There is much controversy over whether Omega oil supplements really do help slow down disease progression and decrease relapse rate in people with MS. Many studies have not found statistically significant results and have written off Omega 3,6 and 9 as allies in the battle against MS. However, other studies have shown that these essential oils do make a difference. So, who are we to believe? Understanding how these nutrients affect your body, will give you a better feel for whether or not you need to included them in your MS diet.
What is the big deal about Essential Fatty Acids?
Our bodies desperately need fats, there are no two ways around this. It is of vital importance that we eat the right fats otherwise our general health can start taking a nose dive. Essential fats help maintain healthy blood pressure, blood sugar levels, sleep cycles, skin, kidney, liver, lung and heart function (tweet this). They also help with the absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. It has been shown that these vitamins play an important role in keeping relapses at bay and slowing down disease progression. It is very important that your body has a steady supply of these vitamins from food or supplements as part of your MS diet.
Omega 3 and 6 are the essential fats that we need on a daily basis. They are not made by our bodies and must be obtained from foods or supplements. Omega 9 fatty acids are important for our health, but are not called ‘essential’, because the body can produce Omega 9. Contrary to popular belief, pure forms of Omega 3, 6 and 9 can only be obtained from plant sources (tweet this) as only plants have the ability to insert a double bond at the carbon atom numbers 3 and 6.
Why Fish Oils are Not Good Sources of Omega 3?
Mary-Ann Shearer, a leading nutritionist in the field of healing foods explains that fish oil supplements are made by extracting the oil through a process of heat and chemical solvents. This can result in a product which is carcinogenic and actually be harmful to the body. If you find yourself tasting fish for hours after taking fish oil, this is a sure sign that the oil is not digestible and is rancid.
I have experienced this first hand. I had been on my MS diet for over a year when I first tried cod liver oil at the advice of a medical doctor. My body had not dealt with heated fats for many months and reacted badly to the cod liver oil. I developed stomach cramps and generally just felt nauseous. I don’t think I will be going near cod liver oil again.
Another point is that fish oils only contain two derivatives of Omega 3: EPA and DHA. They don’t contain Omega 3 in its entirety. To explain this further, after we consume plant sources of Omega 3, it is converted into five Omega 3 derivatives of which two are DHA and EPA. These two are vitally important but you do not need to take them separately as your body will produce as much of them as you need. EPA is the “great grandchild” of Omega 3; and DHA is the “great, great, great grandchild” of Omega 3. Thus, they are definitely part of the Omega 3 family but are not really Omega 3 itself.
Let’s discuss Omega 3 and 6 in detail and then decide whether it’s worth pursuing Omega oil supplementation as part of your MS diet.
Omega 3 [Alpha Linoleic Acid]
Much research has been done into the benefits of Omega 3 oil for people with MS. It is highly anti-inflammatory which will help reduce the severity of symptoms. It is possibly more beneficial to the the body than Omega 6 and 9 and it is easier to develop a deficiency in it. Most people consume too much Omega 6 and 9 and not enough Omega 3. If you are deficient in this oil, you may experience the following symptoms that relate to MS:
- Tissue inflammation
- Tingling sensations in arms and legs
- Immune dysfunction
- Mental Deterioration
- Motor Incoordination
- Behavioural changes
Omega 3 fatty acids are also used as raw materials to make eicosanoids, biological signals that control inflammation. Anti-inflammatory eicosanoids are produced mainly from Omega 3 fatty acids. They are also important for proper control of the immune system. They form part of the raw materials used to repair and maintain the myelin sheath of nerves so, if there is not enough Omega 3 oils to draw on then the body cannot keep up with this important process. As a result, damage to the myelin sheath will take a lot longer to heal.
Sources of Omega 3
Flaxseed oil (organically grown, cold pressed oil) – for people with MS, take 1-3 tablespoons daily – I put it in my children’s oats porridge every morning, then gulp some down myself.
Dark green leafy vegetables – specifically raw grape leaves, kale, spinach, mustard greens, endive and dandelion greens.
Nuts and Seeds – hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, brazil nuts, wheat germ, wheat germ and canola oil.
Cold water fish – cooked Salmon and raw salmon in sushi are my favourites, but also consider sardines, smelt, shad, anchovies.
Omega 6 [Linoleic Acid]
The good news is that this essential fat is so abundant in most foods we eat on a daily basis that it is very difficult to develop a deficiency in it. It is, however, only healthy in moderation. It aids in brain and muscle growth and also plays a role in the manufacture of important hormones in the body. Particularly relevant to MS, it is of vital importance in the nervous system, as a transmitter of nerve impulses. Possible symptoms of a deficiency include:
- Loss of Hair
- Liver and kidney degeneration
- Failure to heal wounds (indicating a run down immune system)
Sources of Omega 6
It is found, in abundance in the following plants and their cold pressed oils:
Nuts – Walnuts, pecan nuts, cashew nuts, pine nuts and pistachio nuts are all great sources of Omega 6 – eat liberally!
Seeds – Sunflower seeds, sesame seeds and pumpkin seeds will provide Omega 6, but avoid sunflower oil which is not healthy.
Avocados – Avaocados are rich in fibre, as well as other vitamins, so these are good allround addition to your MS diet.
Olive oil and olives – easily added to your diet, this natural source will provide both Omega 3 and Omega 6.
Its important to try and avoid refined versions of Omega 6 in your MS diet, especially as many unhealthy foods already contain a lot of corn oil and sunflower oil.
Something to watch out for, is the ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 – this ratio is thought to have gone from one to one [1:1] (in the time of the hunter-gatherers) to more than ten to one [10:1] (modern man). Thats a 10 times increase in Omega 6 compared to Omega 3 – some sources even claim its higher at 50:1. Just keep this in mind, as you dont want to have it too unbalanced in your MS diet.
High imbalances of Omega 6 to Omega 3 have been linked to cytokines, which are small protein cells that stimulate immune cells – our arch enemy for causing inflammation (tweet this).
If you are concerned about this, you can buy a home blood test kit that will be able to give you a more accurate reading of where your body is with this ratio. Make sure you understand your body, and adjust your MS diet plan to accomodate – you don’t want to be taking additional supplements for a nutrient you already have too much of.
It seems that Omega oils can help people with MS by reducing inflammation and keeping the immune system functioning as it should. I think we can safely say that Omega oils are important pieces in the puzzle to healing MS and cannot be overlooked as part of your MS diet. If you do not already take flaxseed oil, I recommend that you make an effort to get your hands on a bottle of this beautiful, golden liquid this week! It’s not expensive and it can only help.
What are your thoughts on Omega 3 and 6? Drop me a comment below.