From a historical perspective,
wild dogs have survived for thousands of years
on a natural selection of foods including wild game, plants
and fish, providing a diet that was
rich in a special group of fats containing 'Essential Fatty
Acids'. This information is highly
relevant as it is the same diet our modern pets were born
What are Essential Fatty Acids?
There are two types of essential fatty acids
or EFAs - omega-3 and omega-6. Research is now suggesting
there is also an essential balance of these EFAs, which means
they are not only required for health, but they are required
in a particular ratio to each other. For instance, the brain
consists of an equal 1:1 ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 to maintain
omega-3 (alpha-linolenic acid) and omega-6 (linoleic acid)
are bountiful in the leafy plants consumed by roaming animals,
providing nearly equal ratios of these EFAs. The fat in wild
game and grazing ruminant contains roughly seven times more
omega-3 fatty acids than animals raised for commercial meat.
When domestic ruminants and chickens are deprived of greens,
their meat and eggs also become low in omega-3s. Switching
livestock from their natural diet of grass to large amounts
of grain is one of the reasons our pet's modern diet is deficient
in these essential fats. The other reason involves the fact
that processing or cooking distorts EFAs into trans-fatty
acids. High temperatures force unsaturated fat molecules to
change from their healthy cis-forms (curved) to harmful trans-forms
(straight). The trans fatty acid is unable to function naturally,
resulting in a poisonous molecular change in the biological
There is another newly discovered "good"
fat called "conjugated linoleic acid." The most
abundant source of CLA in nature is also found in the meat
and bone of ruminant grazing animals. Animals that naturally
graze have from 3-5 times more CLA than animals fattened on
grain. Superficially, CLA resembles linoleic acid however,
they appear to have opposite effects. Whereas an overabundance
of linoleic fatty acid promotes tumor growth, CLA blocks it.
In fact, CLA may be one of our most potent cancer fighters.
Essential fatty acids are indispensable because
they provide the building blocks for numerous 'eicosanoids'.
Many of these hormone-like chemicals are also called prostaglandins.
Eicosanoids can lower blood pressure, raise body temperature,
open or constrict bronchial passages, stimulate hormone production
and sensitize nerve fibers. They are so dependent on dietary
fat that we can directly attribute the specific activity of
a particular eicosanoid to the class of fats from which it
is derived. As such, we have the power to greatly enhance
health by picking fats that in turn create beneficial eicsanoids.
The secret is in keeping a dietary balance between the two
major fatty acids, so that the body's eicosanoids are balanced.
Essential Fatty Acids & Their
Fatty acids are composed of long carbon chains
with a methyl group at one end, and an acid group at the other.
Saturated fatty acids contain no double bonds, whereas polyunsaturated
fatty acids (PUFAs) have multiple double bonds. The more double
bonds that an EFA contains, the greater the degree of unsaturation.
The specific chemistry of the fatty acid, including the number
of carbons and double bonds, affects how it functions in the
animal body. PUFAs are categorized as either omega-6 or omega
-3 depending upon the position of their first double bond
from the methyl end. The most important PUFAs for animal nutrition
in each series are as follows:
|Dihomogamma Linolenic Acid
Of the listed fatty acids, only omega-6 and
omega-3 are categorized as "essential" because they
cannot be synthesized in the body and therefore must be derived
from the diet. Under optimal conditions, the remaining omega-3
and omega-6 fatty acids can be synthesized from linoleic acid
and alpha-linolenic acid and may informally be referred to
as "conditionally essential". After dietary ingestion
of omega-6 and omega-3, mammalian tissue enzymes catalyze
the conversion of these shorter chain PUFA into longer chain
fatty acids through an alternating sequence of desaturation
and elongation steps via the body's metabolic pathways. Under
optimal conditions, the conversion to the longer chain PUFAs
is efficient. However, in some situations commonly observed
in dogs, the process is slow or totally lacking and dietary
supplementation with longer PUFAs is necessary.
Cancer, arthritis, other inflammatory conditions, and immune
system weaknesses are some of the most serious health problems
associated with a lack of omega-3 fats. The best dietary sources
are fish and fish oils or flaxseed. Three specific essential
fatty acids are found in omega-3 fats and oils. They are alpha-linolenic
acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic
acid (DHA). Flaxseed is a very good supplement source for
ALA. For EPA and DHA, nothing beats cold water fish and fish
oils are valuable in treating established cancer as they can
cut down the number of T suppresser cells (the cells that
turn off the immune response). The most often recurring theme
of all, is fish oil's consistent ability to suppress inflammation.
For example, in arthritis, fish oils effectively replace nonsteroidal
anti-inflammatory drugs. EPAs both decrease pain and increase
ease of movement. Eicosanoids created by over consumption
of omega-6 fats encourage the inflammation responsible for
arthritis, so it makes sense to offset them with omega-3 eicosanoids
from fish oils. Fish oils reduce the overproduction of inflammatory
compounds that are associated with inflammatory bowel disease
and decrease the damage these disorders can cause to the colon
wall. An imbalance in the production of inflammatory hormones
in the skin may cause a number of reactions. This can be helped
by fish oil supplements. Proper kidney function can be also
be supported by taking fish oils.
Flaxseed may also serve well. This eicosanoid
precursor possesses many of fish oil's immune enhancing and
anti-inflammatory effects. While the oil is remarkable, don't
discard the value of the entire flaxseed. An excellent source
of fiber, flax meal contains cancer opposing compounds called
lignans. If using fresh flax seed in the diet, it should be
milled prior to its use. It takes three tablespoons of ground
flax seed to equal 1 tbsp of oil.
The other essential fatty acids come from linoleic acid and
gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). Linoleic acid is found in sunflower,
and safflower oils, while GLA is found in evening primrose
and borage oils. The GLA oils are especially useful with arthritis,
diabetes and skin disorders. Only the omega-6's can convert
themselves into GLA. However don't go overboard on these fatty
acids as they can give rise to an excess of certain inflammatory
eicosanoids. How can an excess of omega-6 cause certain diseases,
and still provide therapeutic assistance against the very
The answer is delta-6-desaturase (D6D). Without
this enzyme, omega-6 fatty acids won't transform themselves
into GLA. Dogs do possess the D6D enzyme but its activity
is often depressed. The loss of this enzyme may also be caused
by diabetes, hypothyroidism, viral infection or cancer. The
enzyme is made with the help of vitamin C, vitamin B, zinc
and magnesium; a low amount of these nutrients will decrease
the amount of D6D made by the body. Though some have argued
that GLA competes with omega-3 fatty acids and renders them
less effective, in reality they are synergistic. Most practitioners
who endorse essential fats recommend both omega-3s and GLA,
giving the body all the raw materials to make what eicosanoids
it needs most.
Clinical research clearly supports a role
for dietary omega-3 ( fish oils) as well as omega-6 (evening
primrose) supplementation for the treatment of dermatological
diseases in dogs. In addition to dermatological conditions,
a variety of other abnormalities are seen in essential fatty
acid deficient states. These include poor growth rates, weight
loss, failure of ovulation and lactation, testicular degeneration,
poor wound healing, and increased susceptibility to infections.
In addition, it is becoming increasingly clear that a much
wider range of conditions may respond to dietary supplementation
of fatty acids in animals including cardiovascular disease,
musculoskeletal problems, and neoplasia, as well as arthritis
and certain renal disorders.
Because both GLA and EPA help to block the
production of inflammatory substances, their use has been
shown to reduce, or eliminate the need for certain medications
such as anti-inflammatory drugs (corticosteroids), and anti-allergics.
It is suggested that the approximate GLA and EFA dosage levels
will depend upon the animal and its condition. It is recommended
that they are administered for at least six to eight weeks
before assessing the response.