What if I told you there is an amazing, magical substance that decreases blood pressure, lowers triglycerides, reduces the risk of heart disease, decreases blood sugar levels, alleviates mood disorders and depression, fights wrinkles and skin problems, reduces inflammation in the body (often the precursor to disease), and helps relieve arthritis? Would you say it sounds too good to be true and tell me to take my snake oil elsewhere?
Well, I am trying to “sell” you on some oil, but not snake oil – omega-3 fatty acids. This oil has health benefits so amazing that every person who has a pulse should sit up and take notice.
What are omega-3 fatty acids?
Omega-3 fatty acids are a group of essential polyunsaturated fatty acids, including Eicosapentaenic Acid (EPA) and Docosahexanoic Acid (DHA), which are found in fish, and Alpha-linolenic Acid (ALA), which is found in plants. The word “essential” here means that the human body doesn’t produce them.
What foods are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids?
The plant form of omega-3s (ALA) is found in some vegetable oils, such as soybean, rapeseed (canola), and flaxseed, and in walnuts. ALA is also found in some green vegetables, such as spinach, kale, Brussels sprouts and salad greens. The fish oil form (EPA and DHA) is most abundant in wild pacific salmon, tuna (albacore), mackerel, sardines, mussels and rainbow trout.
What’s the best way to get omega-3s?
Of course, diet. Unfortunately the typical American diet doesn’t provide enough of any source of omega-3s, plant or fish. I’d like to point out it’s important to limit our intake of fish, particularly for pregnant women, because in our modern polluted waterways, many of our fish are contaminated with mercury and other hazardous chemicals. Large fish like tuna, shark, swordfish and tilefish are the most heavily contaminated.
The plant sources of omega-3s (ALA) are good options (and the only options for my vegan friends), but the body only partially converts ALA to EPA and DHA, which are the active forms in the body. It is thought you must eat more of the ALA form (like flaxseeds and walnuts) to compensate.
Should I use omega-3 dietary supplements?
I say yes because of the great amount needed for optimal benefits, and because of the problems with fish contamination. (Toxic impurities can be removed during the process of producing fish oil.) If my patients have health issues such a heart disease or depression, I have them take therapeutic amounts that are researched to be safe.*
It is important to strive to get as many food sources of omega-’s into the diet as possible. There are additional benefits to these foods. And keep in mind smaller fish don’t have the same level of toxic build up that the larger ones do.
How are omega-3s different than omega-6s?
Omega-6 fatty acids are also essential, meaning not made by the human body. They are found in the oils extracted from seeds and nuts. These highly refined oils include vegetable, soybean and many others. Unlike omega-3s, omega-6s are abundant in the American diet. They are plentiful in most snack foods, cookies, crackers, sweets, fast foods and processed foods. I mentioned the problems of vegetable oils in my last Biz Journal article. Go back and read this if you didn’t get a chance: ‘Health’ Foods That Make Us Unhealthy.
Omega-6 acids tend to increase inflammation, blood clotting and cell proliferation, while omega-3 fatty acids decrease those very things. Both fatty acids need to be in balance for maximum health, and experts think it should be 1:1. Unfortunately, the American diet is more like 20:1 – 50:1 in favor of omega-6s.
This imbalance creates staggering health problems, and many believe this dietary imbalance may explain the rise of asthma, coronary heart disease, and many forms of cancer, Parkinson’s disease, autoimmune disorders, and Alzheimer’s disease – all of which are believed to stem from inflammation in the body.
Some new research suggests that the imbalance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids may also contribute to depression, obesity, and hyperactivity. This is why it is crucial to decrease omega-6 consumption and increase omega-3 consumption.
What supplement brand should I purchase?
That is the $10,000 question. It is absolutely essential to purchase your fish oil from reputable companies that put their oil through rigorous testing and a molecularly distilled purification process. These companies are generally proud of this fact and publish this information on their website. I do not sell supplements, so I feel free to give you some companies that I have researched and I know are pure: Carlson Labs, Nordic Naturals, Minami Nutrition, Garden of Life and Barleans. I realize there are hundreds more, but I these are the ones I researched.
Okay, I really liked that list that I read at the beginning. Can you run that down for me again?
Sure, here goes. These are the benefits of maximizing our intake of omega-3 fatty acids:
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