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MS and Emu Oil

Fatty Acids and MS - Friend or Foe?

Submitted by William Code, M.D., FRCPC

Fat and nutrition have been hot topics during the 1980's and 1990's. Dr. Swank's low fat diet has been recommended to slow the progression of multiple sclerosis. Barb Aldritt's article in the last MSBC newsletter outlined how AI Bryant has had stunning improvement of his severe MS after several weeks of ostrich oil for skin application. Evening primrose oil has long been touted to help people with multiple sclerosis.

Now, after twenty plus years of "Low fat" or 'No fat" foods, multiple sclerosis affected people are in a quandary, a muddle or both. I have been interested in fatty acids ever since spending two years (1986-88) researching how anesthetics work on the brain. The majority of the brain is made up of fat so the term fathead is not unreasonable for any of us.

Every body cell has a lipid (fatty acid based) bilayer around it. If infants do not receive enough essential fatty acids in their flrst year, they will not develop to their full potential. Much of this research was done by Dr. T. Clandinnin in Edmonton. Now, most infant formulas have essential fatty acids added to them - most of the change occurring in the 1990's. In this article, I will try to explain the seeming contradiction about fats.

Firstly, nutritionists have found that all humans need a dietary source of at least two fatty acids. These two "essential fatty acids" are alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3) and linoleic acid (omega-6). These two fats are definitely healthy fats. Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids eaten must be in balance or a suggested ratio with one another.

The movie "Lorenzo's Oil" helps give an understanding of the balance or "teeter-totter" system of this body need for most animals. Too much or an increase of one fatty acid (omega-3 or omega-6) leads to an increased need of the other. Hence, a diet high in most vegetable oils available today can reduce one's total degree of health or wellness. Most often this is an increase of omega-6 without a corresponding increase of omega-3.

Each of our two essential fatty acids form an important building block of two important body pathways. One of these is clotting or non-clotting of the blood. For example, an excess of omega-6 without enough omega-3 will increase your risk of heart attack and stroke. Hence, many people will decrease their heart and stroke risk by increasing their omega-3 intake. Common ways of doing this are eating more flax oil, walnut oil or some fish oils.

The second important body pathway is the two streams of inflammatory agents, i.e. prostaglandin formation. Omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids each head up or start the formation of our bodies' inflammatory troops or ''fighters”. An imbalance between omega-3 and omega-6 can definitely increase several inflammatory responses. Examples include the auto-immune diseases of rheumatoid arthritis (attacking joint linings), multiple sclerosis (attacking myelin in the brain and spinal cord), maturity onset diabetes mellitus (pancreas inflammation) and even atherosclerosis (inflammation of the blood vessel walls).

Author Udo Erasmus' Fats that Heal Fats that Kill discusses this in fairly understandable language. A more detailed and recent work Essential Fatty Acids in Health and Diseases by Edward N. Siguel M.D., Ph.D., discusses this further. His subtitle is "What the Government FDA and USDA failed to tell you about Essential and Trans fatty acids.

A brief explanation of the different fatty acids processed by humans will help put the alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3) and linoleic acid (omega-6) in perspective. Both alpha-linolenic acid and linoleic acid can be modified by the body at the start of two prostaglandin (inflammatory) pathways. If we are short of either, then the other pathway will dominate. This domination can produce inflammation in excess, eg. acting on our myelinated nerves. Whereas we only need the above two, some of us are short of the converting enzymes to optimize their function.

A prime example is gamma-linolenic acid (gla). It is made from linoleic acid (the omega-6 starter). The individuals who lack the enzyme needed to change linoleic acid to gla are likely to improve their fatty acid balance with foods high in gla (i.e. gamalinolenic acid, not alpha-linolenic acid, which is the building block of the omega3 pathway). Evening primrose oil, borage oil and black currant oil are sources of gla.

Fatty acids further along each pathway are typically present in nature in fish oils such as salmon, mackerel, rainbow trout and sardines. However, most of us can make these derivatives if we have enough building blocks. The above and vitamin D (made from skin exposed to sunlight only during four summer months) may explain why our cod liver oil supplements as children might have been quite useful.

Finally, any fatty acid supplements (plant or animal sources) from cooler climates such as Canada will contain greater amounts of the polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). Large amounts of these PUFAs are also found in cold water fish as each species needs more PUFAs for body liquid flow - a bit like antifreeze.

I met a fellow at an oil chemist meeting in Seattle who makes his living buying Canadian flax because of its higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids and selling it to the USA health food stores. Finally, we are all somewhat unique in our own fatty acid metabolism. This suggests trial and error for each of us - starting simple with the building blocks for 2-3 months. Fortunately, there is little harm from this approach and there may be a great deal of benefit from reducing our bad fat intake and increasing our good fat intake.

I would now like to give you a brief summary of the "unhealthy fatty acids and fats. Saturated fats, found mainly in animal products increase our risk of heart disease and stroke. Trans fatty acids are also harmful fats. Trans fatty acids are a bit like the body needing a curved hockey stick or hooked shaped line of building blocks (cis fatty acids), but trans are a straight line of building blocks. If we eat excess carbohydrate or fat, we usually gain weight and develop obesity, high cholesterol, high low density lipids (bad), and high blood pressure. If we improve this to more of a balance of carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats, we can often lose weight, lower our cholesterol and our blood pressure and increase our high density lipids (good).

What are some good tips to work toward this healthy goal? Firstly, if you cook at high heats, use butter, lard or emu oil (boiling point 300 C). Do not cook with most vegetable oils as they tolerate heat poorly and frequently become trans fatty acids. Secondly, avoid using hard margarine (hydrogenation usually hardens it and increases the trans component).

The best fat choice is a good oil (eg. olive), preferably cold-pressed. Thirdly, use 'cold pressed' oils in your diet. Cold pressed means that hexane, a nasty petrochemical, was not used in the oil seed extraction process and the lower heats used for extraction do not destroy the vitamin E. About 95% of our grocery store vegetable oils are currently extracted with hexane (mainly because it is cheap - you get what you pay for!).

Fourthly, increase your intake of balanced essential fatty acids. About 75% of North Americans are lacking in either omega-6 or omega-3 or both fatty acids. A change in diet could include soybean oil (careful here, as we are still uncertain about genetically modified foods), walnut oil, emu oil, ostrich oil, omega-3 chicken eggs (produced in B.C. and in many grocery stores).

In last month's article on ostrich oil, Dr. Dietrich Klinghardt cited three possible causes of multiple sclerosis. Imbalance of fatty acids is a very important one of the three. MS is an auto-immune, iniflammatory attack on our myelin in the brain and spinal cord.

Al Bryant's impressive recovery probably is best explained by improving his essential fatty acid balance. Ostrich oil is only modestly absorbed through skin. This could explain why so much was needed. Emu oil, meanwhile, is very well absorbed through skin. In addition, emu oil is recognized to be a very good balanced oil -closer to olive oil than any other animal oil. Also, emu oil has documented antiinflammatory effects, often equal or better than ibuprofen, but no nasty side-effects like bleeding stomach or steroid (cortisone) injury or osteoporosis.

Emu oil's documented antiinflammatory ability may also explain its topical or oral ingestion with symptom improvement for MS or other inflammatory based illness. An excellent example is topical emu oil's ability to reduce nerve irritability and the pain and itching of shingles (Herpes Zoster). Almost nothing works as well for patient comfort.

Dr. William Code, MD, FRCPC, is a currently retired anesthesiologist on his own personal journey with multiple sclerosis. Forfurther information, please refer to the books below, or contact Dr. Code at 250-746-1593.

Resources: Fats That Heal. Fats That Kill by Udo Erasmus, Ph.D. ISBN 0-920470-3S-6

Essential Fatty Acids in Health and Disease by Edward N. Siquel M.D., Ph.D. ISBN 0-9642534-0-2.

Courtesy of Emu Today and Tomorrow, March 2000

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