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Checkbiotech: Biotech flax with increased Omega-3 levels could improve human health
Posted by: DR. RAUPP & madora (IP Logged)
Date: November 04, 2004 07:53AM ;

Enhanced flax seeds could bring the benefits of fish oil to vegetable-based
cooking oils, November 2004 .

A team of researchers(1) led by Ernst Heinz from the University of Hamburg
in Germany has successfully developed a genetically enhanced flax (or
linseed) plant that has boosted levels of healthful long chain
polyunsaturated omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids that are believed to reduce
the risk of heart disease,(2) cancer,(3) Alzheimer's(4) and many other

As reported in the October issue of The Plant Cell,(5)Heinz and his team
inserted genes from algae and moss into flax plants to produce nutritionally
significant amounts (about 5 percent) of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
Often referred to as "healthy" fats, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are
essential building blocks the body needs for tissue growth and normal
functioning ? especially the eyes and the brain.

Omega-6 fatty acids are readily available from a variety of foods (including
almost all vegetable oils), but, at present, the best dietary source of
omega-3 fatty acids is coldwater fish such as salmon, mackerel and tuna.

Unfortunately, many people don't consume enough fish. And pregnant women and
young children are often advised to avoid eating certain kinds of fish that
have traces of mercury and PCB's, even though these elements are at very low
levels and pose minimal risks.6 Further, global fish stocks are in decline.

"Our research should lead to the creation of a sustainable source of these
very long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids that are required for human
nutrition," says Heinz. "At present the only reliable source is fatty fish,
but these marine resources are declining dramatically."

By the mid 1990s, 70 percent of the wild ocean fisheries were already so
heavily exploited that reproduction couldn't keep up or could just barely
keep up with demand.(7)

Heinz himself eats fish weekly to obtain the health benefits. And he counts
himself among those who could benefit even more by eating genetically
enhanced flax plants.

Essential fats in the diet
Despite the well-publicized increase in obesity around the world,
eliminating fat from human diets isn't healthy. In fact, you wouldn't live
long with out it. Instead, it is commonly suggested that about 30 percent of
our overall calorie intake come from fat.

There are three basic categories of fat: saturated, polyunsaturated and
monounsaturated. Saturated fats typically come from fatty meats and
whole-fat dairy products. The unsaturated fats typically come primarily from
vegetable oils, nuts and fish.

"We really need some of each of these three fats," says Gail Frank,
professor of nutrition at California State University?Long Beach. Frank, who
is a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, specializes in the
study of the relationship of food and nutrition to disease. "Ideally, a
person ought to get only about 8 percent of their daily fat intake from
saturated fats, not more than about 10 percent from polyunsaturated fats and
about 12 percent from monounsaturated fats."

It is within the polyunsaturated fat category that we find omega-3 and
omega-6 fatty acids. The human body cannot manufacture these fatty acids;
the only way to get them is through the foods we eat.

Along with the amount of these fats in the human diet, the ratio of them is
also important. Ideally, it would be around four (omega-6) to one (omega-3).
Because omega-6 fatty acids are readily available in a multitude of
vegetable oils, this ratio is commonly in the range of 10 to 20 (omega-6) to
one (omega-3).

"People first began suspecting that omega-3 fatty acids might play a role in
disease prevention when early studies revealed that the Inuit people ? whose
diet was very high in fat ? had a much lower incidence of heart disease than
one might otherwise suspect," says Frank.

Since then, the list of diseases that omega-3 fatty acids might help prevent
has grown dramatically. Although the results are not yet conclusive,
preliminary studies indicate that omega-3 fatty acids may help prevent or
have a positive influence on rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, lupus, kidney
disease, macular degeneration and depression.

While omega-3 fatty acids are present in nuts, flax, soybean oils, and a few
other foods, currently fish remains the number one source of these essential
nutrients. That's why nutritionists and health watchdog organizations alike
recommend including fish as a regular part of one's diet. Prominent
organizations that recommend the regular consumption of fish include the
American Diabetes Association(8) and the American Heart Association.(9)

Healthier oils and meat
The most direct route for Heinz's research to improve human nutrition would
be through the development of cooking oils from genetically enhanced
oilseeds. Using cooking oils with a healthier fat profile ? and a properly
balanced ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids ? would definitely be a
step in the right direction.

And such enhanced oilseeds could also be used to produce nutritional
supplements, although nutrition experts like Frank say the benefits of
supplements are generally unproven and that eating a balanced diet is still
the best way to meet nutritional requirements.

But for Cindy Moore, director of nutrition therapy for the Cleveland Clinic
Foundation, these applications would simply be the very small tip of a very
large iceberg of possibilities.

"People often overlook the fact that plants and plant seeds with enhanced
levels of omega-3 fatty acids could also be used as animal feed," says
Moore, who is also a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.
"There is a trickle-down effect. The omega-3 fatty acids that are in the
food we give our cattle, pigs and chickens, ends up in the meat, milk and
eggs they produce."

So in effect, Heinz's research may one day result in a meal of bacon and
eggs that has as much omega-3 as a serving of Atlantic salmon.

"What's really exciting about this research breakthrough is that it opens
the door to reducing the risk for a number of chronic diseases with a
minimum of behavior modification," says Moore, who notes that history has
proven it can be extremely challenging to convince people to alter their
diets. "One of the greatest benefits of biotechnology is that it allows us
to introduce these benefits transparently. Any time we can improve the
nutritional profile of the foods people eat without having to convince them
to change their habits ? that's a good thing. It's a real winner."

Heinz couldn't agree more.


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