Camelina Oil - a time-tested source of healthpromoting omega-3 fatty acids


1. What is Camelina Oil? Why is it called wild flax?

2. What are omega-3 fatty acids?

3. What happened with omega-3 fatty acids in our food supply? What health benefits can be achieved through omega-3 supplementation?

4 . What are the advantages and disadvantages of different available sources of omega-3 fatty acids?

1. What is Camelina? Why is it called wild flax?

Camelina (Camelina Sativa) - also known as wild flax, German sesame, or Siberian oilseed – is an ancient oleaginous (oil-bearing) plant from the Cruciferae family, which has been domesticated and extensively used in Europe for several thousand years. The seed oil of Camelina contains an exceptional amount - up to 45 per cent! - of omega-3 fatty acids, as well as a unique antioxidant complex making the oil very stable and resistant to heat and rancidity.

Known as “wild flax” because it is commonly found growing together with common flax (and also sometimes referred to as “false flax” due to its visual similarity with regular flax), Camelina, while supplying almost as many omega-3 fatty acids as regular flax, is much more stable than the latter, and also tastes much better.

2. What are omega-3 fatty acids?

Omega-3 fatty acids are long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (18-22 carbon atoms in chain length) with the first of double bonds beginning with the third carbon atom. They are called “polyunsaturated” because their molecules have two or more of the so-called “double bonds” between carbon atoms. Their designation as “long-chain” fatty acids has to do with the fact that they consist of at least 18 carbon atoms.

The omega-3 family of fatty acids includes alpha-linolenic acid (ALA, 18 carbon atoms, 3 double bonds), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA, 20 carbon atoms, 5 double bonds), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA, 22 carbon atoms, 6 double bonds). ALA is the “basic” omega-3 fatty acid, from which EPA and DHA are made in the body through a series of enzymatic reactions

Some fatty acids, including alpha-liniolenic acid (ALA) from the omega-3 family, are so important for health that they have been termed “essential fatty acids” (EFA). The essentiality of these fatty acids stems from the fact that our bodies need them to perform vitally important functions, but are unable to manufacture them. Therefore, we must get them daily from outside sources (such as food or dietary supplements). Otherwise, we risk developing an omega-3 fatty acid deficiency and putting our health in danger of serious negative consequences.

3. What happened with omega-3 fatty acids in our food supply? What health benefits can be achieved through omega-3 supplementation?

Until recently, the human diet has provided adequate amounts of omega-3s to satisfy our basic need for them. However, the 20th century has witnessed an unprecedented shift from traditional, natural foods supplying abundant quantities of omega-3 fatty acids to processed, denatured packaged foods which are characterized by an almost complete absence of omega-3s. In its tireless attempts to extend the shelf life of its offerings, the food processing industry has all but squeezed these important nutrients out of our food supply altogether.

As a result, omega-3 deficiencies have reached health-threatening proportions. Many researchers link these deficiencies to the current epidemic of degenerative diseases, including heart disease, arthritis and other inflammation-related diseases, and even cancer. Extensive research, including many clinical studies, have confirmed that the regular supplementation of the diet with omega-3 fatty acids may be helpful in preventing or reversing numerous debilitating health problems. Here is a partial list of the health benefits achievable by supplementing one’s diet with omega-3 fatty acids:

- Reducing the overall level of inflammation in the body, and the resulting healing or alleviation of many inflammation-related conditions such as peptic ulcers, gastritis, acid reflux, IBS, and ulcerative colitis
- Lowering the risk of heart disease, including CHD (coronary heart disease) and atherosclerosis
- Lowering the level of triglycerides (fats) in the blood
- Lowering high blood pressure (alleviating hypertension)
- Reduction in heart irregularities, such as elevated heartbeat rates and arrhythmias (disturbances of the normal rhythm in the heart's beating)
- Alleviation of circulatory problems, including varicose veins and Raynaud's disease
- Helping to alleviate mood disorders, such as depression
- Reducing aggression
- Helping patients with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyslexia and dyspraxia
- Helping to improve memory and learning skills, and prevent Alzheimer's disease
- Prevention of allergies in children
- Improving the condition of those who suffer from inflammatory skin disorders such as psoriasis and eczema - Alleviating rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and other inflammatory forms of arthritis, affecting, in particular, persons with psoriasis and gout - Improving the immune status
- Alleviating certain symptoms of PMS
- Improving vision by lowering the risk of age-related macular degeneration - an eye condition which is the leading cause of severe loss of vision in people over 50.

4. What are the pros and cons of different available sources of omega-3 fatty acids?

There are two major known sources of omega-3 fatty acids: certain types of fish (and their tissue or organ fat, also called fish oil or fish liver oil), and a number of plant seeds and their oils (flax oil being the best known one).

Fish and fish oils have an advantage of containing the most nutritionally available variety of omega-3s, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), which is converted directly into PGE3 – the compound responsible for most of the health benefits of omega-3 supplementation. However, you must be very careful when choosing fish or fish by-products as a source of omega-3s. First of all, it should be kept in mind that only the fatty, cold water fish varieties, such as salmon, sardines, and anchovies, are rich in omega-3s, whereas most other fish species supply little or no omega-3s. Even with salmon, you have to make sure that it is wild and not farm-raised, because only the salmon caught in the wild has any appreciable amounts of omega-3s, because it gets them from its natural diet. Farm-raised salmon does not supply any omega-3 fatty acids.

Fish oils additionally suffer from contamination with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and mercury. Modern industrial agriculture produces a huge toxic runoff which goes into our rivers and streams and eventually ends up in the ocean. At the same time, coal-burning power plants are increasingly polluting our atmosphere with mercury. These harmful chemicals tend to accumulate in fish. The larger the fish – the more PCBs, mercury, and other toxins (like lead and cadmium) will be found in its tissues. The problem is so serious that the US government has recently issued a number of warnings cautioning pregnant women and young children against consuming certain species of fish because of contamination.

One more disadvantage of fish-derived omega-3 supplements is that many people, including an ever-growing number of vegetarians, are simply not able to use them, because they are excluding all animal products and by-products from their diets altogether. For them, the only viable alternative source of omega-3 fatty acids has been flax oil.

While being the richest available plant source of omega-3 fatty acids, flax oil has a serious downside. It has to do with its susceptibility to oxidation and rancidity.

The oil is poor in natural antioxidants, and starts going rancid as soon as it is pressed from the seeds. In spite of many precautions taken by the flax oil industry, most commercially available varieties of flax oil, both in liquid and in capsule form, get rancid. And even if they don’t, there is no way to avoid oxidation and rancidity once the oil enters your body. Once ingested, it inevitably triggers free radical chain reactions, damaging millions upon millions of healthy molecules. Your body tries to stop these reactions with its own natural reserves of antioxidants, such as vitamin E, putting these reserves under an unnecessary and undesirable stress. As a result, the benefits of taking flax oil may well be outweighed by the harm done by free radicals and other toxic by-products of lipid oxidation.

Considering the above, one inevitably comes to a conclusion that, until now, none of the widely available sources of omega-3 fatty acids have been fully satisfactory and completely problem-free. While it is possible to achieve the required level of omega-3 supplementation using either fish and fish-derived products, or flax oil, it would be highly desirable to have an omega-3-rich oil that would also be more resistant to oxidation and free of toxic contaminants. The good news is that such an oil does, indeed, exist. This is the oil of Camelina (wild flax).

Camelina seeds produce a golden-colored oil with a delicate, almond-like flavor, containing up to 45 per cent of omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). In addition to valuable omega-3s, it is uniquely rich in powerful antioxidants, primarily tocopherols. At 110 mg/100 g, its vitamin E (tocopherol) content is among the highest of all natural tocopherol sources. By contrast, flax oil contains only trace amounts of vitamin E.

The fatty acid composition of Camelina oil is also unique and very beneficial in terms of its health-promoting qualities. In addition to being a rich source of ALA, the oil is highly monounsaturated, naturally supplying more than 30 percent of stable monounsaturated (oleic and gadoleic) fatty acids. This significant proportion of monounsaturates (monounsaturated olive oil forms the basis of the healthy Mediterranean diet) further enhances the oxidative stability of Camelina oil, and makes it a more versatile cooking oil.

The combination of these important advantages makes Camelina oil the most balanced and desirable source of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation. While providing almost as many omega-3s as flax oil, it is highly stable and abundant in vitamin E and other natural antioxidants, as well as beneficial monounsaturated fatty acids. As a result, it does not promote the formation of harmful free radicals. On the contrary, it helps resist their destructive effects by providing powerful antioxidant protection.