THE TRUTH ABOUT ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS

The Truth About Essential Fatty Acids

Dr. Hank Liers, PhD essential fatty acidsMany in the field of nutrition have lost sight of the fact that there are two essential fatty acids needed by the body. Many people recommend omega-3 fatty acids assuming the the body gets sufficient omega-6 from the diet. The truth about essential fatty acids is more complicated. This article will show the more complete and correct picture.

BACKGROUND

Fatty acids are part of the lipids class, widely found in nature, food, and organisms. These fatty acids are a critical constituent of the cell membranes in all of the trillions of cells in the body. They have important biological functions including structural, communication, and metabolic roles, and they represent an important source of energy. Their metabolism produces a huge quantity of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). The beta-oxidation of the fatty acids is a well-known process, mostly used by the heart and the muscular tissue to obtain energy.

Figure 1 below shows a schematic diagram of what a fatty acid looks like. One end of the structure in all cases has a carboxylic acid group (COOH) and the other end in all cases has a methyl group (CH3). Saturated fats have single bonds (-) between all carbon atoms (C), but unsaturated fats have a number of double bonds (=) between some of the carbon atoms.


essential fatty acids

Figure 1 – Basic diagram of fatty acids structure

The human body can synthesize many of these fatty acids, except the essential fatty acids (PUFAs) linoleic acid (LA) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). These two are generally found in various vegetable oils, but their important metabolites are found mainly in special vegetable oils such as borage oil and in fish oils. Linoleic acid is the most abundant fatty acid in nature, and it is the precursor of other omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are synthesized from alpha-linolenic acid.

Once ingested, short-chain PUFAs are converted to long-chain fatty acids. These are critical for mammalian cells in order to perform various biological functions, such as sustaining the structural integrity of cellular membranes and serving as signaling molecules. They are highly enriched in brain tissues, where they participate in the development and maintenance of the central nervous system during both embryonic and adult stages.

Polyunsaturated fatty acids have been extensively researched. They include the essential fatty acids linoleic acid (an omega-6) and alpha linolenic acid (an omega-3). Omega-3s are not abundant in our food chain. There is none in corn oil and very little in soy oil, the two most widely used food oils. Therefore, nearly all the early research with polyunsaturated oils utilized omega-6 fatty acids, predominantly as linoleic acid.

Fish oils were neglected out of ignorance or because the investigators chose to pass over these cholesterol-containing oils. Concern eventually developed over the close association between increasing incidence of mammary tumors and high intake of omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids. After some years, researchers finally turned their investigations to the interrelationship between dietary omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids.

FATTY ACID METABOLIC PATHWAYS

The following diagram shows in detail the pathways for the production and use of fatty acids in the body. In the figure the metabolic pathways (running left to right) for four fatty acids types are shown (top – Omega-3, second – Omega-6, third – Omega-9, bottom – Omega-7). Notice that only the omega-3 and omega-6 oils are considered to be essential fatty acids because they cannot be made in the body. This means they must come from food.

essential fatty acids

Figure 2 – fatty acid metabolism pathways in the body

The diagram shows a series of enzyme induced reactions that either add a double bond or two additional carbon/hydrogen pairs to the fatty acid. The enzymes that make this happen are called desaturase and elongase. The desaturase enzymes are given a number for the carbon number (that the enzyme is working on) from the methyl end of the fat. These same enzymes work on all of the fatty acid types. For example, Delta 6 desaturase causes an additional double bond to be inserted into both alpha-linolenic (omega-3) and linoleic acid (omega-6) (as well as oleic acid and palmitoleic acids).

In this way, the body is able to produce a wide variety of fatty acids that have their own unique effects on biochemistry. Some of these are more important than others. In particular, the omega-3 essential fatty acid eicosapentanoic acid (EPA), the omega-6 essential fatty acid dihomo-gamma-linolenic acid (DGLA), and the omega-6 essential fatty acid arachidonic acid (AA) are precursors for a class of chemicals called eicosanoids/prostaglandins that have far reaching affects on key body functions.

EICOSANOIDS/PROSTAGLANDINS

Eicosanoids are prostaglandins that affect many aspects of health both positively and, in some cases, negatively. All known eicosanoids and prostaglandins are formed from the essential fatty acids linoleic acid (omega-6, or n-6), alpha linolenic acid (omega-3, or n-3), their “enhanced” derivatives, and from the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oils.

Prostaglandins are short-lived highly active, hormone-like chemicals that are found in every cell of the body. They are regulators of cell activity and essential for maintaining health. Each cell type or organ produces its own form of prostaglandin to carry out its functions. There are three types of prostaglandins: PG1, PG2, and PG3.

Series 1 Prostaglandins (PG1), derived from gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), the active component of borage oil, has many beneficial effects: It makes platelets less sticky, lowers blood pressure by relaxing smooth muscles in the walls of arteries, increases loss of sodium and water, decreases inflammation and enhances immunity.

Series 2 Prostaglandins (PG2), also derived from GLA, is used in “fight or flight” (stress) situations, – the fight against danger, or the flight from it. In modern lifestyles which are high in stress but low in physical activity, continuous production of Series Two Prostaglandins results in sticky platelets, high blood pressure, increased water and sodium retention, increased inflammation and decreased immune system capabilities.

Series 3 Prostaglandins (PG3), derived from eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), the active component of fish oil, has beneficial effects. They block the detrimental effect of the Series 2 Prostaglandins, preventing them from being made in the body. As a result the platelets are less sticky, blood pressure is lower because the muscles in the walls of our arteries remain relaxed, loss of sodium and water by the kidneys takes place more effectively, inflammation response is decreased, and immune function is efficient.

It is now known that the ratios of these dietary fatty acids are very important. Consumption of linoleic acid leads to production of the enhanced fatty acid, arachidonic acid (20:4n-6). Prostaglandins based on arachidonic acid exacerbate stress and inflammatory states, and suppress immunoprotective functions (i.e. resistance to disease). Too much linolenic acid and other omega-3s may cause excessive bleeding during injury, surgery, or childbirth. Large amounts of any of these unsaturated fatty acids in the diet without a compensatory increase in antioxidant nutrients (especially Vitamin E), can speed oxidative damage to tissues, resulting in accelerated aging while increasing the risk of degenerative diseases.

Yet, a balanced ratio of both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in the diet offers very positive health benefits. When omega-3 fatty acids predominate, the body will produce less arachidonic acid (20:4n-6). Immunity improves and inflammation subsides.

Essential Fats

Unfortunately, our Western diet has been almost devoid of omega-3 fatty acids. Creating the optimum intake of omega 3-to-omega 6 unsaturated fatty acids has become, therefore, an issue of prime importance for anyone concerned with health. We need to evaluate carefully the amounts of linoleic acid (n-6) we consume relative to our intake of alpha-linolenic acid (18:3n-3) and fish oils (EPA:20:5n-3 and DHA:22:6n-3).

ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS – PATHWAYS

The diagram in Figure 3 shows details of the omega-6 and omega-3 pathways. Pathway specifics indicate key eicosanoids (series 1 prostaglandins, series 2 prostaglandins, and series 3 prostaglandins), oil sources, and important nutrient cofactors that are needed for the reactions to take place.

essential fatty acids

Figure 3 – Essential Fatty Acids – pathways in the body

The information is this diagram gives the clues we need in order to provide optimal types and amounts of omega-6 and omega-3. For example, I have chosen for my essential fatty acid product cold pressed borage oil as the best natural source of gamma linoleic acid (GLA). It contains 20% by weight — the highest amount found in natural oils.

RESEARCH ON ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS

Work by Chapkin et. al. (see references 1–4 below) has identified the potent synergistic relationship between GLA, an omega-6 fatty acid, and the well-known omega-3 fatty acids. Chapkin has shown that, rather than simply the quantity of dietary omega-3s, it is the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids that is important in achieving full cardiovascular health and inflammatory control.

Furthermore, Chapkin has identified the ideal ratio. His published work deals with the importance of mixed diets supplying both linoleic and linolenic acids. To underscore the importance of these two fatty acids, refined oil supplements rich in enhanced forms were used. “Enhanced forms” are fatty acids derived from the original. They are one or more steps closer to the actual eicosanoid. In the human body, alpha linolenic acid (18:3n-3) is eventually converted to eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA, 20:5n-3) and linoleic acid (18:2n-6) is converted to gamma-linolenic (GLA, 18:3n-6) as its first enhanced form. Both enhanced fatty acids are precursors to eicosanoids.

In Chapkin’s research, superior health benefits were delivered by the mixed diet that supplied the eicosanoid precursors in a specific ratio. The balanced ratio of enhanced Omega-6 (GLA)-to-Omega-3 (EPA) fatty acids was 1:4.

IMPLEMENTATION OF THE SCIENCE

Based upon the science discussed above, I developed a product with the correct Omega-6 (GLA)-to-Omega-3 (EPA) ratio and with proper amounts. It is available to you as Hank & Brians Essential Fats Plus E from Health Products Distributors, Inc. (HPDI).

Essential Fats Plus E

ESSENTIAL FATS PLUS E IS A HIGHLY ADVANCED ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS SUPPLEMENT
OFFERING SPECIAL BENEFITS:

  1. UNIQUE COMBINATION — Essential Fats (EPA, DHA, GLA) plus Vitamin E. This unique formula offers more than one type of Vitamin E (not just d-alpha-tocopherol) and balanced essential fats.
  2. BALANCED ESSENTIAL FATS— Many EFA supplements contain only omega-3s, but for optimal function the body requires a balance of omega-3 and omega-6 essential fats. In addition, our special formula provides a 4-to-1 ratio of EPA to GLA in order to achieve a balance you need for optimal health.
  3. FULL-SPECTRUM VITAMIN E — Tocotrienols and tocopherols in this formula are natural vitamin E substances derived from oryza rice bran oil and protect polyunsatured EFAs against free-radical damage both in the capsule and in your body. Many Vitamin E supplements contain only d-alpha tocopherol, which is only a single component of the full-spectrum Vitamin E in this formula.
  4. ULTRAPURE — Molecularly distilled oils of extremely high-purity containing no PCBs, heavy metals, or oxidized contaminants. Free of excipients, additives, and common food allergens!

COMPOSITION: Six softgel capsules provides the following percentages of the Daily Value.

NUTRIENT AMOUNT % Daily Value†
EPA (Eicosapentaenoic Acid 20:5 omega 3)
(from 2,000 mg of purified fish oils)
360 mg *
DHA (docosahexaenoic Acid 22:6 omega 3)
(from 2,000 mg of purified fish oils)
240 mg *
GLA (Gamma Linolenic Acid 18:3 omega 6)
(from 450 mg of cold pressed borage seed oil)
90 mg *
Vitamin E (d-alpha-tocopherol) (from 180 mg of Oryza rice bran oil) 24 IU 81%
Mixed Tocotrienols (d-gamma, d-alpha, and d-delta)
(from 180 mg of Oryza rice bran oil)
28.8 mg *

* No established Daily Value
† Daily Values based on a 2,000 calorie diet

IMPORTANT FUNCTIONS OF ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS

Below we provide some of the functions and benefits obtained when by diet or supplementation the correct ratios and amounts of essential fatty acids are consumed.

• Regulate steroid production and hormone synthesis
• Regulate pressure in the eyes, joints, and blood vessels
• Regulate response to pain, inflammation, and swelling
• Mediate Immune Response
• Regulate bodily secretions and their viscosity
• Dilate or constrict blood vessels
• Regulate smooth muscle and autonomic reflexes
• Are primary constituents of cellular membranes
• Regulate the rate at which cells divide
• Necessary for the transport of oxygen from the red blood cells to tissues
• Necessary for proper kidney function and fluid balance
• Prevent red blood cells from clumping together
• Regulate nerve transmission

GENETIC TESTING AND ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS

Please note that genetic testing for a wide range of genes and the enzymes they produce has indicated that essential fatty acids can be an important factor in helping the body overcome a variety negative gene variations. These negative gene variations include genes that relate to: 1) Inflammatory Response, 2) Exercise Performance, 3) Exercise Recovery, 4) Cardiovascular Fitness, 5) Body Composition, and 6) VO2 Max, Aerobic Capacity.

We will discuss this more deeply in a future blog article.

CONCLUSION

The body is best protected from a range of health issues when we supply a mixed diet of both omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids. Studies show that we do not need to consume large amounts of fatty acids if the ratio is correct. These findings indicate that, for a typical human body, amounts of 90 mg GLA (18:3n-6) to 360 mg EPA (20:5n-3) taken daily will provide for the optimum production of the three major prostaglandins. These amounts are found in Hank & Brians Essential Fats Plus E.

REFERENCES

The following includes abstracts of Chapkin’s published research on essential fatty acids.

REFERENCE 1

Chapkin RS Somers SD Erickson KL

Dietary manipulation of macrophage phospholipid classes: selective increase of dihomogammalinolenic acid.

In: Lipids (1988 Aug) 23(8):766-70

Because alterations in the dietary content of fatty acids are an important method for modulating macrophage eicosanoid production, we have quantitated the levels of n-6 and n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in peritoneal macrophage individual phospholipids from mice fed diets (3 wk) with either safflower oil (SAF), predominantly containing 18:2n-6, borage, (BOR) containing 18:2n-6 and 18:3n-6, fish (MFO) containing 20:5n-3 and 22:6n-3, and borage/fish mixture (MIX) containing 18:2n-6, 18:3n-6, 20:5n-3 and 22:6n-3. Dietary n-3 fatty acids were readily incorporated into macrophage phosphatidylcholine (PC), phosphatidylethanolamine (PE), phosphatidylserine (PS) and phosphatidylinositol (PI). The increase in n-3 fatty acid levels was accompanied by a decrease in the absolute levels of 18:2n-6, 20:4n-6 and 22:4n-6 in PC, PE and PS. Interestingly, PI 20:4n-6 levels were not significantly lowered (P greater than 0.05) in MIX and MFO macrophages relative to SAF and BOR. These data demonstrate the unique ability of this phospholipid to selectively maintain its 20:4n-6 levels. In BOR and MIX animals, 20:3n-6 levels were significantly increased (P less than 0.05) in all phospholipids relative to SAF and MFO. The combination of borage and fish oils (MIX diet) produced the highest 20:3n-6/20:4n-6 ratio in all phospholipids. These data show that the macrophage eicosanoid precursor levels of 20:3n-6, 20:4n-6 and n-3 acids can be selectively manipulated through the use of specific dietary regimens. This is noteworthy because an increase in phospholipid levels of 20:3n-6 and 20:5n-3, while concomitantly reducing 20:4n-6, may have therapeutic potential in treating inflammatory disorders.

Institutional address: Department of Human Anatomy School of Medicine University of California Davis 95616.

 

REFERENCE 2

Chapkin RS Carmichael SL

Effects of dietary n-3 and n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids on macrophage phospholipid classes and subclasses.

In: Lipids (1990 Dec) 25(12):827-34

This study examined the effects of n-3 and n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid alimentation on murine peritoneal macrophage phospholipids. Mice were fed complete diets supplemented with either corn oil predominantly containing 18:2n-6, borage oil containing 18:2n-6 and 18:3n-6, fish/corn oil mixture containing 18:2n-6, 20:5n-3 and 22:6n-3, or fish/borage oil mixture containing 18:2n-6, 18:3n-6, 20:5n-3 and 22:6n-3. After two weeks, the fatty acid levels of glycerophosphoserines (GPS), glycerophosphoinositols (GPI), sphingomyelin (SPH), and of the glycerophosphocholine (GPC) and glycerophosphoethanolamine (GPE) phospholipid subclasses were determined. We found that mouse peritoneal macrophage GPC contain primarily 1-O-alkyl-2-acyl (range for the dietary groups, 24.6-30.5 mol %) and 1,2-diacyl (63.2-67.2 mol %), and that GPE contains 1-O- alk-1′-enyl-2-acyl (40.9-47.4 mol %) and 1,2-diacyl (44.2-51.2 mol %) subclasses. In general, fish oil feeding increased macrophage 20:5n-3, 22:5n-3 and 22:6n-3 levels while simultaneously reducing 20:4n-6 in GPS, GPI, GPE and GPC subclasses except for 1-O-alk-1′-enyl-2-acyl GPC. Administration of 18:3n-6 rich diets (borage and fish/borage mixture) resulted in the accumulation of 20:3n-6 (2-carbon elongation product of 18:3n-6) in most phospholipids. In general, the novel combination of dietary 18:3n-6 and n-3 PUFA produced the highest 20:3n-6/20:4n-6 phospholipid fatty acid ratios. This study demonstrates that marked differences in the responses of macrophage phospholipid classes and subclasses exist following dietary manipulation.

 

REFERENCE 3

Fan YY Chapkin RS

Mouse peritoneal macrophage prostaglandin E1 synthesis is altered by dietary gamma-linolenic acid.

In: J Nutr (1992 Aug) 122(8):1600-6

The ability of dietary gamma-linolenic acid [18:3(n-6)] to modulate prostaglandin biosynthesis in mouse resident peritoneal macrophages was determined. Mice were fed diets containing corn oil, borage oil or evening primrose oil or a mixture of borage and fish oils. After 2 wk, resident peritoneal macrophages were isolated and stimulated with unopsonized zymosan to induce prostaglandin synthesis. Borage oil, primrose oil and fish-borage oil mixture dietary groups (containing 25.6, 11.9 and 19.5 g gamma-linolenic acid/100 g fatty acids, respectively) had significantly (P less than 0.05) enhanced prostaglandin E1 synthesis (39.7, 29.4 and 73.0 nmol prostaglandin E1/mg protein, respectively) compared with corn oil-fed (containing less than 0.1 g gamma-linolenic acid/100 g fatty acids) animals, which synthesized less than 0.1 nmol prostaglandin E1/mg protein. Borage oil- and fish-borage oil mixture-fed mice had the highest biosynthetic ratio of prostaglandin E1/prostaglandin E2 (E1/E2 approximately 0.2). Macrophages from borage oil-fed mice synthesized the lowest amount of prostacyclin (198.7 nmol 6-keto-prostaglandin F1 alpha/mg protein) compared with corn oil-, primrose oil- and fish- borage oil mixture-fed mice (379.7, 764.8 and 384.2 nmol 6-keto- prostaglandin F1 alpha/mg protein, respectively). In addition, borage oil-, primrose oil- and fish-borage oil mixture-fed mice had significantly (P less than 0.05) higher levels of dihomo-gamma- linolenic acid [20:3(n-6)] in membrane phospholipids (5.5, 3.5 and 5.7 mol/100 mol, respectively) relative to corn oil-fed mice (2.0 mol/100 mol).

 

REFERENCE 4

Fan YY Chapkin RS Ramos KS

Dietary lipid source alters murine macrophage/vascular smooth muscle cell interactions in vitro.

In: J Nutr (1996 Sep) 126(9):2083-8

This study was conducted to compare the impact of dietary lipids on the ability of macrophages to modulate vascular smooth muscle cell (SMC) DNA synthesis in vitro. C57BL/6 female mice were fed six different diets (6 mice/diet) containing 10% fat from corn oil (CO), borage oil (BO), primrose oil (PO), fish-corn oil mix (FC, 9:1, w/w), fish-borage oil mix (FB, 1:3, w/w), or fish-primrose oil mix (FP, 1:3, w/w) for 2 wk. Peritoneal macrophages were isolated from these mice, stimulated with zymosan or vehicle, and subsequently co-cultured with naive mouse aortic SMC in the presence of 3H-thymidine to measure SMC DNA synthesis. In this co-culture system, macrophages were seeded on 25-mm culture inserts (upper chamber) and SMC were seeded on 35-mm culture dishes (lower chamber). The two cell types were separated by a semipermeable membrane with a 30-kD cut-off. When quiescent SMC were co-cultured with macrophages, only the PO and FP diet groups had significantly (P < 0.05) lower SMC DNA synthesis compared with the control CO group whose diet contained no gamma- linolenic acid (GLA) or (n-3) polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA). In contrast, when cycling SMC were co-cultured with diet-modulated macrophages, all dietary groups except for those fed FC had significantly lower (P < 0.05) SMC DNA synthesis relative to the CO group. Although the level of GLA in PO and BO diets was different (11.5 and 22.3 g/100 g fatty acids, respectively), these treatments exerted comparable inhibitory effects on SMC DNA synthesis. The FP treatment consistently exhibited the lowest SMC DNA synthetic profile among the six dietary groups irrespective of SMC growth conditions. These data suggest that BO and PO alone or in combination with fish oil influence macrophage/smooth muscle cell interactions in a manner consistent with favorable modulation of the atherogenic process.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

BOOKS

  1. Enig, Mary G. Know Your Fats: The Complete Primer for Understanding the Nutrition of Fats, Oils, and Cholesterol. Bethesda Press, 2000.
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GOT POTASSIUM?

Fred Liers PhD potassium minerals pH AdjustGot potassium? You heard me right. Po-tass-i-um.

Well, no—you probably don’t get enough—and you’re not alone. Fewer than 2% of people do.

Experts say 4,700 milligrams (4.7 grams) of potassium is the minimum daily intake required for health and to reduce risk of chronic disease.

Yet, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) reports the average potassium intake for Americans is 2,640 milligrams (2.6 g) daily. This low intake remains unchanged over decades! Most people get less than half the amount of potassium needed to meet “adequate” or minimum levels.

Given essential roles played by potassium in the body, and the known health benefits it confers, almost everyone — including you — can benefit from additional potassium. From where will it come?

That is to say, will the average person really meet recommended potassium intake from diet alone? I’m a huge advocate for increasing intake of dietary potassium, but long-term evidence suggests the answer is “no.” Supplementing with certain forms of potassium can be an effective adjunct to dietary intake.

It therefore can be highly beneficial to take a potassium-containing formula like pH Adjust, which provides potassium bicarbonate that boosts potassium levels and powerfully alkalinizes the body.

Bananas provide potassium (400–800 mg), but not if you don’t eat them!

THE “NEGLECTED” MINERAL?

For years, a parade of minerals—calcium, magnesium, zinc, iodine, and yes, sodium—have drawn attention from health professionals, consumers, and the media. Whither potassium?

Yet despite compelling scientific studies, articles, and books, potassium has not “caught on” among doctors, consumers, or health aficionados. Nevertheless, knowledgeable health professionals and a small number of health-consious individuals have known of its importance for decades and longer.

Potassium has become known as the “forgotten” or “neglected” mineral. It’s time to revisit what we thought we knew…or never knew. It’s time to recognize potassium as “first among equals” in the pantheon of macrominerals.

If you think you know potassium, prepare to think again.

POTASSIUM FACTS

A review from Nutrition 101…and some things you may not know:

The symbol for potassium is “K” in the periodic table. It is one of seven essential macrominerals including calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, sodium, chloride, and sulfur.

POTASSIUM BASICS:

• Regulates fluid balance in the body by means of the sodium-potassium pump (Na+/K+ pump)

• Controls electrical activity of cardiac muscle (heart) and other muscles

• Counters the effects of sodium and thereby maintains proper blood pressure

• Maintains proper acid-base balance in the body

BENEFITS OF HIGH (ADEQUATE) POTASSIUM:

• Decreases risk of dying from all causes (20%)

• Reduces risk of stroke

• Lowers blood pressure

• Protects against loss of muscle mass

• Preserves bone mineral density

• Reduces formation of kidney stones

POTASSIUM – NEEDED MORE THAN EVER?

Beyond the benefits you may take for granted that are provided by the mineral you don’t get enough of…there are many reasons why potassium is more important than ever.

One major reason potassium is needed more than ever: sodium.

Sodium is the essential macromineral no one seems to be lacking. Just the opposite! When people talk about sodium, it is usually about how to avoid it. Sodium is blamed for hypertension and adverse cardiovascular health. What is the connection between sodium and potassium?

It all starts at the level of the cell with the “sodium-potassium pump” (or N+/K+ pump). The sodium-potassium pump is responsible for keeping sodium out of cells and keeping potassium in. But it also a carrier for nutrients going into cells, and it is involved in the energy production.

The typical modern diet —low in potassium and high in sodium (and sugar)—is a major problem for cells because it compromises the function of the sodium-potassium pump. Optimal function of the sodium-potassium pump requires not only increasing potassium intake, but also reducing sodium intake.

Potassium Sodium Pump cell

The sodium-potassium pump expels 3 sodium ions and brings in 2 potassium ions per cycle

SODIUM – POTASSIUM RELATIONSHIP:

• Humans once consumed high levels of potassium (12 g or higher) and low levels of sodium (<2 g) daily. That 6:1 ratio in favor of potassium has radically shifted to a 2:1 or even 4:1 ratio in favor of sodium. Salt is everywhere in the food supply. The potassium to sodium ratio (K/Na ratio) is called the “K Factor.”

• High “K Factor”: During evolutionary history, humans consumed 5–10+ times more potassium than sodium. Because the prehistoric diet contained little sodium, the body developed means for conserving it through resorption. Conversely, our potassium supplies were higher, and therefore the body developed no system for conserving it—it is absorbed, filtered by the kidneys, and eliminated.

• Cellular imbalance between potassium and sodium can cause strokes and other damage without increasing blood pressure (K Factor xxix). An exclusive focus on decreasing blood pressure (whether through diet or drugs) that fails to take potassium into consideration may not produce desired results.

• The sodium-potassium (Na+/K+) pump is an important pump that exists in cells. Its job is to keep sodium levels low in cells (pump out sodium and wastes) and pump in potassium, glucose, and other nutrients. Sufficient potassium is critical for this all-important pump that keeps us healthy.

• When sodium (salt) levels are high and potassium levels are low, the pump does not function efficiently. Cells cannot prevent sodium from entering, causing them to swell from osmotic pressure, and causing metabolic blockage.

• The sodium-potassium pump uses sodium as a “carrier” to bring in potassium, glucose, and other nutrients. For every glucose molecule, two sodium molecules are pumped into a cell. With high sodium intakes, cells become overloaded with sodium, and the pump works far less efficiently.

• Low potassium creates greater imbalance preventing the pump from excreting sodium, and also preventing nutrients from entering cells. The cell produces less energy and enters a type of metabolic stasis.

• Studies show the greatest decreases in blood pressure occur not only when sodium intake decreases, but when potassium intake simultaneously increases.

The role of potassium in the sodium-potassium pump has implications for nearly every function in the human body. And potassium does a lot more.

MANY HEALTH BENEFITS

Potassium provides many benefits. These include known benefits for reducing hypertension, stroke, osteoporosis, and kidney stones, as well as supporting cardiovascular health, and stabilizing blood glucose. Many of potassium’s benefits relate to its role in the sodium-potassium pump. Other benefits relate to different aspects of potassium.

POTASSIUM ALKALINIZES YOUR BODY

Among the most significant features of potassium is its ability to alkalinize the body. Potassium neutralizes acids by itself and especially when combined with minerals such as bicarbonates.

I have recently posted several articles that discuss potassium’s role in keeping the body alkaline. Specifically, how consuming more potassium-rich fruits and vegetables remains the most important means for maintaining alkaline conditions in the body.

Potassium contributes mightily to acid-alkaline balance essential for health by boosting alkalinity. pH levels in the range of 7.35–7.45 provide many benefits. Because modern diets and lifestyles tend to produce acidic conditions (acidosis) in the body, it is important to recognize potassium’s role as “ultimate alkalinizer.”

Known benefits of ideal pH levels (slightly alkaline) include:

• Optimal function of enzymes
• Proper mineral retention, including electrolyte reserves
• Better tissue oxygenation
• Beneficial effects on microbiome

fruits vegetables potassium alkalinization

Consuming more potassium-rich fruits and vegetables can help maintain proper pH in the body.

The alkaline-forming minerals include potassium, magnesium, calcium, and sodium. They work together to keep you alkaline—all are important. Yet, in terms of what in your diet most drives alkalinity, potassium is the king. In fact, certain measures of pH indicate that alkalinity is a function of potassium intake. This means potassium intake most effectively creates alkaline conditions.

High dietary intake of potassium-rich, alkaline-forming fruits and vegetables (especially leafy green vegetables) and vegetable juices is the best way of supporting proper pH. This is a proven means for balancing the effects of acid-forming foods like meats, and most grains and starches (simple carbohydrates).

Known factors producing overly acidic conditions in the body include consuming meats, sugar, processed foods, and simple carbohydrates like wheat, corn, rice, and most pastas and breads.

IT’S REALLY ABOUT DIET?

TOO LITTLE POTASSIUM…TOO MUCH SODIUM

The human story behind potassium begins with dietary intake. Once upon a time, we “got plenty” of potassium in our diets. Now, not so much.

Indeed, humans have a long history of high potassium intake from foods. Our paleolithic ancestors ate a lot of vegetables, fruits, and nuts—all of which are high in potassium. This helped balance their intake of nutrients from animal foods, which are typically lower in potassium.

During the rise of agriculture (20,000–30,000 years ago) and settled communities, grains became a significant portion of our diet. Yet, grains contain relatively low levels of potassium.

In addition, salt was added to foods in larger quantities as a preservative and taste enhancer. A long, slow slide toward decreasing potassium levels— and simultaneously increasing sodium levels—was set in motion.

Sodium is an essential mineral for health—it is one of the alkalinizing minerals. But historically, humans obtained 5–10+ times as much potassium as sodium. We have now “successfully” reversed potassium preponderance by consuming 2–4 times as much sodium as potassium. This causes lots of problems, and is one of the major elements creating dysfunction in sodium-potassium pumps in cells (see above).

In our modern age, and especially since the later decades of the the 20th century, intake of fresh vegetables and fruits has fallen dramatically. And so has the dietary intake of potassium.

The 20th century witnessed an unprecedented and dramatic rise in consumption of processed, packaged, and “fast” foods — most of which are low in potassium and high in sodium.

Beyond the rise of processed foods, there are declines in nutrients (including potassium) in foods due to steadily poorer soil quality on farmland. And adverse impacts on nutrients in food crops relating to the rise of industrial agriculture—with its dependency on chemicals—and failure to replenish soils.

DIET REMAINS BEST TO INCREASE POTASSIUM INTAKE

Potassium remains high in vegetables and fruits, including dried fruits. And vegetable broths. The best solution to low intake of potassium in the diet is simply consuming higher levels of vegetables and fruits, especially those that are fresh and organic.

spinach leafy greens potassium alkalinity

Got spinach? It provides 800 mg potassium per cup!

Leafy greens (raw or cooked) are among the very best sources. Beet greens contain 1,300 mg of potassium per cup and spinach about 800 mg per cup.

Fresh carrot juice is my favorite providing nearly 700 mg per cup. Even comfort foods like baked potatoes (or sweet potatoes) provide high levels (1,000 mg) with skin. Avocado lovers rejoice, as there are 400–500 mg per avocado.

Beans and nuts are good sources, too. Fruits like bananas (400 mg), cantaloupe (350 mg), and even fruit juices like orange juice (650 mg) are significant sources. Among animal foods, fish, chicken, and pork are highest in potassium.

Nutritionists frequently suggest a 80–20 rule: simply consume 80% alkaline-forming foods to 20% acid-forming foods.

With this simple 80–20 formula, nearly everyone can achieve high—or at least adequate—potassium intake through their dietary choices.

The question is: Will people CHOOSE high-potassium foods? Do you?

SOLUTIONS FOR INCREASING POTASSIUM AND REDUCING SODIUM

You can point a person to high-potassium foods, but you can’t make them eat them. Despite exhortations from all sides for greater consumption of vegetables, fruits, nuts, and other high-potassium foods, “potassium sufficiency” isn’t the reality for most people. Potassium intake has been steady for decades.

Regarding sodium, it is just as easy (and important) for most people to decrease sodium in the diet as it is to increase potassium intake. Reduce use of salt. Choose low-sodium options when possible. Sodium is now on the radar as a mineral that promotes hypertension, so low-sodium options are increasingly available.

But like eating more fruits and vegetables, getting more exercise—and other things we know we “should” do—reducing sodium requires a conscious effort. The first part is awareness on the part of the individual. That leads to greater responsibility.

sodium salt shaker potassium

Too much sodium and insufficient potassium in the diet describes modern life.

I also believe manufacturers, restaurants, and the food industry in general should voluntarily limit the amount of sodium they put in foods. That would go a long way toward making it easier to reduce salt.

Coming back to potassium, an interesting fact is that based on US research, Finland in the 1990s replaced their salt shakers with potassium shakers. It’s true. And among other benefits, the incidence of strokes and heart attacks decreased by 60%.

Much can be done by individuals to improve their lives by increasing their potassium intake. Unless and until people eat enough high-potassium foods (and/or the US replaces its salt shakers with potassium shakers—which actually would help solve two problems), another viable option is potassium supplements.

POTASSIUM SUPPLEMENTS

For individuals who do not (or will not) consume sufficient potassium in their diets—this includes the vast majority of people—potassium supplementation can be beneficial.

Even for those who often consume adequate potassium, but sometimes fall short, supplementation is a useful option because it allows for increased potassium intake during times when they need more of it. And who doesn’t?

There are various potassium supplements, typically either capsules or alternate “salts” comprised partly or wholly of potassium bicarbonate. This form of potassium found naturally in fruits and vegetables (versus potassium chloride), and therefore is considered safe. Even when taken in amounts beyond normal recommended daily values, excesses will typically be excreted.

A few caveats. Most nutritional supplements only provide small amounts (100 mg) due to government rules created to avert “hyperalkemia,” defined as too much potassium in the blood. Hyperalkemia can be caused by acute or chronic kidney failure, so if you suffer from kidney failure, please leave potassium supplements alone.

Hyperalkemia can also be caused by medications, such as angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors (taken for lowering high blood pressure, ironically), non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), and blood thinners like heparin. It may also relate to alcoholism, diabetes (type 1), or excessive use of potassium supplements.

The “normal” range of potassium in blood is 3.6–4.8 milliequivalents per liter (mEq/L).

On the reverse side: while most people get less than ideal amounts of potassium in their diets, deficiencies that would qualify as too little potassium (“hypoalkemia”) are not common. (Symptoms of hypoalkemia can include irregular heartbeat, muscle weakness, cramping, mood changes, nausea, and vomiting. Severe deficiencies may lead to muscle paralysis and abnormal heart rhythms.)

Given that most people do not obtain sufficient potassium, eating more fruits and vegetables and perhaps taking a high-quality potassium supplement will help the average person. That is, most people benefit from more potassium—not less—which they can get from diet and/or supplements.

pH ADJUST & POTASSIUM

HPDI recently launched pH Adjust, which is probably the world’s most sophisticated alkalinizing formula. pH Adjust is not a potassium supplement, per se. Yet, it provides easily assimilated potassium as part of a synergistic formula (including other important macrominerals) that is exceptionally well designed for increasing pH levels in the body.

pH Adjust potassium bicarbonate magnesium carbonate

pH ADJUST provides potassium and sodium bicarbonates and magnesium carbonate for alkalinity.

pH Adjust is already popular because many people are overly acidic due to dietary and lifestyle choices, including—but not limited to—not consuming enough vegetables and fruits and over-consuming meats, grains, and other acid-forming foods.

pH Adjust is an excellent formula for those interested in safely and rapidly increasing their pH to overcome acidosis, and creating alkaline conditions in the body.

One gram (1/4 teaspoon) of pH Adjust provides 141.7 mg of potassium from potassium bicarbonate and potassium glycinate. This means that one teaspoon — which is the amount I take daily — gives me 567 mg (.567 g) of potassium. That is not a huge amount of potassium, perhaps as much as you would obtain from mid-sized banana. However, if you consider that pH Adjust is a dietary supplement, which in conjunction with improved diet (i.e., consuming more potassium-rich foods) can make a difference in your potassium intake.

And for the many individuals whose potassium intake is less than 2.6 g — recall that 2.6 g is the AVERAGE intake — a 1/2 gram increase in potassium can make a big difference (a 20% boost!) in terms of improving total intake.

Then consider the “healthy” person whose potassium intake may hover around 4 g, which is above average, but less than the suggested 4.7 g intake level. One teaspoon of pH Adjust will move them into the range where they will meet— or get much closer to—the recommended daily intake.

pH ADJUST: MINERALS FOR ALKALINITY

Taking one teaspoon of pH Adjust daily not only helps boost potassium intake, but represents a HUGE move toward being alkaline, which is a major benefit for health, as I wrote in my last blog article.

Equally important in terms of alkalinizing the body, the bicarbonate form of potassium in pH Adjust is hugely alkaline-forming. That is, while potassium itself neutralizes acids in the body, potassium bicarbonate is substantially more alkalizing because of the tremendous alkaline-forming power of bicarbonate.

That is why HPDI created pH Adjust—to rapidly and effectively create alkaline conditions in the body.

Other significant facts: pH Adjust contains magnesium carbonate and sodium bicarbonate. Magnesium carbonate helps neutralizes stomach acids (hydrochloric acid) and then after it is absorbed (as magnesium ions) it continues to neutralize acids throughout the body. The sodium bicarbonate similarly splits: sodium neutralizes acids and bicarbonates alkalinize the body.

Moreover, it is known that without sufficient magnesium, cells cannot retain potassium. pH Adjust provides a significant amount (105 mg) of magnesium (from carbonate) per 1/4 teaspoon. Think about it—pH Adjust supplies more than 400 mg of easily assimilated magnesium in a single teaspoon! (This means you can reduce or drop your other magnesium supplements.)

pH Adjust provides a 3:1 ratio of potassium to sodium. This ratio is known to be ideal for optimal uptake of potassium.

supplement facts pH Adjust potassium magnesium sodium

pH Adjust provides 141.7 mg potassium and 105 mg magnesium per 1/4 teaspoon serving.

FINAL WORDS

Potassium powers sodium-potassium pumps in your cells and keeps you alkaline. It supports proper blood pressure and cardiovascular function. It balances the effects of sodium and works synergistically with other macrominerals keeping you healthy.

Potassium loves you. Yet, you hardly know potassium—or how deficient you are.

Love potassium like it loves you. Eat more potassium-rich fruits, vegetables, and fresh juices. Take a potassium-containing formula like pH Adjust. Not only will it supply you with easily assimilated potassium, but also powerfully boost your alkalinity.

Eat less salt. For God’s sake, eat less salt. Do all these things. Then it’s likely your poor sodium-potassium pumps will revive themselves. I promise, you will feel it!

 

RESOURCES

BLOG ARTICLES

Alkalinize Rapidly Using pH Adjust

pH Adjust Alkalinizing Formula – New Product!

BOOKS & SCIENTIFIC ARTICLES

The High Blood Pressure Solution by Richard D. Moore, MD, PhD

The K Factor: Reversing and Preventing High Blood Pressure without Drugs by Richard D. Moore, MD, PhD

The XXL Syndrome by Max Rombi, MD

Acid & Alkaline by Herman Aihara

Acid-alkaline balance: role in chronic disease and detoxification
(Altern Ther Health Med, 13(4):62-5)

Potassium Intake of the US Population (PDF)
(NHANES Food Surveys Research Group, USDA)

LIST OF HIGH-POTASSIUM FOODS

Potassium: Health Benefits, Recommended Intake

 

This article is dedicated to the memory of our friend Dr. Victor A. Galunic, who provided HPDI with information, resources, and technical assistance.