Our Vital Need for Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Millions stand confused!  A sea of supplements in the local health food store or market blinds us.  Hundreds of ads, articles and friendly advice further complicate the issue. Determining the best regimen of nutritional supplements can be a mission impossible.  Short of relying on “eenie meenie miney mo,” many give up by taking nothing!  The purpose of this article is to encourage the use of at least one daily supplement.  Perhaps the most important, and likely the most researched, it is definitely the most varied in regard to quality and price.  Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish oil, are vital for our health and well-being!  These are the official “GOOD FATS.”

Did you just gag?  Are you having flashbacks of Mommy approaching with a tablespoon in one hand and a smelly, slippery, green glass bottle of cod liver oil in the other?  If so, don’t worry.  Today’s fish oils are purer and much easier to swallow for even the most finicky among us.

Still standing with pursed lips?  Learning the benefits of fish oil supplementation will change that to a smile.  An ocean of research tells quite a tale of the benefits of omega-3 fats.  Below is a partial list that will attract your interest like fish to chum:

 

  1. Taking an anti-inflammatory dose of Omega-3 fats (2.7 grams/day) safely reduces many of the symptoms of arthritis.
  2. Omega-3 fats prevent and may help to improve or reverse atherosclerosis, angina, heart attack risk, congestive heart failure, arrhythmias, stroke, and peripheral vascular disease.
  3. Omega-3 fats help prevent certain cancers (particularly breast and colon). 
  4. Omega-3 fats reduce risks of depression and dementias (Alzheimer’s and others).
  5. Omega-3 fats help children develop proper brain and nerve function.

 

Hooked yet?   Here's the catch: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly  

The good:  Omega-3 fatty acids are easily obtained from taking high quality oils derived from the flesh of fish. 

The bad:  These vital fats are “essential.  That means they are not made in our bodies and must be obtained through our diets.

The ugly:  Too many omega-6 fatty acids exist in our diets.

Omega-3 fats are typically found in flaxseed oil, walnut oil, and fish.  Flax and walnut contain the omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).  ALA must be converted in the body to the needed fats: EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid).  This conversion is inefficient.  With the rare exception of those on a strict and carefully executed diet, relying solely on plant sources leads to a deficiency in the average person's intake.  Fish oil contains EPA and DHA for more immediate use and best fills in the gaps.

 

What about just eating fish?  Consuming enough fish to impact our essential fatty acid profile would create problems with toxicity.  Nearly all sources of fish contain pollutants such as mercury and pesticides.  Properly made supplements are created with the contaminants distilled out.

 

It is important to choose oils that come from the body of the fish and not the liver.  Cod liver oil used in the quantities that are needed to have the greatest benefits to our health would contain too much vitamin A.  Excessive vitamin A has been associated with reduced bone density and increased risk for hip fracture.  Below is a list of considerations when supplementing with fish oil:

A fish oil supplement should be:

 

1.            Pharmaceutical grade.

2.            Molecularly distilled omega-3 fish oil from the bodies of wild, cold water fish.

3.            Have the EPA and DHA in a 2:1 ratio… twice as much EPA to DHA.

4.            Must contain a stabilizing antioxidant such as vitamin E. 

5.            It is beneficial to also have added Alpha-Linolinic Acid (ALA) (from Flaxseed oil) and gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) (Black Currant Seed Oil).  They should be in a 1:1 ratio.

For ease of use, several methods of taking the oils are successful.  Always store the oil in the refrigerator or freezer.  Below are two options that work for most people:

1.            Take the fish oil directly before eating a solid meal.  This helps avoid the floating of the oil in the stomach.  If the oil taste repeats, try splitting the dose to morning and evening. 

2.            Take the oil just before bed.

Omega-6 fatty acids are also essential for health.  Here is a case where too much of a good thing is harmful.  The average western diet contains an overabundant source of omega-6 containing oils: corn, soy, canola, safflower and sunflower oil.  Our ancestors had a ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats of about 1:1.  Our current eating habits distorted the healthy ratio to about 20:1 or higher (2-3:1 is presently considered good).  This disproportionate amount creates a breeding ground for MANY diseases!

What are the potential risks of taking fish oils?  The journal Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy states that there is practically no toxicological risk from eating too much omega-3 fatty acid.  Exceptions may exist.  There is concern that fish oil thins the blood and should not be used when blood clotting disorders exist or in combination with blood thinning drugs.  Diabetics should also use fish oils cautiously.  It is always safer to be sure!  No matter what your health concern may be, please consult with your health care professional prior to supplementing with fish oils.

This is one fish story that you can’t afford to forget!  Although the real issue may lie in the nature-bending effects of our contemporary diets, the best immediate action is to supplement with marine oils.  In just a few months you can bring your omega 3:6 ratios back to more reasonable proportions.  Although Mommy’s spoonful may have been hard to swallow, when it came to our better heath, she was fishing with the right bait! 

Sources:

-Arthritis Research and Therapy. Volume 8, Issue 1, 2006, pp.402

-Nutrition Today, Vol. 32, November/December 1997, pp. 248-49,

-American Journal of Epidemiology, Vol. 145, January 1, 1997, pp. 33-41

-Annals of Neurology, Vol. 42(5), November 1997, pp. 776-82

-American Journal of Clinical Nutrition July 2006; 84(1): 37-43

-Archives of Internal Medicine, Vol. 153, June 28, 1993, pp. 1429-38 and Vol. 151, June 1991, pp. 1173-80
-Circulation, Vol. 88, No. 2, August 1993, pp. 523-33

-Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy.  January 2007 [Early Epub]

-American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy, Vol. 56, April 15, 1999, pp. 719-24

-American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 54, 1991, pp. 438-63
-Nutrition Reviews, Vol. 54, November 1996, pp. S102-S108
-Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 71 (suppl), January 2000, pp. 171S-75S

 

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