2

votes

alpha linolenic acid = underrated neolithic agent of disease?

Commented on October 02, 2014
Created June 09, 2012 at 8:22 PM

I've noticed that a lot of people keep saying that we're poor converters of ALA to EPA and DHA, so we should get our omega 3s from meat and fish. The latter is true, but grass fed beef contains ALA, not EPA and DHA. ALA is the same fat in vegetable oils, which I do not think are part of our natural diet. I know that cultures who have lived on a high meat diet eat either pork fat, (which is heavy in arachidonic acid and monounsaturated fatty acids and maybe some linoleic acid, idk), fish (EPA and DHA), and dairy (basically purely saturated). Also, nuts are widely associated with improved health markers (devoid of omega 3, besides walnuts, but which have plenty of omega 6 to counteract any ALA).

I don't know of any cultures that live on a great deal of grass fed beef, which is probably the greatest source of ALA per calorie in hte human diet besides canola and flaxseed oil, which both seem extremely unnatural to me.

Is ALA an underrated NAD?

1edb06ded9ccf098a4517ca4a7a34ebc

(14952)

on August 28, 2012
at 01:25 AM

Matt is right. But there's a lot that I like about this answer too.

C4f1a0c70c4e0dea507c2e346c036bbd

on August 28, 2012
at 12:06 AM

As much as that is the answer to life, I don't think this is related to this.

C4f1a0c70c4e0dea507c2e346c036bbd

on August 28, 2012
at 12:04 AM

Ooh it helps with depression, inflammation and hair loss?!?

32f5749fa6cf7adbeb0b0b031ba82b46

(41747)

on August 27, 2012
at 11:50 PM

What a broad brush you paint with!

A2c38be4c54c91a15071f82f14cac0b3

(12672)

on July 11, 2012
at 04:33 AM

Hey Harmen, first of all this is a good answer that is clearly well researched. I'm not sure sure why someone would downvote you, +1 from me. Anyway, I suggested in my answer that an additional benefit of ALA beyond conversion to EPA/DHA may be due to it's competition with that bugger linoleic acid for utilization in the body. This would mean ALA is not essential itself, only beneficial by competing with LA. If an RCT showed some benefit of ALA that equal quantities of EPA/DHA couldn't replicate I might change my opinion on this.

A2c38be4c54c91a15071f82f14cac0b3

(12672)

on June 15, 2012
at 12:38 AM

I'll let Amy answer your question, but how do you define "significant percentage"? From what I've read, conversion of ALA to EPA and especially DHA is still quite low when LA is reduced, it's just better than when LA is higher.

43458f7db63e11b870b1fb196ad6685f

on June 15, 2012
at 12:17 AM

Tyler- Contact me through my website and I'll shoot you the paper. I also live in Michigan (GR), perhaps I can just hand it to you...).

43458f7db63e11b870b1fb196ad6685f

on June 15, 2012
at 12:13 AM

So if you take in a 1:1 ratio of LA:ALA does this mean you convert a significant percentage of ALA to EPA/DHA? Any support for that?

Fd70d71f4f8195c3a098eda4fc817d4f

(8014)

on June 11, 2012
at 05:11 PM

Yeah...most people are probably only "poor converters" of ALA to EPA/DHA because of the huge amounts of n-6 in the diet, and n-3 and n-6 compete for the desaturase enzymes that are responsible for the conversion. Too much n-6 crowds out ALA for the enzymes.

Ae8946707ddebf0f0bfbcfc63276d823

(9402)

on June 10, 2012
at 03:08 PM

I summarized the above data on this thread (assuming I'm understanding the data correctly): http://paleohacks.com/questions/107432/is-n-3-fat-in-pastured-beef-ala-or-dha-epa

Ae8946707ddebf0f0bfbcfc63276d823

(9402)

on June 10, 2012
at 03:06 PM

Here is one source showing very low levels of EPA/DHA in grass feed beef. You make an interesting point that it could vary with breed/pasture/etc. I hadn't thought of that. http://www.texasgrassfedbeef.com/id73.htm

276a5e631b62f8e0793987c0496364bb

(1644)

on June 10, 2012
at 02:17 PM

I wish that paper were free to read, or at least more descriptive in its abstract. Do you have any others?

43458f7db63e11b870b1fb196ad6685f

on June 10, 2012
at 01:57 PM

Point is the research is NOT as simple as how we paleo folks explain it (LA-->AA-->inflammatory cytokines-->inflammation, therefore load up EPA/DHA and avoid LA/AA). Our metabolism is complex and there might be a lot of other ways ALA or its metabolites function in the body. Without significant research suggesting danger of ALA (and I'm not even impressed with the research suggesting danger of LA or AA), we should be careful condemning it.

43458f7db63e11b870b1fb196ad6685f

on June 10, 2012
at 01:54 PM

This is a good paper to start with: "Dietary intakes of ALA and LA are inversely associated with CRP among Japanese men." It is a cross-sectional, observational, study, but it has a good review of other relevant literature (as any good paper should), which includes experimental studies. "There was a significant inverse relationship b/w ALA intake and serum CRP." This was NOT true with AA, which is very interesting. "Results suggest that a high intake of LA is PROTECTIVE against inflammation markers." Very interesting. They explain some potential mechanisms of n-6 reducing inflammation..

32f5749fa6cf7adbeb0b0b031ba82b46

(41747)

on June 10, 2012
at 12:53 PM

I am amazed at the reductionist thinking that leads people to conclude that ALA is unnecessary or even harmful. We're poor converters because our DHA/EPA needs are actually quite low. Modern diet needs are probably artificially high because of excess O6s.

1edb06ded9ccf098a4517ca4a7a34ebc

(14952)

on June 10, 2012
at 05:21 AM

...or you could think of it as the fact that our bodies are poor converters because it does not want large amounts of a certain substance (in this case, EPA, DHA, AA). I don't know if this is true, but it's just another way to look at it.

Bb3d1772b28c02da2426e40dfcb533f5

(5381)

on June 10, 2012
at 03:15 AM

Me too, what function does ALA have in its original state? It would seem these plant based omega 3s and 6s, are poorer bioavailability and increased metabolic steps compared to meat based omegas. For example DHA and EPA are more bioavailable than ALA. In terms of 6's Linoleic requires more metabolic steps than arachidonic acid to become endocannibnoid NTs or eicosanoids. Thus it seems more optimal to derive these chemicals from animals - it also seems quite common sense, why are we eating meat in the first place - because the chemicals come more premade...

276a5e631b62f8e0793987c0496364bb

(1644)

on June 10, 2012
at 01:42 AM

I'd be curious to know how ALA benefits health aside from its conversion into other EFAs.

9d43f6873107e17ca4d1a5055aa7a2ad

on June 10, 2012
at 12:19 AM

well, I'm not sure the data on ALA in grassfed beef is even all that consistent. The USDA data...where is it even from? It probably depends on breed/pastures/etc.

535fafe8afe6923870905c707c4f4454

(720)

on June 10, 2012
at 12:16 AM

To refer to book "Imagining Head smashed in", describing the most famous buffalo drop.. The almost extinction of the Buffalo's came after white man but was driven by not only white mans desire for buffalo hide but also by the introduction of horses and guns to the indians which changed the game of hunting completely in their favour. Massive bison kills (think buf. drops) were survival for the plain Indians and they would consume the animals right down to the bone (and particularly the bones).. Hunting bison was just irresistible to the Indians and the game shifted too much in the hunters fav

1edb06ded9ccf098a4517ca4a7a34ebc

(14952)

on June 10, 2012
at 12:08 AM

Lol. Thanks guys. It was just a query so I could see what kind of answers I'd get. ALA does seem rather rare though, unless you're consuming large amounts of vegetable or pastured ruminant animals. I just don't know how large of a role ruminants played in our history, and therefore, ALA played in our history. I guess it was more than I thought?

1edb06ded9ccf098a4517ca4a7a34ebc

(14952)

on June 10, 2012
at 12:05 AM

@ bachole- I didn't say anything was wrong with saturated fat at all. I am talking about alpha linolenic acid, which is an omega 3 fatty acid. It is a PUFA not a SAFA.

9d43f6873107e17ca4d1a5055aa7a2ad

on June 09, 2012
at 11:19 PM

also insert every other pastoral culture. And reindeer herders.

4781cf8ae1bfcb558dfb056af17bea94

(4359)

on June 09, 2012
at 10:41 PM

Don't think pork fat is high in AA but it is high in LA.

Ae8946707ddebf0f0bfbcfc63276d823

(9402)

on June 09, 2012
at 09:59 PM

Also, even if what you say is correct, I'd wager that the time before bison extinction were the good healthy days.

F31d10b54b31428e189d9b771bf7b1d1

(1439)

on June 09, 2012
at 09:58 PM

White Americans DELIBERATELY killed off the bison in order to rid themselves of the plains Indians.

F31d10b54b31428e189d9b771bf7b1d1

(1439)

on June 09, 2012
at 09:56 PM

Not answering your question but commenting on a specific, what is wrong with saturated fat. I am 66 years old, my lowest heart rate recently has been 49, and it ranges around 53 - 56. And I use melted butter and garlic salt as a dip with celery stalks. I have no problem with saturated fats. Mainstream nutrition and society is wrong on this one, and I and the latest scientific research are correct.

782d92f4127823bdfb2ddfcbcf961d0e

(5231)

on June 09, 2012
at 09:46 PM

sorry, I meant that to be a comment to above.

Ae8946707ddebf0f0bfbcfc63276d823

(9402)

on June 09, 2012
at 09:21 PM

Most of what I know is from movies, so my knowledge is admittedly questionable. I'm sure others on here probably know.

1edb06ded9ccf098a4517ca4a7a34ebc

(14952)

on June 09, 2012
at 08:47 PM

Did they really? I'm pretty sure I remember from AP US in high school that Native American's were nomadic tribe only for a short while before they virtually drove bison to extinction, whereby throughout the latter and majority part of their existence, they subsisted largely on maize and other food products. That is my vague recollection, but Native American diet was not exactly what my history textbook focused on.

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7 Answers

best answer

4
5b8cf203186c3cb7810f5046e0532be8

(166)

on June 26, 2012
at 12:01 PM

I think that dietary ALA intake is more necessary than commonly thought. It is argued that the only function of ALA in the body is to produce DHA and EPA - thus it is not required if you have enough fish in your diet. Thereby, the conversion of ALA to DHA and EPA is - in the case of a western diet - very inefficient, suggesting that increasing dietary ALA intake is not really a substantial intervention.

But I've read three studies already suggesting that ALA is essential in itself, so not only used to produce DHA and EPA.

  1. In a study over 50.000 woman they found that a high ALA intake prevents depressions. High DHA and EPA intake did not prevent depressions
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3095504/?tool=pmcentrez

  2. A doctor experimenting (in 1980 already) with supplementing ALA (4 tablespoons lineseed oil / day) for curing all body inflammatory described about 20 cases which solved patients almost all complaints over weeks. Ranging from hair loss to buritus. When switched to an omega 6 oil (like corn oil) the complaints came back. 4 tablespoons is about 66 ml and contains 55% ALA. With a mass of 920 mg per ml this is 33 g. Even with a poor conversion the body can make about 3 g of DHA and EPA of it. (so, this is not really an argument for my case, but I didn't want to withhold the information and calculation ;)) http://www.sciencedirect.com.proxy-ub.rug.nl/science/article/pii/0306987782900883

  3. Students with anexiety disorder where given 112 mg of ALA and 336 mg linoleic acid daily fixed for about 90% the disorder. Students improved massively. Considering the poor conversion from ala to epa / dha, at maximum 10 mg of epa and dha would be produced. That is nowhere near a therapeutic dose. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16491653

  4. ABSTRACT Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is an n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid found mainly in plant sources, including flaxseed oil, canola oil, and walnuts. Although substantial evidence indicates that consumption of long-chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids from seafood reduces the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD), the effect of ALA intake on CHD risk is less well-established. ALA may reduce cardiovascular risk through a variety of biologic mechanisms, including platelet function, inflammation, endothelial cell function, arterial compliance, and arrhythmia. Although clinical benefits have not been seen consistently in all studies, most prospective observational studies suggest that ALA intake reduces the incidence of CHD, and two randomized trials have demonstrated that a dietary pattern that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts or legumes, and ALA-rich foods substantially reduces the recurrence of CHD events. Additional observational and clinical studies will help establish the effects of ALA on CHD risk and determine whether such effects vary based on gender, duration of intake, background dietary intake of seafood, or other factors. Presently, the weight of the evidence favors recommendations for modest dietary consumption of ALA (2 to 3 g per day) for the primary and secondary prevention of CHD. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15945135

This makes me come to a temporary conclusion that ALA itself plays an important role in the body.

A2c38be4c54c91a15071f82f14cac0b3

(12672)

on July 11, 2012
at 04:33 AM

Hey Harmen, first of all this is a good answer that is clearly well researched. I'm not sure sure why someone would downvote you, +1 from me. Anyway, I suggested in my answer that an additional benefit of ALA beyond conversion to EPA/DHA may be due to it's competition with that bugger linoleic acid for utilization in the body. This would mean ALA is not essential itself, only beneficial by competing with LA. If an RCT showed some benefit of ALA that equal quantities of EPA/DHA couldn't replicate I might change my opinion on this.

C4f1a0c70c4e0dea507c2e346c036bbd

on August 28, 2012
at 12:04 AM

Ooh it helps with depression, inflammation and hair loss?!?

00cd3b6f51530a6832fcda1712edbec3

(2411)

on October 02, 2014
at 03:08 PM

  1. This is an observational study, which is good for forming hypotheses for later clinical trials, but not to establish cause and effect. 
  2. As you say, this study implies equally that either ALA or it's converted derivatives caused the effect seen in the study.
  3. I don't have access to more than the abstract, but what you've posted implied that the study didn't examine tissues for the presence of ALA, nor could it distinguish between the body's possible direct ALA usage and EPA-DHA usage.  Regarding the so-called therapeutic dose, what would that dose be for?  If the dose wasn't established for treatment of anxiety, then the term is meaningless in the context of the study.
  4. The thrust of the paper is that ALA consumption is co-incident with reduction of CHD events.  Again, this is an observational study; it's not possible to draw cause and effect conclusions.

best answer

0
1c67bc28f4e44bbb8770b86df0463df3

on August 27, 2012
at 09:13 PM

Fat, for 99% of Americans is completely and utterly unnecessary. PUFA, MUFA, ALA, EPA, EFA's etc. All NON SENSE. The ONLY fats we 'need' are saturated fats from animals and absolutely nothing else. 99% of Americans do not even need that, as their body is a storage house for more than the entire worlds whale population of fat and if provided water, trace minerals and maybe some protein could literally live for years without any other food. Taking supplemental fats on top of the ridiculous amount of fat we eat and store on our bodies is beyond preposterous. Most certainly these fats are neolithic agents of disease.

32f5749fa6cf7adbeb0b0b031ba82b46

(41747)

on August 27, 2012
at 11:50 PM

What a broad brush you paint with!

1edb06ded9ccf098a4517ca4a7a34ebc

(14952)

on August 28, 2012
at 01:25 AM

Matt is right. But there's a lot that I like about this answer too.

5
276a5e631b62f8e0793987c0496364bb

(1644)

on June 10, 2012
at 01:22 AM

Grass fed ruminant fat does, in fact, contain EPA and DHA in addition to ALA, but none of them are in substantial amounts.

http://www.ucsusa.org/assets/documents/food_and_agriculture/greener-pastures.pdf

3
43458f7db63e11b870b1fb196ad6685f

on June 10, 2012
at 01:35 AM

You might want to change the title of the thread to alpha linoLENic acid, which is the short chain n-3.

I don't think there is any evidence to suggest it is a NAD. In fact, there is some decent research, including RCTs, suggesting ALA is good for you and I've never seen any suggesting it is bad. For the record, it is probably a simplification to say we should just take in EPA and DHA because we don't convert ALA very efficiently. Converting to EPA/DHA is likely not the only way ALA functions in the body.

276a5e631b62f8e0793987c0496364bb

(1644)

on June 10, 2012
at 01:42 AM

I'd be curious to know how ALA benefits health aside from its conversion into other EFAs.

32f5749fa6cf7adbeb0b0b031ba82b46

(41747)

on June 10, 2012
at 12:53 PM

I am amazed at the reductionist thinking that leads people to conclude that ALA is unnecessary or even harmful. We're poor converters because our DHA/EPA needs are actually quite low. Modern diet needs are probably artificially high because of excess O6s.

276a5e631b62f8e0793987c0496364bb

(1644)

on June 10, 2012
at 02:17 PM

I wish that paper were free to read, or at least more descriptive in its abstract. Do you have any others?

43458f7db63e11b870b1fb196ad6685f

on June 10, 2012
at 01:57 PM

Point is the research is NOT as simple as how we paleo folks explain it (LA-->AA-->inflammatory cytokines-->inflammation, therefore load up EPA/DHA and avoid LA/AA). Our metabolism is complex and there might be a lot of other ways ALA or its metabolites function in the body. Without significant research suggesting danger of ALA (and I'm not even impressed with the research suggesting danger of LA or AA), we should be careful condemning it.

1edb06ded9ccf098a4517ca4a7a34ebc

(14952)

on June 10, 2012
at 05:21 AM

...or you could think of it as the fact that our bodies are poor converters because it does not want large amounts of a certain substance (in this case, EPA, DHA, AA). I don't know if this is true, but it's just another way to look at it.

43458f7db63e11b870b1fb196ad6685f

on June 10, 2012
at 01:54 PM

This is a good paper to start with: "Dietary intakes of ALA and LA are inversely associated with CRP among Japanese men." It is a cross-sectional, observational, study, but it has a good review of other relevant literature (as any good paper should), which includes experimental studies. "There was a significant inverse relationship b/w ALA intake and serum CRP." This was NOT true with AA, which is very interesting. "Results suggest that a high intake of LA is PROTECTIVE against inflammation markers." Very interesting. They explain some potential mechanisms of n-6 reducing inflammation..

Bb3d1772b28c02da2426e40dfcb533f5

(5381)

on June 10, 2012
at 03:15 AM

Me too, what function does ALA have in its original state? It would seem these plant based omega 3s and 6s, are poorer bioavailability and increased metabolic steps compared to meat based omegas. For example DHA and EPA are more bioavailable than ALA. In terms of 6's Linoleic requires more metabolic steps than arachidonic acid to become endocannibnoid NTs or eicosanoids. Thus it seems more optimal to derive these chemicals from animals - it also seems quite common sense, why are we eating meat in the first place - because the chemicals come more premade...

43458f7db63e11b870b1fb196ad6685f

on June 15, 2012
at 12:17 AM

Tyler- Contact me through my website and I'll shoot you the paper. I also live in Michigan (GR), perhaps I can just hand it to you...).

2
A2c38be4c54c91a15071f82f14cac0b3

(12672)

on June 09, 2012
at 11:52 PM

I think alpha linolenic acid could be a neolithic agent of disease in certain contexts, but I generally wouldn't classify it as such.

I think linoleic acid is an NAD because in the SAD (okay these -AD acronyms are getting silly) we get way too much of it and it causes problems. I wouldn't say we get way too much ALA and ALA also offers us the benefit of competing with linoleic acid for placement in cell membranes.

There is of course the issue of ALA being a more unstable fatty acid (a PUFA) prone to oxidation which also serves no essential purpose in the body (though it is converted into compounds that do). So I think ALA might be considered an NAD in a low linoleic acid diet, but I'm not really sure what the rubric is from NAD's.

Also, beef is far from the greatest source of ALA. Beef fat contains very little ALA. Something like 1% of its calories. Soybean oil for example contains 8% of its calories as ALA and is a greater contributer to calories in the US than beef. And as Jay stated in the comments, lard from factory farmed pigs contains wayy more linoleic acid than arachidonic acid.

Fd70d71f4f8195c3a098eda4fc817d4f

(8014)

on June 11, 2012
at 05:11 PM

Yeah...most people are probably only "poor converters" of ALA to EPA/DHA because of the huge amounts of n-6 in the diet, and n-3 and n-6 compete for the desaturase enzymes that are responsible for the conversion. Too much n-6 crowds out ALA for the enzymes.

A2c38be4c54c91a15071f82f14cac0b3

(12672)

on June 15, 2012
at 12:38 AM

I'll let Amy answer your question, but how do you define "significant percentage"? From what I've read, conversion of ALA to EPA and especially DHA is still quite low when LA is reduced, it's just better than when LA is higher.

43458f7db63e11b870b1fb196ad6685f

on June 15, 2012
at 12:13 AM

So if you take in a 1:1 ratio of LA:ALA does this mean you convert a significant percentage of ALA to EPA/DHA? Any support for that?

2
782d92f4127823bdfb2ddfcbcf961d0e

on June 09, 2012
at 09:46 PM

IIRC, white men drove buffulo to extinction, not Native Americans. I think southwest tribes were more agricultural.

782d92f4127823bdfb2ddfcbcf961d0e

(5231)

on June 09, 2012
at 09:46 PM

sorry, I meant that to be a comment to above.

2
Ae8946707ddebf0f0bfbcfc63276d823

(9402)

on June 09, 2012
at 08:36 PM

Native Americans would have lived on a great deal of grass fed buffalo, right? I think they were pretty healthy.

Ae8946707ddebf0f0bfbcfc63276d823

(9402)

on June 09, 2012
at 09:59 PM

Also, even if what you say is correct, I'd wager that the time before bison extinction were the good healthy days.

F31d10b54b31428e189d9b771bf7b1d1

(1439)

on June 09, 2012
at 09:58 PM

White Americans DELIBERATELY killed off the bison in order to rid themselves of the plains Indians.

9d43f6873107e17ca4d1a5055aa7a2ad

on June 09, 2012
at 11:19 PM

also insert every other pastoral culture. And reindeer herders.

9d43f6873107e17ca4d1a5055aa7a2ad

on June 10, 2012
at 12:19 AM

well, I'm not sure the data on ALA in grassfed beef is even all that consistent. The USDA data...where is it even from? It probably depends on breed/pastures/etc.

Ae8946707ddebf0f0bfbcfc63276d823

(9402)

on June 09, 2012
at 09:21 PM

Most of what I know is from movies, so my knowledge is admittedly questionable. I'm sure others on here probably know.

1edb06ded9ccf098a4517ca4a7a34ebc

(14952)

on June 09, 2012
at 08:47 PM

Did they really? I'm pretty sure I remember from AP US in high school that Native American's were nomadic tribe only for a short while before they virtually drove bison to extinction, whereby throughout the latter and majority part of their existence, they subsisted largely on maize and other food products. That is my vague recollection, but Native American diet was not exactly what my history textbook focused on.

1edb06ded9ccf098a4517ca4a7a34ebc

(14952)

on June 10, 2012
at 12:08 AM

Lol. Thanks guys. It was just a query so I could see what kind of answers I'd get. ALA does seem rather rare though, unless you're consuming large amounts of vegetable or pastured ruminant animals. I just don't know how large of a role ruminants played in our history, and therefore, ALA played in our history. I guess it was more than I thought?

Ae8946707ddebf0f0bfbcfc63276d823

(9402)

on June 10, 2012
at 03:06 PM

Here is one source showing very low levels of EPA/DHA in grass feed beef. You make an interesting point that it could vary with breed/pasture/etc. I hadn't thought of that. http://www.texasgrassfedbeef.com/id73.htm

Ae8946707ddebf0f0bfbcfc63276d823

(9402)

on June 10, 2012
at 03:08 PM

I summarized the above data on this thread (assuming I'm understanding the data correctly): http://paleohacks.com/questions/107432/is-n-3-fat-in-pastured-beef-ala-or-dha-epa

535fafe8afe6923870905c707c4f4454

(720)

on June 10, 2012
at 12:16 AM

To refer to book "Imagining Head smashed in", describing the most famous buffalo drop.. The almost extinction of the Buffalo's came after white man but was driven by not only white mans desire for buffalo hide but also by the introduction of horses and guns to the indians which changed the game of hunting completely in their favour. Massive bison kills (think buf. drops) were survival for the plain Indians and they would consume the animals right down to the bone (and particularly the bones).. Hunting bison was just irresistible to the Indians and the game shifted too much in the hunters fav

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