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Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Updated on September 24, 2012

Omega-3 fatty acid is anti-inflammatory. Omega-6 fatty acid is pro-inflammatory. If you don't have enough omega 3, your body is prone to inflammation.

Although your body needs both omega-6 and omega-3, most people eating a Western diet are getting too much omega-6 and not enough omega-3. Omega-6 is found in corn oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, and the many other vegetable oils used in restaurant cooking and in making processed foods.

The reason that omega-6 is inflammatory is that it is a precursor for many of the molecules that are involved in the body's inflammatory system. The inflammatory response is needed to fight infections and that is why omega-6 is needed. However, the body also needs a way to turn off that inflammation, and that is where omega-3 comes in. They are the precursors for the body's anti-inflammatory signalling molecules.[reference]

Since omega-6 and omega-3 compete with each other, if you have too much omega-6 and not enough omega-3, then your body can not effectively turn off inflammation. And this may be a contributing factor to chronic systemic inflammation that is the root cause of many modern diseases such as atherosclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, and even Alzheimer's.

The ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 should be about 2:1. Some human evolutionary studies suggest that this ratio may in fact be more like 1 to 1 before the advent of agriculture. But our modern diet is putting us at the ratio of 20:1 and sometimes at 30:1. Our balance between these two fatty acids are out-of-wack. We are getting too much omega-6.

We need more omega-3 in our diet. We can not get "too much" omega-3. If you don't get enough omega-3 your skin will suffer too (such a brittle nails and dry scalp, etc).

A type of omega-3 fatty acid is the "alpha-linolenic acid". A type of omega-6 fatty acid is "linoleic acid". Both "alpha-linolenic acid" and "linoleic acid" are essential fatty acids which means that humans need to ingest them because they can not be made on their own.

Types of Omega-3

There are different three main types of omega-3 fatty acids.

1) EPA - Eicosapentaenoic acid
2) DHA - Docosahexaenoic acid
3) ALA - alpha-linolenic acid

EPA and DHA comes from fish and the foods they eat (such as algae). ALA comes from plant sources of such as walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds, etc.

EPA and DHA are most important. EPA contributes to cardiovascular health. DHA is important for nerve function and brain health. The body can convert ALA to EPA and DHA, but the conversion may not be efficient in some people. [reference]

Omega 3 for brain health

Our brains are 60% fat and it is essential that it gets a sufficient daily supply of good omega-3 fatty acids.

Henry Emmons, author of The Chemistry of Calm, writes that ...

"one of the best things you can do for your brain is to eat more omega 3 fats." [page 66]

Nora Gedgaudas presentation at the Ancestral Health Symposium says that omega-3 are essential to mood, memory, cognition, and brain function. It helps modulate the stress hormone cortisol in the brain. She also mentions that healthy natural dietary fats are the most brain stabilizing foods.

In rodent experiments, omega-3 reduces plasma beta amyloid and reduces plaque burden in the brain.

Evolutionary Psychiatrist Dr. Emily Deans writes that ...

"omega 3 fatty acids in lipid rafts help cleave amyloid precursor protein (APP) into harmless bits, whereas arachidonic acid in the same place allows for APP to be made into beta amyloid, the component of those plaques that build up in the brain." [reference]

Arachidonic acid is omega-6 and it competes with omega-3 for position in the cell membrane. So the less omega-6 you eat, the more able the omega-3 is able to take its place in your cells.

Furthermore, inflammation of the brain is one risk factor of Alzheimer's. And omega-3 is anti-inflammatory. Deans really knows her science and goes further into the biochemistry in her article "Alzheimer's and Omega 3s".

If amyloid precursor protein is cut in the wrong way, the fragments clump and form beta amyloid plaque that is found in Alzheimer's. The presence of DHA reduces the exposure and chance that the amyloid precursor is cut at bad locations. Whereas, omega-6 increases the exposure.

Furthermore, DHA inhibits the amyloid-creating enzyme known as gamma secretase.

Omega-3 Needed to Make Myelin

Omega-3 fatty acids along with B vitamins and iodine are needed to make the insulating material of neurons known as myelin. This was mentioned in this video by Dr. Terry Wahls who cured herself of multiple sclerosis via diet.

Publication by Bourre says that ...

"DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is one for the major building structures of membrane phospholipids of brain and absolute necessary of neuronal function"

Mechanism of Omega 3

Dr. Nicholas Perricone writes wonderful things about omega-3 ...

"omega-3s activate nuclear receptors called peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors, or PPARs. These receptors, located in the cell nucleus, control blood sugar, the storing and burning of body fat, and the way energy is used in the body. The omega-3s produce a protein known as uncoupling protein 3, which uncouples oxidative phosphorylation." [page 79 of Forever Young]

And he recommends sprinkling chia seeds in salads and dishes.

Omega-3 protects telomeres from oxidative free radical damage. Telomeres are strips of DNA at the ends of chromosomes which regulates cell division. With each division, the telomeres shorten, and stress also shortens them. When telomeres are used up, the cell undergoes cellular self-destruction known as apoptosis.

Wild Salmon for Omega-3

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May share and use photo if linked back here | Source

Food sources of omega-3

In general, most omega-3 comes from wild foods. For EPA and DHA (which are the most important for us to have), they are mainly in cold-water fishes. These includes wild salmon, sardines, shrimps, and to a lesser extent tilapia.

Beef from grass-fed cattle can also be a good source of omega-3 with a decent omega-3 to omega-6 ratio.

The plant based sources of omega-3 is in the form of ALA, which the body can convert to EPA and DHA to a very limited extent. Plant sources of ALA are flax seeds, eggs, olive oil, walnuts, beans, avocados.

Omega-3 Supplements

So unless we are eating a lot of fish, many of us need to supplement ourselves with omega-3 supplements on a daily basis.

On The Dr. Oz Show, both Dr. Oz and Dr. Mark Hyman (guest) agrees with this. Dr. Oz recommends 600 mg of DHA omega-3 fish oil supplement a day.

In the video "How Dietary Supplements Can Save You Thousands", Dr. Mark Hyman gives a list of supplements that everyone should take. In that list is omega-3 fatty acid contain EPA/DHA.

In a YouTube video, Dr. Oz says that he takes a multivitamin, addition vitamin D, and omega-3 supplement everyday.

Learn more about why doctors recommend taking vitamins and supplements.

When looking for Omega-3 supplements, look for ones with DHA and EPA. Look for ones that have been purified of the mercury and PCB toxins that may be in the fish. If they are independently tested for purity and potency, then all the more better.

Barlean's ultra-purified pharmaceutical grade fish oil

Chris Kresser has an excellent article on how to choose fish oils. You may also want to consider are Nordic Naturals, Olympian Labs, Barlean's, or OmegaBrite. I prefer the liquid forms.

Because omega-3 lipids are classified as polyunsaturated fats, they can more readily oxidize due to high heat. Therefore it is best to keep all forms of omega-3 in the refrigerator, be they flax or chia seeds, supplement tablets or liquids, and even walnuts.

Don't over do omega-3 supplements. Omega-3 are polyunsaturated oils and hence is very suspectible to oxization which causes inflammation in the arteries. There is a possibility that lower quality omega-3 supplements may be already heat-damaged in the manufacturing and transportation process. It is best to get your omega-3 from food sources such as fish and grass-feed beef.

Omega 3 for Joint Pain

On the March 7, 2011 radio show and podcast The Medicine Men Radio Show, David Stouder and John Nieters talked about joint pains. And one of the things they talked about was keeping the omega-3 levels up. Joint pain can sometimes be due to inflammation. And omega-3 fatty acids help modulate inflammation.


Article is written June 2011 and is opinion at time of writing. Author is not a medical professional and may receive revenues from display ads and links in articles.


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