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Essential Fatty Acids and Indigenous Peoples

Published: March 5, 2014, Author: Rÿser Rudolph C.

I have been asked questions about the Center’s research into the importance of natural sources of essential fatty acids for native peoples. I gave this example to one questioner:

United States northwest native metabolism and lipid enzyme pathways for processing a-Linolenic Acid (18:3 omega 3) mirrors the life giving oil requirements of indigenous peoples world-wide. We studied the consumption of fats and oils among native peoples in fifteen locations around the world to determine from what sources various peoples received their essential fatty acids.  Since the human body cannot produce its own essential fatty acids (essential to brain, eye, heart, kidney health), then understanding the sources and methods for consumption would help understand how indigenous peoples must retain access to their native lands and wildlife.

We studied the role of “oolichan grease” in the diet of pacific northwest (US) and Pacific southwest (Canada) native peoples over seven years. We determined that large numbers of native peoples in the Salish region and Alaskan Native region along the coast had evolved with a reduced or eliminated capacity to metabolize Omega 3. Rather these populations seemed to process Eicosatetraenoic acid, Eicosapentaenoic acid and Docosapentaenoic acid directly from oolichan, salmon, and seal oils. The apparent inability to process Omega 3 into the essential fatty acids results from either limited or non-existent Elongase enzyme (+2C) and delta5 desaturase (2H) and at the beginning of the metabolic processing of Omega 3 (and most importantly) missing delta-6 desaturase (-2H).  We believe the missing or limited enzyme action in the metabolism of native peoples in this region is due to the concentrated use of oolichan oil (we have dubbed it the olive oil of the coastal region) for more than 4,000 years. We believe oolichan when processed in a fashion involving two weeks of maceration does indeed increase the EPA and DPA levels by (as one study concluded) 1500 times. When oolichan coming from rivers in the region range from 8% to 16% oil, an increase of 1500 times and daily consumption will produce from 3.5 to 5 grams of EPA and DPA per person. As you know, that would be a significant consumption level.

We assert that without direct EPA DPA essential fatty acid availability to those possessing a native metabolism just described individuals will suffer decline in brain activity, eye sight, heart health, and kidney strength.  Therefore, as I indicated to Micah McCurdy of the Makah Nation some years ago, Whale blubber and oil is essential to the health of Makah just as salmon, oolichan and seal are essential to the health of other peoples in the region. An argument could be made that certain natural food sources (Whale, seal, salmon, oolichan, deer, bear, etc) containing significant fatty acids available directly to the body must either be sustained or direct essential fatty acid supplements must be provided.  The consequence of not having such direct EFA consumption results in reduced mental and other health capacities. These qualities can show up in schools and whole community capabilities to adapt to changing social and environmental conditions. Children who lack the required levels of essential fatty acids EPA and DPA will do poorly since their brains are starving for the necessary fatty acids for brain health.

By removing indigenous peoples from their native lands and native foods, states and corportations are essential committing a form of genocide by deny access to the essential fatty acids required for life. Territory connects to people and people connect to territory for their health. Read Dr. Leslie Korn’s book “Preventing & Treating Diabetes Naturally, The Native Way” (DayKeeper Press 2009) [] Through research at our Center for Traditional Medicine we learned that providing EFA supplementation native people suffering from diabetes and heart disease will experience significant improvements in their health and reversal of diabetes. We also found that EFA supplementation or direct EPA and DPA consumption from native foods aided in treatment of individuals suffering from alcoholism and various drug abuses.

The survival of indigenous peoples is not merely an abstract concept, but a practical matter involving proper native food consumption and access to the land that produces healthy food sources.

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