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Alcohol and Omega-3's

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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 consequences.

Results are published in the August issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

"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 Omega-3ís."

"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."