Over 10,000 years ago, our ancestors lived in the moment; hunting, gathering and surviving. We didn’t live in condos, drive cars or shop at supermarkets. Nor did we plant countless rows of grains and sugar cane or did we manufacture and package foods. Life was hard and food was scarce, raw and perishable yet highly nutritious. That’s because foods that were available to our distant ancestors were endowed with important nutrients, and in balanced levels, that were aligned with bodily needs. To go one step further, naturally occurring foods/nutrients were a key driving force for the development of our genome, the DNA-based instructions for making the thousands of proteins in our trillions of cells and that dictate normal bodily functions.
So what was our original nutrition and how was it different from the diet most eat today? Basically, our original nutrition consisted of foods and their inherent nutrients and levels that naturally occurred tens of thousands of years ago. In turn, these foods supported human evolution thereby creating a match between naturally available nutrition with the nourishment needs for human growth, development, defense and reproduction.
Foods that were available at that time included lean animal meats, eggs, marine foods, fruits, vegetables, root vegetables (tubers), nuts and insects. Many of these items sound pretty close to the typical human diet today which is certainly good news for people today. However, many of the same foods have changed from what our ancestors ate based on modern plant and animal farming and food manufacturing. For instance, there are significant differences in the level and type of fat content in farm raised beef and eggs versus free-range derived. Plus, today’s diet contains sugar and cereal grain based foods such as pastas, breads and rice. These foods/ingredients were not part of our original nutrition and we have to ask whether we, in more recent centuries, have created a misalignment between food, function and body status. Certainly the high incidence of obesity and certain diseases suggests this to be the case. Meanwhile, several research studies also support the benefits of eating in alignment with our original nutrition.
Omega-3 fatty acids are absolutely critical original nutrition nutrients and have always been part of our diet (see Omega-3 Fats Figure). Omega-3 fatty acids come from both land and marine food sources and include ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). These nutrients serve as cell membrane components and are involved in modulating regulating bodily processes such as blood pressure, inflammation and blood clotting (see Omega-3/Eicosanoid Figure). In addition DHA is critical for brain development and maintenance throughout the lifespan (primarily DHA) and DHA is the major fatty acid in the brain and is critical for optimal brain development during pregnancy and youth and maintenance brain function throughout the lifespan.
Two of the most important omega-3 fatty acids are EPA and DHA are derived from 1) algae, 2) fatty tissue of marine mammals (e.g. whale, seal, walrus), 3) oil of cold-water fish (e.g. cod, herring, menhaden, salmon, tuna, pollock), and 4) crustaceans and other marine life (e.g. krill, lobster, crab, shrimp, squid). EPA is used to make powerful hormone-like molecules called eicosanoids. Eicosanoids include thromboxanes, leukotrienes, and prostaglandins and are involved in the regulation of local events such as blood vessel and bronchiole constriction/dilation, blood clotting, and inflammatory processes. In order for ALA and DHA to have this functionality, first they must be converted to EPA. Eicosanoids are derived from the omega-3 EPA and omega-6 ARA (arachidonic acid), which seem to compete for the same converting enzyme systems, namely cyclooxygenases (COX) and lipoxygenases).The actions of these enzymes and the eicosanoids that are formed from either ARA and EPA has been of interest to researchers and health practitioners because many of the events regulated by eicosanoids are involved in disease processes such as arthritis and heart disease. In fact, there are several COX inhibitor drugs on the market today and the side effects need to be fully understood by users. On the other hand, manipulating the levels (ratio) of omega-3:omega-6 and specifically focusing on EPA offers a safer avenue of creating more favorable, desirable eicosanoid levels. See Omega-3 Conversion Figure
In addition, researchers are interested in the influence of exercise on the production of eicosanoids and the effect on blood flow to muscle, exercise associated inflammation and body leanness. Inflammation is increased in response to a challenging exercise session and is associated with muscle damage, pain and soreness. Furthermore, researchers are beginning to better understand how omega-3 fats, especially EPA and DHA, plays a role in maximizing the anabolic effect of insulin (via carbohydrate) and amino acids (via protein). This could play an important role in maximizing the adaption of muscle protein in response to training and pre or post nutritional intake. See ORIGINAL SCIENCE