Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Munching Away to Happiness (4)

The type and quality of fats in the diet can influence mood and behaviour.

Dietary fats are built from fatty acids. Fatty acids can be either saturated or unsaturated. Saturated fatty acids (SFA) have all the hydrogen atoms the carbon atoms can hold. They are usually solid at room temperature. Saturated fatty acids are considered the main dietary factors in raising blood cholesterol.

Unsaturated fatty acids have at least one unsaturated bond; that is some of the carbon bonds are shared doubly with the adjoining carbon atom. They are usually liquid at room temperature and generally come from vegetable sources. They are known to keep the blood cholesterol level down and reduce cholesterol deposits in artery walls. The unsaturated fatty acids can be further classified as mono-unsaturated fatty acids (MUFA; single double bond in the fatty acid chain) and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA; more than one double bond).

Two important unsaturated fatty acids are n-3 fatty acids (popularly called as omega-3 fatty acids) and n-6 fatty acids (popularly called as omega-6 fatty acids).

Due to recommendations to substitute PUFAs for SFAs to lower serum cholesterol, there has been increased intake of vegetable oils from sunflower seeds, safflower seeds, corn, cottonseed, and soybeans. This has resulted in a significant increase in the consumption of n-6 fatty acids. Traditionally the ratio of n-6 to n-3 fatty acids in the diet has been mentioned to be 1-2:1, which is now estimated in urban diets to be 20-30:1 (approximately).

Although investigators are not sure of the reasons, a high n-6 to n-3 fatty acid ratio has been associated with health problems including mental health problems like affective problems and concentration/memory difficulties.

Studies have shown decreased levels of n-3 fatty acids and higher n-6 to n-3 fatty acid ratio in patients with mood disorders. Some published reports show a significant effect improvement in depression symptoms on n-3 fatty acid supplementation.

n-3 fatty acid containing foods include:

Fish - Salmon, sardines, mackerel, Scallops, fresh tuna, halibut, shrimp, cod, trout
Seeds - Flaxseed
Nuts - Walnuts

If we get our facts about fats right, perhaps we can understand happiness better.


VSB said...

Now, this is becoming just about too much to digest, literally!
Just when you thought that you had won a major health battle by coercing your family to have dal tempered with regular vegetable oil instead of the preferred desi ghee, the needlesome health experts come up with n-6 to n-3 fatty acid ratio's link to memory difficulties. Come to think of it maybe that's why I am becoming increasingly muddleheaded! HELP!

Mridula said...

At the end of a long day this one became too technical for me. Could not keep track of which acid was which :(

VS said...

VSB: Try some supplements.

Mridula: Try once again. If it does not work, tell me. :o)

elisa freschi said...

"If we get our facts about fats right, perhaps we can understand happiness better"………
Do you mean that happiness is nothing but a physical/chemical process about which we just happen not to know all, or do you mean that happiness is influenced by physical changes?

VS said...

Elisa thats a tricky one. :o) Happiness as we know it certainly influenced by neurotransmitters. In this context what I meant was the neuro-chemical processes can be influenced by the choices we make.

What I believe is that there has to be something more wonderful which can influence the hormones or the neurotransmitters.

elisa freschi said...

what do you mean by "something more wonderful"? Not omega-6 fatty acids, I suppose.

VS said...

Elisa: Surely not :o)