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Omegas 101

Posted by : Chad Bradford   /  

Dietary fats exist in an interesting duality as far as our health is concerned – some fats can heal, and some fats can kill. We are constantly reminded to replace unhealthy fats with healthy ones, and while there are many healthy fats, omega-3s are undoubtedly number one on that list. The health benefits of omega-3 fats are extensive and include everything from anti-inflammation1, heart health2, brain health3, mood stability4, to eye health5 and nerve function.6

Omega-3s are essential fatty acids (EFAs) meaning they’re required for health and the body does not produce them. On the other hand, omega-6 fats are also EFAs but are pro-inflammatory. Scientists believe the key to health in balancing your omega-6 to omega-3 ratio.7 Historical evidence suggests humans evolved to eat a 1:1 ratio omega-6 to omega-3 with most pre-industrialized peoples eating up to a 4:1 ratio.8 With modern processed diets, this ratio is typically 16:1.8

The problem with the Standard American Diet.

The Standard American Diet (S.A.D.) is overloaded with pro-inflammatory omega-6 fats from seed oils – often used in fried and packaged foods. The majority of omega-6 in our diets comes from soybean oil, and in the last 60 years, our consumption of soybean oil has gone from zero to 24 pounds of soybean oil per person per year!9 At the same time, nearly 75% of Americans eat little or no seafood, our best source of omega-3s to balance this.10 When omega-6 fats begin replacing omega-3s our cells become inflamed and rigid. It is no surprise that a lack of seafood and high omega-6 intake is strongly associated with risks of heart disease and many other inflammatory diseases.11

Where do Omega3s come from?

Omega-3s come in 3 primary forms, ALA, DHA, & EPA. ALA is in plants like flax and chia seeds, walnuts, and hemp while DHA & EPA are in fatty seafood such as salmon, sardines, and oysters. ALA has little to no activity in the body and must be converted to the more active omega-3s DHA & EPA.12 Unfortunately, humans can only convert 1 to 5 percent of ALA to DHA & EPA.13 Fortunately, fish are great at this conversion which is why it is vital to consume preformed EPA and DHA from fish. One vegan exception is algae oil which does contain EPA/DHA.

Some of the benefits of omega-3s include:

  1. Blood triglycerides can be lowered significantly with omega 3s.14
  2. Cancer risk reduction of the colon, breast, and prostate are correlated with diets high in omega3s.15,16,17
  3. Fatty liver can be treated with 0mega-3s as they help the liver burn off excessive fat.18
  4. Depression and anxiety. Several studies show higher intakes of omega3s reduce or prevent the symptoms of depression and anxiety.19
  5. Inflammation and pain. Omega-3s are anti-inflammatory and therefore help treat many autoimmune diseases including rheumatoid arthritis.20
  6. ADHD. Omega-3s have been shown to improve many symptoms of ADHD significantly.21
  7. Dementia and Alzheimer’s risk can be significantly reduced with adequate omega-3 consumption.22 In fact, 70% of the dry weight of the brain is fat with the majority fat being omega-3s!23
  8. Eye health. Just like in the brain, omega-3 in our eyes helps form the structural components of the retina.24 Studies show a reduced risk of macular degeneration with omega-3 supplementation.25

So which omega3 supplement right for me?

Most health organizations across the world recommend anywhere between 250 and 1000 mg of omega-3 per day.26,27,28 Thus, the goal of choosing an omega-3 supplement is simple – take enough. No matter what form you get whether it be cod liver oil, salmon oil, krill oil, or algae oil they will all work to raise your levels of EPA and DHA. To see how your omega-3 supplement measures up read the facts panel and add up the total amount of EPA and DHA per serving. This number will tell us how many servings you’ll need to reach at least 500 mg of omega-3.



[References]

  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24505395
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18541598
  • https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/omega-3-fish-oil-for-brain-health
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3976923/
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15555528
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  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24557349
  • https://www.who.int/nutrition/topics/FFA_summary_rec_conclusion.pdf?ua=1
  • https://efsa.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.2903/j.efsa.2012.2815
  • https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/dga2010/dietaryguidelines2010.pdf
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