If you have a chronic illness, lowering your inflammatory potential is fundamental to recovery. A simple way to do this is by incorporating more preformed, long-chain omega-3 fatty acids into your diet: namely, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and its long chain omega-3 precursor, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).
Compared to traditional hunter-gatherer societies, which boast an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of 1:1, the Standard American Diet, laden in processed, refined, irradiated, and genetically engineered franken-foods has an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio ranging from 10:1 to 25:1 (1). One of the primary culprits that distort our omega-6 to omega-3 ratio is the inclusion of vegetable and seed oils such as canola, cottonseed, corn, sunflower, safflower, and soybean oil, alongside grain-fed factory-farmed meats.
Although flax, chia, walnuts, and leafy greens are touted as sources of omega-3s, this does not pan out in the research. Alpha linolenic acid (ALA), the 18-carbon short-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) from these plant sources, is completely devoid of and has very poor conversion to the longer chain 20- and 22-carbon omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA.
In the literature, the conversion rate of ALA to DHA is less than 1 percent of the oral ALA dose, and has been found to be as low as between 0.1 and 0.5 percent (2, 3, 4, 5). Moreover, the conversion from ALA to EPA is even more limited in men, and the transformation of EPA to DHA in males is also extremely low (3). Women may have a greater capacity for ALA conversion as a mechanism to meet demands for DHA during pregnancy and lactation (3).
Burdge and Calder (2005) indicate that the long-term ALA intake can actually suppress DHA levels (3). They furthermore state that, “Overall, alpha linolenic acid appears to be a limited source of longer chain n-3 PUFA in humans. Thus, adequate intakes of preformed long chain n-3 PUFA, in particular DHA, may be important for maintaining tissue function” (2005, p. 581). This is also summarized by Plourde and Cunnane (2007) with, “Even large amounts of dietary ALA have a negligible effect on plasma DHA” (5, p. 619).
Moreover, a study of nine hundred men demonstrated that those who consumed the highest amounts of alpha linoleic acid were most likely to have senile dementia compared to those who ate an omega-3 rich fish diet, who had the best mental function (6). Similar conclusions were found with researchers who stated that, “linolenic acid supplementation failed to elicit normal rod electroretinographic responses, suggesting that linolenic acid does not satisfy this requirement whereas marine-oil supplementation sustained rod function similar to that found in infants fed human milk” (1, p. 833).
However, this does not mean alpha linolenic acid is not beneficial, as it has been demonstrated to modulate inflammation as well as exert cardioprotective and neuroprotective effects---it just isn't a reliable source of anti-inflammatory long-chain omega-3s (2). The evidence-based strategy for increasing omega-3s, demonstrated to be deficient in autoimmune disease, is inclusion of wild-caught, cold-water fatty fish, including salmon, sardines, herring, caviar, and sardines.
Below is a low-maintenance salmon salad recipe that can mitigate oxidative stress and reduce inflammation, complemented with the crisp crunch of apples, citrus notes from lemon, and the aromatic flavors of dill.
1. Simopoulos, A.P. (1991). Omega-3 fatty acids in health and disease and in growth and development. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 54, 483-463.
2. Stark, A.H., Crawford, M.A., & Reifen, R. (2008). Update on alpha-linolenic acid. Nutritional Review, 66(6), 326-332.
3. Burdge, G.C., & Calder, P.C. (2005). Conversion of alpha-linolenic acid to longer-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in human adults. Reproductive Nutrition and Development, 45(5), 581-597.
4. Domenichiello, A.F., Kitson, A.P., & Bazinet, R.P. (2015). Is docosahexaenoic acid synthesis from α-linolenic acid sufficient to supply the adult brain? Progress in Lipid Research, 59, 54-66. doi: 10.1016/j.plipres.2015.04.002.
5. Plourde, M., & Cunnane, S.C. (2007). Extremely limited synthesis of long chain polyunsaturates in adults: implications for their dietary essentiality and use as supplements. Applied Physiology and Nutrient Metabolism, 32(4), 619-634.
6. Kalmijn, S., Feskens, E.J.M., & Kromhout, D. (1997). Polyunsaturated fatty acids, antioxidants, and cognitive function in very old men. American Journal of Epidemiology, 145, 33-41.
Optional toppings - clementine oranges, green grapes, blueberries, cucumbers, celery, raw slivered almonds or walnuts, Banza chickpea noodles
Mix ingredients until mixture is heterogeneous and mixture is creamy.
Serve atop bed of red leaf lettuce, as a lettuce wrap in romaine leaves, or atop gluten-free noodles of your choice.
Drizzle salad dressing on top for extra flavor.
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