Omega 3’s in health and disease
What is the easiest thing you can do to improve your health?
Take an omega 3 supplement. There is an avalanche of information in the medical literature in the past few years that supports the value of omega 3’s in the prevention of heart disease, cancer, inflammation, pain, depression and more.
This article will explain some of the chemistry of omega 3’s and omega 6’s, provide an overview of the current research studies in major medical journals on omega 3’s, explain what dose you might need and what are the best sources of omega 3’s available today.
There are different kinds of fats. Saturated fats are solid at room temperature. For example, animal fats in meat are saturated fats. You should limit the amount of saturated fat in your diet but there may be bigger “fat villains” than saturated fat. Monounsaturated fat such as the fat in olive oil is liquid at room temperature but cloudy in the refrigerator. Your salad dressing should contain extra virgin olive oil. Polyunsaturated fats are liquid in the refrigerator. They have more “double bonds” which are the chemical structures that make them flexible and fluid. Trans fats are artificial chemically produced fats such as margarine or “partially hydrogenated” fats. These fats are harmful to your health and should not be consumed.
Polyunsaturated fats come in omega 3 and omega 6 varieties. Both are essential fats. That means that we cannot produce them in our bodies and like vitamins, we cannot live without them. The term omega 3 refers to the position of the double bond in the chemical structure of the fat. This determines the three-dimensional structure of the fat and how it reacts with receptors. Omega 3’s come in short chain varieties in plants such as flaxseed and long chain varieties from fish oil. We need the long chain omega 3’s from fish oil for optimal health. We cannot adequately convert the short chain omega 3’s to long chain in our bodies. So flaxseed oil won’t do it, we need fish oil.
Omega 3’s are contained in cold water fish such as salmon and mackerel. Unfortunately the milder fish like halibut don’t contain very much omega 3. You could get adequate doses from eating salmon every day but that might lead to too much of the contaminants that unfortunately are in fish especially larger predatory fish at the top of the food chain. It great to eat fish but to get the larger doses of omega 3’s that are necessary, you need an omega 3 supplement that is refined so the mercury and PCB’s that are in fish are eliminated.
You need long chain omega 3’s. The other side of the equation is to limit your intake of omega 6’s. Both are essential, but we are overloaded with omega 6’s today. Our Paleolithic ancestors consumed about equal amounts of omega 3’s and omega 6’s. We have not changed our genome since our Paleolithic evolution and we were “designed” to function most efficiently and have maximal health on a Paleolithic style diet. The current American diet has a ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 of up to 20 to 1. To improve and maintain health, we need to increase our long chain omega 3’s with fish oil and decrease omega 6’s. Omega 6’s are found in corn oil and seed oils such as safflower, cottonseed and soy. These fats were introduced as “heart healthy” since they are not saturated and do not contain cholesterol. This reminds me of the joke about starting medical school. “Half of what we are going to teach you is wrong, we just don’t know which half.” Omega 6’s are in the wrong half. Of course you need some Omega 6’s to live but since we are flooded with them in our culture, you should consider omega 6’s the most harmful fat and avoid them when you can.
So why do you need omega 3’s? Omega 3’s are the building block of the favorable eiconsansoid hormones. These hormones are made by every cell in the body and are paired with a favorable and an unfavorable hormone. The long chain omega 3’s are the building blocks of the good eiconsansoids. The table below shows how good and bad eicosinoids are paired.
- Decrease blood clotting
- Decrease inflammation and pain
- Kills cancer cells
- Improves immune system
- Improves mental function
- Stops heart irregularities and sudden death
- Prevents heart disease
- Increase blood clotting
- Increase inflammation and pain
- Promotes cancer
- Depresses immune system
- Depresses mental function
- Increases heart irregularities and sudden death
- Promotes heart disease
The Eskimo Paradox: Cardiologists have wondered why Eskimos can eat half of their calories from fat but have a very low incidence of cardiovascular disease. There have been three major studies of omega 3’s this year that tell us about the heart disease connection.
The first study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine in April 2002.by Alpert et al. 22,000 male physicians were followed for 17 years. The physicians with the highest blood level of long chain omega 3’s had an 81% reduction in sudden death. As you may know half of heart attack deaths occur suddenly without the patient arriving at the ER. The only fat in the blood that made a difference was long chain omega 3.
The next study was published in Circulation in April 2002. Marchioli et al. gave either one-gram of long chain omega 3 ‘s or placebo to 11,323 survivors of a recent heart attack. After 4 months, there was a 53% decrease in sudden death.
The next study published in JAMA in April 2002. In this case women were studied. This was very important because you may have heard that the medical community has not paid enough attention to women with respect to heart disease. 84,688 female nurses were followed for 16 years. The group with the highest omega 3 intake had 45% fewer deaths from heart disease.
Wow! No matter how you look at it: Omega 3’s in the blood, omega 3 supplements or omega 3 in diet is vital. Omega 3 intake is one of the most powerful interventions we can take to prevent death from heart disease.
There also have been recent studies showing the benefits of omega 3’s in cancer risks, depression, ADHA, bipolar disorder, dementia, multiple sclerosis, seizures, asthma, rheumatoid arthritis.
So how much do you need and how do you get it.
How much omega 3 do you need?
|Maintaining good health||2.4|
|Improved CV health||2.4 – 4.8|
|Improved Brain function||4.8 – 9.6|
|Inflammation Reduction||4.8 – 9.6|
|Optimal health||4.8 – 9.6|
|Treating Neuro Disease||9.6+|
Your grandmother was on the right track when she made you drink cod liver oil. But this is a very crude product and has contaminants. Health-food store grade fish oil should say molecularly distilled or cholesterol free. This has been somewhat refined and would be okay in doses up to 2.4 grams per day. The best way to maximize the benefits from omega 3’s is to supplement with pharmaceutical grade long chain omega 3’s. We currently prescribe this pharmaceutical grade fish oil from CHI to our patients. This is refined 100 times more than health food grade. I prefer the liquid. It is easy to put it in a smoothie, but I must confess that I actually like slurping down a tablespoon full each morning. There is hardly any fish taste This contains 8.1 grams or as much a 12 capsules. .How do you get Omega 3? Of course there is fish. but not too much swordfish or shark should be consumed. Salmon and tuna are fine but not every day. Herring and Mackerel have more that 2 grams of long chain omega 3 per serving but they are not big movers today. The best way to get adequate omega 3’s is supplementation with pharmaceutical grade omega 3.
There is a recently developed blood test that can measure the ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 in the blood. The ideal ratio is about 1.5, which is the level seen in the Japanese population, who are the healthiest and longest-lived people in the world. Americans have a ratio of 10; children with ADHD have a ratio of 20.
Once again, for a minute of your time, you can improve your heart, brain, cancer risks, pain and inflammation and quality of life with long chain omega 3 fish oil. This amazing statement is well documented in the medical literature.