Alcohol and Omega-3's
to frequently asked questions
Alcohol and Omega-3
Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are a necessary
part of an individual's healthy diet.
New findings indicate that binge drinking can lower intakes of Omega-3 fats,
one type of EFA.
This low intake exacerbates the already very low Omega-3 levels.
Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are just that; an "essential" part of the total
fat intake necessary for a healthy human diet and the formation of healthy
cell membrane. Most EFAs come from plants, but some are animal-sourced. A
new study has found that people who binge drink have substandard intake of
Omega-3 fats, indicating poor dietary choices with negative long-term health
Results are published in the August issue of Alcoholism: Clinical &
"Essential fatty acids are important building blocks of living cells, making
up a substantial part of cell walls," explained Norman Salem, Jr., chief of
the Laboratory of Membrane Biochemistry & Biophysics at the National
Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism "EFAs also have many biological
functions, and a lack of them especially Omega-3, leads to loss of growth
and development, infertility, hormone imbalance and a host of physiological
and biochemical abnormalities.
The most important EFAs are polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), said J.
Thomas Brenna, professor of human nutrition and of chemistry & chemical
biology at Cornell University. Particularly two types, Brenna noted: the
omega-6 PUFA linoleic acid (LA), also called n-6 fats, and the omega-3 PUFA
linolenic acid (ALA), also called n-3 fats. "Most Americans consume adequate
amounts of LA in their diets through the use of vegetable oils and other
processed foods, but tend to have low intakes of ALA," said Brenna.
This imbalance, added Salem, has become pronounced only in the last century
and many believe it is a source of the increase of many common diseases in
Western society; such as neurological diseases like ADD, ADHD, AUTISM and
Parkinsonís. Salem and his co-authors wanted to investigate what influence
alcohol consumption might have on EFA imbalance in the Western diet.
Researchers used data from 4,168 adults who self-reported their alcohol
consumption as part of the 2001-2002 National Health and Nutrition
Examination Survey. Participants were also interviewed about their EFA
intake during a single previous 24-hour period.
Results indicate that EFA intake drops as alcohol consumption increases.
"Our most important finding is the decrease in Omega-3 EFA intake in
binge-drinking," said Salem. The changes we found indicate that those who
drink alcohol make food selections in such a way as to decrease foods with
this important nutrient, Omega-3. The binge-drinking people have decreases
in the longer chain Omega-3 fatty acids, the ones that we typically get from
eating fish, nuts, green leafy veggies and pristine gel-cap supplements and
so this suggests that they consume less of these.
"Previous studies by Dr. Salem and colleagues have shown that requirements
for these nutrients actually increase with greater alcohol consumption,"
noted Brenna. "Considering that the ALA levels are already low compared to
the LA levels, these results are further reason for concern over the ALA
intake of alcoholics."
"This helps to explain why alcohol abuse leads to losses in polyunsaturated
fats in the circulation and organs," said Salem. "However, dietary influence
does not explain all of the changes observed in past studies of fatty-acid
changes in organs of alcohol abusers. Alcohol also has an effect on fatty
acid metabolism, mainly through decreasing fat break down in the liver
making it extremely difficult to loose fat."
Furthermore, said Brenna, alcohol has strong, lasting, and deleterious
effects on the brain. "The brain depends on a supply of omega-3 PUFA," he
said. The brains of people consuming high levels of alcohol, particularly
those who regularly binge drink, are further compromised by a low intake of
"In summary," said Salem, "for those who drink, especially binge drinkers or
those who drink more than one drink per day on average realize that you are
damaging your body and decreasing longevity: make sure that you obtain your
sources of Omeaga-3 fatty acids as well as an increase supply of
antioxidants in the diet, and supplement with the correct Omega-3 in the
protected gel-cap for potency."