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Fish oil alone cannot supply the essential fatty acid needs to maintain maximum health

Updated: Oct 16, 2023

Scientific Discussion of our precious canine and feline pets.

Original post: September 26, 2010

Essential fatty acids are one of the most commonly misunderstood categories of nutrition and it continues to be misconstrued confusing retailers and consumers alike. The unfortunate thing is that manufacturers of many of these oils are themselves sending out irresponsible confusing and blatantly incorrect information. These oils then land in the precious pet‟s bowl to produce metabolic havoc instead of harmony. The right fat blend protects health and produces long term resilience to illness. The wrong ratios will slowly but surely contribute to illness.

Fish oil alone cannot supply the essential fatty acid needs to maintain maximum health

Supplementing with the wrong ratios of fatty acids for short periods may provide beneficial results in the interim but the long term effect can be detrimental. Understanding the value and the concept of essential fatty acids is critical to pet health just as it is to human health. Fish oils support health. There‟s no refuting it, Omega-3 fat supplements, such as those derived from cold-water fish, deliver the building blocks for healthy cell membrane structure, positive receptor site status, and good hormone balance. These fatty acids are essential for good health; they‟re essential for life, and they are often called “essential” because the body can be faced with a condition whereby it cannot make them. But they are not really essential fatty acids by the definition of the term „Essential Fatty Acid‟. Named more appropriately „Conditionally Essential Fatty Acids‟; meaning that if the cells are faced with nutrient deprivation, a genetic anomaly, or a sluggish metabolism, the cells cannot produce these fatty acids even if the essential fats such as linoleic acid were to be supplied abundantly by the diet.

Supplementing with fish fats exclusively is not the answer to this problem.

We expect that the cells of the human body and those of the cats‟ and dogs‟ can manufacture the longer-chain, nonessential fatty acids like DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) from the short-chain, essential Omega-6 linoleic fatty acids that food has provided. In the dog and cat, the omega-6 linoleic acid is converted into the omega-3 linolenic acid which is then used to make DHA and EPA; different from humans where we cannot convert the linoleic (omega-6) into linolenic (omega-3) like they can. For humans linoleic (omega-6) and alpha linolenic (omega-3) acids must be supplied by the diet – they are both essential. For dogs linoleic (omega-6) acid is the only essential fatty acid which must be supplied by the diet. Cats are different again whereby two omega-6 fatty acids are essential – linoleic.

Scientific discussion of concurrent EFA supplementation for dogs (LA) with conditionally

essential DHA & EPA; versus exclusive DHA & EPA supplementation Page 2

acid and arachidonic acid. In all these species the DHA and EPA omega-3 fatty acids are nonessential but can be required as conditionally essential if the essential fats or metabolic efficiencies are limited. However, treatment of a condition with fish oils to administer DHA and EPA without considering a supply of the essential fatty acid which the body needs to make the very DHA and EPA we are supplementing, doesn‟t make sense at all. Essential fatty acids are those which the cells cannot make whether healthy or not and they must be supplied by the diet sufficiently every day. So why is our pets’ diet failing them in the supply of Essential Fatty Acids? And why are their bodies not able to produce fats like DHA and EPA if these essentials were to be supplied? A wholesome diet should supply these „Essential Fatty Acids‟ but the problem is that too often we feed highly processed diets such as canned food and dried kibble which cannot deliver these fundamental nutrients because they‟ve been damaged during processing.

Fish oil alone cannot supply the essential fatty acid needs to maintain maximum health

The cells then fail to produce those precious omega-3 fatty acids like DHA and EPA sufficiently forcing us to consider supplementation with fish oils as compensation. The big problem is that essential fats do much more in the body than merely serve as building blocks for the nonessential EPA and DHA. The fish-derived fats we so often resort to supplementing prolifically will cause us to miss out on delivering enough of those true essential fatty acids and in due time other problems begin to show up as we create imbalances in other areas of the metabolism. In fact, the only essential fatty acid for dogs, linoleic acid is critically important for many processes in the body including skin health contributing to coat luster and skin hydration. It‟s just as valuable as the DHA and EPA from this standpoint. Fatty acids supplements are designed to augment hormone balance and must be precise formulations. Without even knowing it, we are literally influencing the production of specialized hormones by altering the proportion of these fatty acids in the diet. Namely we are changing the production proportions of hormones called prostaglandins or eicosanoid hormones of which there are many and different classes. The classification of these hormones, in part, relies on the fatty acid source. If we or our animals lack the omega-3 fatty acids a tendency or predisposition for inflammation can occur.

Fish oil alone cannot supply the essential fatty acid needs to maintain maximum health

This is well understood. So as a result we have taken this „more is better‟ approach to blast the body with omega-3 supplementation from fish oils failing to understand that the omega-6 fat, linoleic acid, is also a precursor for hormones of the prostaglandin type PGE1 which has profoundly important roles (1). Fish oils will not supply sufficient quantities of the essential omega-6 linoleic acid. PGE1 literally balances the role of the prostaglandins produced from those fish-derived fatty acids – PGE3. Together these different classes of hormones produce harmony in the body. If some are missing the metabolism will hiccup at one place or another.

Scientific discussion of concurrent EFA supplementation for dogs (LA) with conditionally

essential DHA & EPA; versus exclusive DHA & EPA supplementation Page 3

Fish oil alone cannot supply the essential fatty acid needs to maintain maximum health

In fact, when the cells are equipped with the right cofactors from balanced fatty acids, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants- the natural tools it is supposed to get daily – these cells produce their natural balance from the fats we supply, including the omega-6 linoleic acid. Going back to that valuable PGE1 hormone which is produced from the omega-6 linoleic acid; this valuable prostaglandin is involved in the management and protection of smooth muscle of the intestines regulating the flow of nourishment, mucosal thickness and microbe control (2). If it is lacking, gastrointestinal activity can be compromised.

Prostaglandin E1 is also shown to support vascular smooth muscle activity to regulate peripheral blood flow and blood pressure (3). It has been shown in research to be a critical factor protecting and enhancing peripheral neurons (4). PGE1 is involved in neural activity in the brain. Studies show that the brains of schizophrenics have a PGE1 impairment along with reduced levels of both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids (5). And recent research shows it is a critical factor which protects the kidneys from toxins and premature wear and damage (6, 7). Limiting its availability by limiting the availability of active, undamaged linoleic acid (omega-6) throws the metabolism into chaos in other ways. Fatty acid supplements must restore balance of the whole system; not address part of it. The key to good health is not any one nutrient- the key is balance. A fatty acid supplement must be designed to restore balance, not to offset a problem by creating imbalance in another direction.

Fish oil alone cannot supply the essential fatty acid needs to maintain maximum health

The challenge in all of this is that illnesses caused by these imbalances are usually slow to develop and difficult to pinpoint. Don't throw just anything at the problem for temporary relief. Apply proven science for long term empowerment of health. Prevention is the best cure and prevention requires well thought out balance. When it comes to fatty acid supplementation, balance includes without any question, the inclusion of the essential fatty acids that the body cannot produce on its own to ensure they are supplied in balance with the DHA and EPA from fish fats. The flow of the hormones that stem from these fatty acids will be proportional to the balance you supply and the metabolic activity experienced by the animal is mirrored by this composition. If the original supplementation is imbalanced, the proportional hormonal flow will be an image of the dysfunction and eventually the strain will surface as illness. The food sources are most often the culprits in the imbalanced equation and believe it or not even behavioral disorders such as a tendency for aggression can be linked to fatty acid imbalance.

Research indicates that aggressive dogs tested for DHA showed much lower DHA levels than those who were emotionally stable (8). It makes sense because DHA is actually known to help stabilize neurological structure and neurotransmitter balance when it is abundantly available. It improves cognition and emotional stability; it literally helps improve brain plasticity which relates to reforming, rehabilitation and learning capacity.

The key problem at the root of this dilemma is the processing of food which destroys these essential fats due to the high heat and extensive oxygen exposure. Analysis may indicate that these foods have abundance and even excessive amounts of the omega-6 linoleic acid to meet essential fatty acid needs. Maybe so but processing and storage of the food eventually damages the delicate structure even though the omega-6 category of the fatty acids can tolerate processing a little better than the omega-3 fat.

Supplementation must address each level of the metabolic need in order to completely solve the limitations. Fatty acid health in the body also depends on key vitamins, minerals and other nutrients like antioxidants which can also be compromised in processed food. Fatty acid and hormone balance are best attained if the root of the problem is addressed . There are many things to consider in this internal processing of fatty acids. The nonessential fatty acid production is limited by the quantity and quality of essential fatty acids supplied. This means that the nonessential fatty acids that the body should be able to produce can become essential (required from diet) or named more appropriately „Conditionally Essential‟, because the precursor (the essential fatty acid) is in limited supply or of poor quality. In addition, to the dependence on the essential fatty acid precursors from the diet, the cells also depend on important enzymes and cofactors in order to manufacture these important nonessential fatty acids. The enzymes and cofactors are made up of specialized amino acids, vitamins and minerals which if short will compromise this fatty acid system and others. We must not ignore the likely possibility that the very shortage of DHA and EPA in the cells could be caused by limitations of the essential fatty acid, linoleic acid, in the first place.

The omega-6 deficiency is thus the root problem which can give rise to these other deficiencies. The imbalance would have been created over a long period of applying an inadequate diet which contains the essential fat but in it’s degraded oxidized form. Making sure that active linoleic acid is supplied at the same time we provide a rich source of the omega-3 DHA and EPA delivers more immediate alleviation of the health challenge but it also supports long term maintenance of the healed condition. We must allow the healthy state to become self sufficient as the cell assumes natural production of these needed omega-3 fats, DHA and EPA and other processes it depends on. For this it needs the base or root material which is essential to the diet – the omega-6 essential fatty acid, linoleic.

Fish oil alone cannot supply the essential fatty acid needs to maintain maximum health

Research conducted to evaluate these two categories of fatty acids proves they are both needed concurrently in supplementation regimes despite the base food source. The study showed that the more immediate ameliorated state produced by supplementation with the omega-3 DHA and/or EPA can slowly revert back in time to the diseased state. This is often what consumers report anecdotally as well. While supplementation of the study group with the omega-6 linoleic acid had slower onset of results which were sustained long term beyond the point that reversion took place with the omega-3-exclusive group (9).

This supports the need to improve the condition with immediate correction of the imbalance using the omega-3 fatty acids such as those from fish oils but at the same time to give the cells the root building block fatty acid – the true essential omega-6 fat, linoleic acid – in a biologically live form which has not been damaged by food processing so it can be used to restore self sufficiency. This is the key to long term health – self-sufficiency. In fact, these supplemental strategies are also shown to have a steroid sparing effect when steroids might be needed to treat aggressive forms of illness. Steroids and NSAIDS, themselves augment eicosanoid hormone production from these fatty acids; the very hormones produced. The activities of these drugs and fatty acids are highly related. If these fatty acids are supplemented in an aggressive therapeutic manner to treat severe conditions that need interim steroid treatment, research demonstrates that the dosing requirement for the steroids can be significantly lowered and so the side-effects of the drug diminished if the drug therapy is accompanied by the properly balanced fatty acid supplementation (10).

Ultimately these alternative fatty acid therapies can replace drugs if they are applied in the correct proportions. Always consult the prescribing care giver before augmenting a prescribed program.

Fish oil alone cannot supply the essential fatty acid needs to maintain maximum health

Complete and comprehensive nutrition is critical even for the production of nonessential nutrients in the cells. If even one small element is missing the cells cannot manufacture their needs. Seniors often face an aging metabolism which results in a slower production of these fatty acids in their tired cells as well; another condition which leads to the DHA and EPA fatty acids being Conditionally Essential as supplements. In fact studies show that neuromembrane DHA levels can decline significantly with age contributing to neurological impediments as basic as memory loss to clinical illnesses like schizophrenia (11).

Here again, the essential fatty acid which is needed for so many other metabolic activities must be supplemented at the same time because we cannot count on food to deliver live, intact forms of the nutrient. DHA and EPA limitations can contribute to skin conditions and compromised immune system health leading to chronic inflammation, sluggish metabolism, cardiovascular impediments and even cognitive decline. It can even lead to over fatness due to the metabolic shifts that occur. The omega-6 linoleic acid is also responsible for maintaining skin hydration and health and a lack of it also limits skin health. Isn‟t it absurd to supplement abundantly with DHA and EPA from fish oils to compensate for the fact that the body may not be able to produce these compounds due to a limitation in the essential fat from the diet? That‟s senseless; what about the other metabolic processes that the essential fatty acid – linoleic acid- is needed for? It‟s more logical to supplement with DHA and EPA to meet an immediate need but to also fulfill the body‟s requirement of the precursors and cofactors it needs to produce these compounds on its own. This way the cells can meet these immediate requirements and other metabolic needs self-sufficiently.

Proper fatty acid processing in the cells depends on vitamins, minerals and other cofactor nutrients as well. In addition to having the right amount of the right kind of fats, the fatty acid supplements must be supplied in the right proportion or ratio with other supporting nutrients. Salmon oil must be combined with plant seed oils in the right combinations to meet the specific ratios of Omega-3 to Omega-6 fatty acids that dogs need. This gets them that root building block essential fatty acid, linoleic acid. Salmon oil alone does not supply relevant amounts of the omega-6 essential fatty acid, linoleic acid. Additionally, the support nutrients which themselves are Essential Nutrition, such as vitamins, minerals and some antioxidants should be supplied concurrently. If the dietary choices or the digestive process has contributed to fatty acid limitations in the body it is also likely that these limitations have contributed to other nutrient deficiencies which should be addressed in the form of general vitamin, mineral and amino acid supplementation. A comprehensive blend of vitamins, minerals, and phytoantioxidants can be supplemented daily with the fatty acid supplement to fulfill this need completely and maximize the cells` ability to handle these fatty acids in the appropriate way.

Research also demonstrates that the addition of olive oil to fish oil supplementation significantly enhances the potential of the fish therapy (12, 13). A properly cold pressed olive oil carries with it a tremendous bounty of polyphenols such as tyrosol and hydroxytyrosol which serve as antioxidants in the liquid protecting the delicate polyunsaturated fats from oxidation and microbes but also supporting the anti-inflammatory potential in the body. Research shows these polyphenols to support gastrointestinal, skin and respiratory health. Combining cold pressed flaxseed, salmon and olive oil to achieve the proper omega-3 to omega-6 ratio delivers maximum preventive and therapeutic value. Your dog needs a precise ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats to produce a precise hormonal cascade. A very important fact to keep in mind is the species-specific needs of essential fatty acids.

Too many products in the pet sections of stores today are relabeled products which were originally designed for human use. After all, if it‟s good enough for you and me, it should be good enough for Fido. Not true. I cannot highlight enough that the essential nutrient needs for our canine companions is quite different from our own and the fatty acid category of nutrition is one that differs immensely. Again, you and I need the diet to supply the essential fatty acids linoleic acid (omega-6) and alpha linolenic acid (omega-3). From these essentials our cells should be able to produce the rest although we can benefit from some additional DHA and EPA supplementation due to common metabolic hiccups which often lead to limitation.

Fish oil alone cannot supply the essential fatty acid needs to maintain maximum health

However, our dogs‟ cells‟ can convert linoleic acid (omega-6) into alpha linolenic acid (omega-3) so the latter is not essentially required in the dog‟s diet; different from you and me. The only true essential fatty acid for dogs is the omega-6 linoleic acid. This metabolic difference calls for a different ratio of fatty acids for dogs making human-intended supplements a poor fit for them. Choose fatty acid supplements which are specifically designed for your precious pet and designed to meet their true multilevel needs and this includes a small but undamaged supply of the essential fatty acid, linoleic acid, in its active form.

_____________________________________________________________________________________ References:

(1) Franco Cavaleri; Potential Within A guide to Nutritional Empowerment:

P 251-287; copyright 2003

(2) Gurleyik E, Coskun O, Ustundag N, Ozturk E; Prostaglandin E1 maintains structural integrity of intestinal mucosa and prevents bacteria translocation during experimental obstructive jaundice. Department of Surgery, Abant Izzet baysal university, Duzce Medical Faculty, Duzce Turkey; J Invest Surg 2006 Sept-Oct; 19 (5) :283-9

(3) Eguchi S, Kawano T, Yinhua, Tanaka K, YasuiS, Mawatari K, Takahashi A, Nakaya Y, Oshita S, Nakajo N.; Effects of PGE1 on vascular ATP-sensitive potassium channels.; Department of Dental Anesthesiology, Tokushima University School of Dentistry, Tokushima Japan; J Cardiovascular Pharmacology, 2007 Dec; 50(6):686-91

(4) Yasutoshi Itoh, Tadashi Yasui, Hiroaki Kakizawa, Masaki Makino, Kentaro Fujiwara, Taiya Kato, Shigeo Imamura, Keiko Yamamoto; et al; The therapeutic effect of Lipo PGE1 on diabetic neuropathy-changes in endothelin and various angiopathic factors Department of Internal Medicine, Fujita Health University School of Medicine, Toyoake, Aichi 470-1192, Japan; accepted 13 June 2001

(5) D.F. Horrobin, “The relationship between schizophrenia and essential fatty acid and eicosanoids metabolism,” Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids 46.1(1992):71-77.

(6) John K Maesaka, Thomas Palaia, Linda Frese, Steven Fishbane and Louis Ragolia

Prostaglandin D2 synthase induces apoptosis in pig kidney LLC-PK1 cells: Kidney International (2001) 60, 1692–1698; doi:10.1046/j.1523-1755.2001.00989.

(7) R P Kaufman, Jr, H Anner, L Kobzik, C R Valeri, D Shepro, and H B Hechtman

Vasodilator prostaglandins (PG) prevent renal damage after ischemia. Ann Surg. 1987 February; 205(2): 195–198.

(8) Re S, Zonaletti M, Emanuele E.

Aggressive dogs are characterized by low omega-3polyunsaturated fatty acid status. Vet res Community, 2008 Mar:32(3):225-30.Wpub 2007 Sept 19

(9) Mayser P, Mayer K, Mahloudjian M, Benzing S, Kramer HJ, Schill WB, Seeger W, Grimminger F.; A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial of n-3 versus n-6 fatty acids-based lipid fusion in atopic dermatitis; JPEN J Parenter Enteral Nutr, 2002 May-June; 26(3):151-8; Department of Dermatology and Andrology, Justus-Liebig-University, Giessen, Germany;

(10) Shiro Urano et al, “Aging and oxidative stress in neurodegeneration,” BioFactors 7.1-2(1998):103-112

(11) Saevik BK, Bergvall K, Holm BR, Saijonmaa-Koulumies LE, Hedammar A, Larsen S, Kritensen F; A radnomized, controlled study to evaluate the steroid sparing effect of essential fatty acid supplementation in the treatment of canine atopic dermatitis; Vet Dermatol. 2004 Jun:15(3):137-45; Department of small Clinic Sciences

(12) Berbett AA, Kondo CR, Almendra CL, Matsuo T, Dichi I; Supplementation with fish oil and olive oil in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.; Department of Pathology, Londrina State University, Parana, Brazil; Nutrition 2005 Feb; 21(2):131-6

(13) Kremer JM, Lawrence DA, Jubiz W, DiGiacomo R, Rynes R, Bartholomew LE, Sherman M.; Dietary fish oils and olive oil supplementation in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Clinical and immunological effects. Department of medicine, Albany Medical College, NY 122208; Arthritis Rheum, 1990 Jun; 33(6):810-20

References to support general discussion detailed in Potential Within, A Guide to Nutritional Empowerment. National Bestselling Health Guide (680 scientific references).

ISBN 0-9731701-0-7. For more information on the science or formulation strategies described herein call 1877.560.8440 or visit or

About Franco Cavaleri Franco Cavaleri is a graduate of the University of British Columbia with Bachelor‟s of Science Degree majored in Nutritional Science and Biochemistry. He continues to conduct post-graduate work on the latest gene and insulin-related nutraceutical research to be applied toward postgraduate degrees. His professional and personal findings in nutritional science have been applied to improve human and pet health and lifestyles.


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