Understanding Functional Medicine And The Importance Of Omega 3 In Our Diet

Presenter: Katherine Lodge
Guest: Warren Maginn
Guest Bio: Warren is a clinical nutritionist, and he specialises in the treatment of chronic immune disorders, nutritional deficiencies, and hormonal imbalances through the principles of functional medicine.  He’s also a national technical educator for the Research Nutrition, which is an Australian-based functional medicine advisory.

Segment Overview: Immune disorders can be avoided with the help of Omega 3 in our diet. Warren Maginn shares his knowledge as a nutritionist in this segment as he explains the benefits of Omega 3 further.


Health Professional Radio

Katherine: Thank you for listening to Health Professional Radio. Our guest today is Warren Maginn, a clinical nutritionist and Nordic Naturals spokesperson. He’s here to talk to us about functional medicine and the importance of omega 3 in our diet. Welcome to our show, Warren.

Warren Maginn: Hi, Katherine.  Great to be on the show.

Katherine: Now, Warren is a clinical nutritionist, and he specialises in the treatment of chronic immune disorders, nutritional deficiencies, and hormonal imbalances through the principles of functional medicine.  He’s also a national technical educator for the Research Nutrition, which is an Australian-based functional medicine advisory.  Warren, you also lecture nutritional medicine at the Endeavour College of Natural Health in Brisbane.  Wow, that’s a lot of things that you’re involved in!

Warren: It does keep me busy.  That’s right.

Katherine: To start with, can you tell us exactly what functional medicine is?

Warren: Yes, sure.  As the term sounds, it’s just by looking at how we function, it’s a little bit more of an individualised approach to medicine over population health, where we might look at someone where they sit in an average population group.  This looks down at the individual and says what’s going on for them as an individual, and usually involves some level of testing to identify what their actual needs are, biochemically and hormonally.

We can also identify nutritional deficiencies through that.  That seems to be a good opportunity to look at upstream causes for any disease or symptoms, rather than just trying to suppress them wherever they emerge downstream.  We see that as a powerful way of addressing a number of health concerns in one go.

Katherine: Right.  You specialise in the treatment of chronic immune disorders.  Can you give us some examples of this, and also how they can be treated?

Warren: Yeah, sure.  Immune disorders are a classic example of something that we really do need to look a little bit further upstream to see what’s causing them, because the symptoms themselves don’t always give us the best insight as to why they’re present.  And their chronic nature – an example would be rheumatoid arthritis or prolonged allergies.  Things that exist often for life for a lot of people still do have a lot of opportunity to be balanced or assisted if we can address the imbalances that are bringing them about or exacerbating them, at least.

Katherine: Some of the work that you do … you are the spokesperson for Nordic Naturals?

Warren: Yes.  I support Nordic Naturals as a choice of fish oil in my clinic, just because I tried quite a few different types of fish oil back when I was doing a lot of my biochemistry days.  I wasn’t really getting the results I was led to believe I should from a lot of the research on omega 3, and I peered behind the curtain a little bit and found that there’s a lot to fish oil and there’s a lot of variants and difference between fish oils.

To use something of a sufficient standard to get the clinical results led me to Nordic, and so I’m quite passionate about supporting them now, just because I’ve helped so many patients using Nordic for all the things we know omega 3s and fish oil can help us with.

Katherine: Right.  Can you explain a little bit about omega 3?  Now, as I understand it, it’s not found in a lot of fruit and vegetables or anything like that, so the best way to get omega 3 is through supplements.  Is that correct?

Warren: Well, yes.  First and foremost, you can get omega 3 from certain seeds in the plant kingdom, most notably to most people would be chia seeds and flax seeds.  However, they aren’t in a converted form—that is, into the EPA and the DHA that we usually need therapeutically.  So we’re using the animal-produced fatty acids to get that therapeutic benefit, and the most abundant sources of those are marine sources, usually fish.

Most people will be aware of the sustainability issue and the availability of fish.  It’s a [indecipherable 04:15] to be consumed daily at sufficient amounts to give us the amount of omega 3 we need now in our modern diets.  Also, the purity concerns, of toxins, of metal, and chemical nature, that we need to avoid to not bring negative health effects for all our best intentions to get the omega 3 that we need.

So if you add all those up together, yes, a few fish meals a day from a good, fresh fish source is great.  But to get the omega 3 levels we need, we tend to need supplementation.

Katherine: Also, the lack of omega 3 has been linked to all sorts of conditions.  For example, it’s been linked with depression, and it affects child behaviour as well.  Can you talk a little bit about what happens when you don’t have enough omega 3?

Warren: The interesting thing about that is we often see a lot of research conducted in isolation, looking at one specific health parameter or disease concern, and invariably it shows us a benefit.  It starts to become seen as a little bit of a panacea, where it will help almost every condition.  It may seem hard to believe at first, until you step back and appreciate that every cell in the body needs essential fatty acids to function correctly.

Their essential nature means we need to acquire them from our diet or supplementation.  We can’t actually make them.  So whether we get them or whether we don’t does dictate a lot of our health.  So it’s not too surprising that nearly every disease state will benefit in some way or another, upstream or downstream, if we can get sufficient amounts of those omega 3s.

Some of the examples we mentioned before, with the chronic immune disorders, we know that things like rheumatoid arthritis can benefit from fish oil.  I think that’s fairly well-established in the research now.  But it does that from a number of mechanisms.  Fish oil’s great in the sense that it provides a substrate—that is, a piece of the structure of our cell.  It embeds in the membranes and gives it fluidity and a lot of its essential cellular functions.

But it’s also used to produce various hormones in the body.  Prostaglandins and cytokines [sp] are responsible for producing either pro- or anti-inflammatory actions in the body.  So if you can modulate those through your level of omega 3 in the body, you really are affecting almost every aspect of your cellular function.  The list of diseases that are assisted by omega 3 starts to become endless.

Katherine: Before, you did mention a few acronyms that might not be clear to a lot of people.  You mentioned EPA and DHA, and I know Nordic Naturals does have a range of DHA supplements.  Can you explain what these two things are?

Warren: So you’ve got your parent omega 3s, they call it, and it’s often converted to various degrees in different individuals down to eicosapentaenoic acid, which is EPA, and then docosahexaenoic acid, which is DHA.  They can just simply be considered further elongated fatty chains that stem from the parent omega 3s.  They really are quite difficult to make on a cellular level, so that is why we need them in our diets.

The balance of the two, EPA and DHA, isn’t too crucial in an exact sense in the body.  We do need to make sure we get both.  We do need to make sure that whatever our diet and supplements are, we need to include them in their pre-form state.  As I mentioned before, a lot of us don’t convert them from the other omega 3s very well.  It turns out that fish oil and marine sources are the most potent sources of EPA and DHA.

In and of themselves, EPA tends to lend itself to anti-inflammatory benefits, and DHA tends to support the nervous system because the nervous system, if it would have its way, is usually built quite considerably from DHA fatty acids.  So brain tissue can be 20 to 30 percent DHA in its fatty acid content, if it’s available.  Once again, that has to come from the diet or supplements.

When that happens, we see the benefits to the nervous system are quite profound.  We see behavioural changes in children.  We see IQ elevations.  We see decreased level of cognitive decline in the aged.  So the list of benefits really goes on and on for those that might need more DHA.  For EPA, it would be more about immune benefit, the anti-inflammatory response, if you have aches and pains, or even depression.  EPA can help more on an immediate biochemical level.

Katherine: That’s really interesting.  I know there are child omega 3 capsules and things like that.  Is there a different dosage for children and adults?  Can you explain a bit about that?

Warren: The dosages for adults are put at a maintenance dose of about 500 milligrams of combined EPA and DHA.  You choose which products you would like to get more of the EPA or DHA that you need for your given situation.  But as long as you get a combination of both that reaches about 500 milligrams to 1,000 milligrams—that’s a gram a day—you can enjoy most of the benefits that are seen in the research in a number of areas.

For children, we tend to work backwards from the adult dose because their body weight’s a bit different.  And we see that, say, if a 16-year-old was considered an adult and upwards, we would see an 8-year-old have half that dose and a 4-year-old a quarter, and so on.  It is something you can give to infants, even newborns, straight from birth.  It is one of the few nutritional supplements where you can do that.

Katherine: I see.  Yeah, I’ve seen omega 3 in some baby formulas and things like that.

Warren: That’s right, because that is such a crucial stage of neuronal development.  If you can get ample supply of DHA at that crucial window, it really does have far-reaching effects, often, to their life.  We see effects still maintained at about 10 years old if their neonatal period was sufficient in DHA.

Katherine: You touched on this before, but some people do have concerns about supplements, especially with fish oil, because they’re worried about mercury and also the sustainability of fishing practices.  I know Nordic Naturals is one of the better choices for people that are concerned with these issues.

Warren: Absolutely.  If we’ve just established that it’s crucial that we get DHA and EPA at various life stages, particularly early on, it’s at those stages that it’s equally important that they’re not accompanied by metal and chemical toxins that would obstruct neural function.  The problem with some of these toxins is they tend to accumulate in our bodies.  That is, they’ll accumulate and lodge in the nervous tissue that we are trying to support with omega 3s, and can be harboured for quite a long time, if not our lifetimes.

So it’s very important that we choose the purest supplement we can to get all the benefits we’re after and none of the downsides, if we can help it.  That’s one of the main reasons I really support Nordic, it’s because they all show third-party studies to test their fish oil for the lowest amounts of metal or chemical toxins, well below even what environmental standards would accept.

It just is a sign of the ethics of the company to choose their own less-than-negligible levels as their own barometer of what’s acceptable.  Because if we take this day in, day out, we want to make sure we aren’t accumulating toxins over time, because the benefit you get from fish oil is from taking it on a maintenance, ongoing basis.

Katherine: This might be a bit of a tough question, but what about vegetarians, and they are quite strict – no-fish products at all.  Their options are some other oils, like flaxseed oil and things like that that you mentioned?

Warren: It’s a very good question.  If there’s a strong need for pre-formed EPA and DHA, to a large part, the only choices are animal-based oils.  But if, for whatever reasons, that isn’t feasible for various patients, there is a number of options.  You can choose flax oil, but as I said, you won’t necessarily convert that very efficiently.  We’re talking of 1 percent of it will convert in most individuals, from recent studies.

They would really need to take a lot of it—and we’re talking tablespoons and tablespoons—and make sure they’re healthy in every other way with ample nutrition, minerals like zinc and vitamin A to assist that conversion.  In that sense, they may get sufficient levels in the background.  There is a third option.  That is algae-based DHA.  For those that really need DHA and animal-based products are not an option, you can get DHA concentrates from algae oil, and they are emerging as we speak.

Katherine: That’s interesting.  It’s also from the water system.

Warren: That’s right.  That’s where the fish are, actually…  I was just going to mention that the DHA that comes in algae is actually what the fish are accumulating.  When the fish eat the algae, it’s a concentrated source.  The fish oil provides us that very concentrated source in a very small dose, a very manageable couple of capsules a day sort of compliant dose that can get us those DHA levels that we need.

Katherine: Thank you so much for answering that question as well.  I know it can be tough sometimes.  Thanks again, Warren.

Warren: It is a [indecipherable 13:58].  Thanks, Katherine.  You’re welcome.

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