Pottery was reputedly invented by hunter-gatherers living in the Far East 20,000 years ago. The earliest ceramics have been attributed to a Japanese tribe called “Jomon” and artefacts dating from 15,000 years ago have been examined by researchers from the Department of Archaeology at the University of York in England. They used a new technology to analyze the food residues associated with these prehistoric potteries. The researchers were particularly interested in lipids that were isolated from the carbon deposits still present on the surface of these very ancient objects.
Guess what they found: traces of freshwater fish and marine fish! Yes, about 200 centuries ago ceramic was created not only to cook with, but also to consume fish, confirming its noble place as the food that has contributed to generate the human species!
What does fish contain that is so extraordinary and is not found in meat? First of all, it is not the high quality protein, iron, zinc, vitamin B12 and coenzyme Q10 that are present as much in meat as they are in fish. You are getting warmer if you guessed iodine, but algae provide much more of that substance, or selenium, but then you should rather opt for Brazil nuts. You are even getting even hotter if you mention vitamin D, but this is not as good a source as sunshine.
However, you hit the jackpot if you name Omega 3 and specifically its long chain fatty acids: EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosapentaenoic acid). These are found in fish and a few special algae (although this is rather true for DHA, than for EPA). These two polyunsaturated fatty acids have exceptional qualities…
EPA constitutes the most powerful natural anti-inflammatory available. DHA constitutes the most flexible molecule of the living world with its record number of double bonds (6), all of which provide a point of inflexion. In the human body, all of the most delicate tissues – retina, synapses (connections between neurons) and the mitochondria (where the energy unit or ATP is made) – are all packed full of DHA. Any place where lubrication is needed, DHA should be found.
Strict vegetarians (often for religious reasons, which is difficult to question) and some others (who I do not agree with) will state that we humans do have the enzymatic facilities necessary to convert alpha-linolenic acid into EPA and then into DHA, through a series of enzymes called desaturase and elongase.
While true to a degree, there are big obstacles to surpass for this to happen! The first one consists of obtaining the famous alpha-linolenic acid, referred to as "essential" because we cannot synthesize it. It must therefore come from the diet (flaxseed oil, hemp oil, a little in canola oil and walnut oil) or from supplementation (perilla oil, camelina oil). Once we have got past that hurdle then we must convert this fatty acid, which is the foundation of the omega 3 family, into more unsaturated and longer fatty acids. It is the first step however that is a very difficult problem to overcome.
This first step is governed by the enzyme delta-6-desaturase, which is a real troublemaker and can be easily blocked in cases of stress and is dependent on adequate supplies of zinc, magnesium and vitamin B6 (the first two actually consumed by stress). Furthermore this enzyme does not function well in children, older people, pregnant women, smokers, alcohol drinkers, diabetics, the obese, and in bulimics and anorexics…
For readers that are passionate about this topic you will find more detailed information and very precise diagrams in all my conferences on fatty acids, on my website www.gmouton.com (click on the tab “Conferences” and “Unsaturated Fatty Acids”).