have enjoyed free reign to secretly lace non-organic foods with gene-spliced viruses, bacteria, antibiotic-resistant marker genes, and foreign DNA—mutant “Frankenfoods” shown to severely damage the health of animals, plants, and other living organisms in numerous scientific studies.

Monsanto and their allies understand the threat that truth-in-labeling poses for GMOs.

As soon as genetically modified foods start to be labeled in the U.S., millions of consumers will start to read these labels and react.

They’ll complain to grocery store managers and companies, they’ll talk to their family and friends. They’ll start switching to foods that are organic or at least GMO-free. Once enough consumers start complaining about GM foods and food ingredients; stores will eventually stop selling them; and farmers will stop planting them.

Genetically engineered foods have absolutely no benefit for consumers or the environment, only hazards. This is why Monsanto and their friends in the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations have prevented consumer GMO truth-in-labeling laws from ever getting a public discussion, much less coming to a vote in Congress.”

Why the Approval of GM Alfalfa Could Mean the End of Organic

Industry lobbying is clearly working, as to date biotech companies have evaded mandatory labeling laws (although a new California initiative may change all of that). They also succeeded in getting GM alfalfa approved, which quite literally threatens the entire organic industry, including organic meat, as alfalfa is the fourth largest crop in the U.S., and is used to produce forage seed and hay to feed cows and other livestock.

Contamination would be disastrous for organic dairy- and cattle farmers as federal organic standards forbid them from using GM crops, and organic food manufacturers will reject a food ingredient if found to be contaminated with GM material — not to mention Monsanto’s history of suing both conventional and organic farmers for patent infringement should their crops be cross-contaminated.

Download Interview Transcript

Cummins noted in the above interview that any alfalfa growing within a five-mile radius of GM alfalfa will immediately become contaminated, and it’s clearly evident that GM crops of all kinds cannot be contained. They absolutely WILL contaminate their conventional and organic counterparts, which will mean ultimately the entire food supply will contain GMOs.

Some, like Dr. Philip Bereano, professor emeritus at the University of Washington and an engaged activist concerning GM foods, believe contamination is actually an intentional strategy by both the government and the industry to weaken the organic industry to simply allow GM animal feed in organics.

Indeed, while USDA chief Tom Vilsack acknowledged alfalfa contamination concerns in an “Open Letter to Stakeholders” on December 30, 2010, stating that the USDA’s environmental impact statement “acknowledges the potential of cross-fertilization to non-GE alfalfa from GE alfalfa,” adding that cross-fertilization is “a significant concern for farmers who produce for non-GE markets at home and abroad,” steps were not taken to address them.

Congress is the Puppet, Biotech is the Puppeteer

It takes only a flick of biotech’s wrist to move Congress’ regulatory arms, and the truth is the revolving door between the two is spinning so fast that the line between industry lobbyists and legislators is permanently blurred.

As the Food & Water Watch report noted:

“At least a baker’s dozen of former members of Congress represent food and agriculture biotechnology interests as lobbyists. Of the companies surveyed, seven spent over $8.5 million to hire the firms of at least 13 former senators and representatives to represent these biotechnology interests to their former colleagues in the Congress. Many of these former legislators-turned-lobbyists have formidable legislative pedigrees.

For example, Former House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Charles Stenholm (D-TX) is currently a registered lobbyist for Syngenta, a seller of genetically modified plants in the United States and abroad.”

Biotech giant Monsanto is a prime example of how the industry has infiltrated U.S. regulatory agencies like the FDA and the USDA with their previous employees who are still very loyal to Monsanto. Cummins pointed out the following connections as a start:

  • Clarence Thomas, who did not withdraw himself from a Supreme Court decision on genetically engineered alfalfa last year, used to be the general counsel for Monsanto.
  • Michael Taylor, who was formerly the vice president of Monsanto, is now the Food and Drug Administration Deputy Commissioner for Foods.
  • Roger Beachy, the former director of the Monsanto-funded Danforth Plant Science Center in Saint Louis, is now the director of the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
  • Islam Siddiqui was vice president of Monsanto and Dupont’s funded pesticide-promotion group CropLife. He is now the agricultural negotiator for the U.S. Trade Representative. In other words, he is the enforcer for U.S. foreign policy that countries have to accept our genetically engineered exports.
  • Rajiv Shah is the former Agricultural Development Director for the pro-biotech Gates Foundation, who are frequently partnering with Monsanto. He served as Obama’s USDA undersecretary for Research, Education and Economics.
  • Elena Kagan has served as President Obama’s Solicitor General. She took Monsanto’s side against organic farmers on the roundup ready alfalfa case.
  • Ramona Ramiro, corporate counsel to Dupont, another biotech bully, has been nominated by President Obama to serve as general counsel for the USDA.

This is not an issue of Republican versus Democrat. As Cummins noted, both parties are guilty:

“We must point that it’s not just the Obama Administration that has served as a revolving door for Monsanto. We saw the same situation under Bush Jr., Clinton and Bush Sr. We have a corporation Monsanto that is not only out of control, but that places its people in high positions; that donates large sums of money to members of congress; and that basically gets its way every time there is a policy decision made in Washington.”

It should not come as a surprise, then, that even the current secretary of the USDA, Tom Vilsack, is thoroughly entrenched in the industry. As the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) pointed out:

  • Vilsack has been a strong supporter of genetically engineered crops, including bio-pharmaceutical corn.
  • The biggest biotechnology industry group, the Biotechnology Industry Organization, named Vilsack Biotech Governor of the Year. He was also the founder and former chair of the Governor’s Biotechnology Partnership.
  • When Vilsack created the Iowa Values Fund, his first poster child of economic development potential was Trans Ova and their pursuit of cloning dairy cows.
  • The undemocratic and highly unpopular 2005 seed pre-emption bill was Vilsack’s brainchild. The law strips local government’s right to regulate genetically engineered seed (including where GE can be grown, maintaining GE-free buffers or banning GE corn locally).
  • Vilsack is an ardent supporter of corn and soy-based biofuels, which use as much or more fossil fuel energy to produce them as they generate, while driving up world food prices and literally starving the poor.
  • Overall, Vilsack’s record is one of aiding and abetting Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) and promoting animal cloning.

I think this makes it a lot easier to understand why GM crops have proliferated the American landscape and food supply, despite public outcry and organized opposition.

GM Crops Failing Miserably, Threatening Public Health

Virtually all of the claims of benefit of GM crops – increased yields, more food production, controlled pests and weeds, reductions in chemical use in agriculture, drought-tolerant seeds – have not materialized. The Global Citizens’ Report on the State of GMOs states:

  • Contrary to the claim of feeding the world, genetic engineering has not increased the yield of a single crop.
  • Herbicide tolerant (Roundup Ready) crops were supposed to control weeds and Bt crops were intended to control pests. Instead of controlling weeds and pests, GE crops have led to the emergence of super weeds and super pests … Herbicide resistant crops such as Roundup Ready cotton can create the risk of herbicide resistant “superweeds” by transferring the herbicide resistance to weeds.
  • Despite claims that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) will lower the levels of chemicals (pesticides and herbicides) used, this has not been the case. This is of great concern both because of the negative impacts of these chemicals on ecosystems and humans, and because there is the danger that increased chemical use will cause pests and weeds to develop resistance, requiring even more chemicals in order to manage them.
  • Monsanto has been claiming that through genetic engineering it can breed crops for drought tolerance and other climate-resilient traits. This is a false promise.
  • Among the false claims made by Monsanto and the Biotechnology industry is that GE foods are safe. However, there are enough independent studies to show that GE foods can cause health damage.

At the same time, earlier this year, Cry1Ab, a specific type of Bt toxin from certain GM crops, has for the first time been detected in human and fetal blood samples. It appears the toxin is quite prevalent, as upon testing 69 pregnant and non-pregnant women who were eating a typical Canadian diet (which included foods such as GM soy, corn and potatoes), researchers found Bt toxin in:

  • 93 percent of blood samples of pregnant women
  • 80 percent of fetal blood samples
  • 69 percent of non-pregnant women blood samples

There’s now plenty of evidence that the Bt toxin may trigger an inflammatory response, and as you may know, chronic inflammation is at the root of many increasingly common diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease. Food allergies are also skyrocketing, as isinfertility, which could also be a potential side effect of GM foods, based on results from animal studies. Monsanto insists that GM foods are no different from conventionally grown varieties, but the research does NOT support this claim. Here is just a sampling of the unsavory findings associated with GM foods:

GM pea protein caused lung damage in miceOffspring of rats fed GM soy showed a five-fold increase in mortality, lower birth weights, and the inability to reproduce
GM potatoes may cause cancer in ratsMale mice fed GM soy had damaged young sperm cells
Bacteria in your gut can take up DNA from GM foodThe embryo offspring of GM soy-fed mice had altered DNA functioning
GM foods lead to significant organ disruptions in rats and mice, specifically the kidney, liver, heart and spleenSeveral US farmers reported sterility or fertility problems among pigs and cows fed on GM corn varieties
Bt corn caused a wide variety of immune responses in mice, commonly associated with diseases such as arthritis, Lou Gehrig’s disease, osteoporosis, and inflammatory bowel diseaseInvestigators in India have documented fertility problems, abortions, premature births, and other serious health issues, including deaths, among buffaloes fed GM cottonseed products

The Time is Ripe to Fight Back

All is not lost on the GM food front, as we now have a practical plan to end this disaster. By educating the public about the risks of GM foods through a massive education campaign, and launching a ballot initiative in California for 2012, which will require mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods and food ingredients, our plan is to generate a tipping point of consumer rejection to make GMOs a thing of the past.

Several organizations, including, the Organic Consumers Association, the Institute for Responsible Technology, and even the Environmental Working Group are getting actively involved. But we do need your help.

Here’s how you can get involved:

  • If you live in California and are willing to attend a short training session and then start collecting petition signatures (you will be part of a team of 2-4 people) in early November for the California Ballot Initiative, sign up here. (For more information see: The California Ballot Initiative: Taking Down Monsanto.) Also remember to share this information with family and friends in California!
  • Whether you live in California or not, please donate money to this historic effort
  • Talk to organic producers and stores and ask them to actively support the California Ballot. It may be the only chance we have to have to label genetically engineered foods.
  • Distribute WIDELY the Non-GMO Shopping Guide to help you identify and avoid foods with GMOs. Look for products (including organic products) that feature the Non-GMO Project Verified Seal to be sure that at-risk ingredients have been tested for GMO content. You can also download the free iPhone application that is available in the iTunes store. You can find it by searching for ShopNoGMO in the applications.
  • For timely updates, please join the Organic Consumers Association on Facebook, or follow them on Twitter.
  • You can also join the Non-GMO Project on Facebook, or Twitter

In the meantime, the simplest way to avoid GM foods is to buy whole, certified organic foods. By definition, foods that are certified organic must never intentionally use GM organisms, produced without artificial pesticides and fertilizers and from an animal reared without the routine use of antibiotics, growth promoters or other drugs. Additionally, grass-fed beef will not have been fed GM corn feed.

You can also look for foods that are “non-GMO verified” by the Non-GMO Project.


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