Omega-3 Revisited: The Most Important Benefit You’ve Never Heard Of

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Fish oil is the only supplement I have no hesitation in recommending to anyone. Why? Two reasons: First, the benefits of the two omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil – EPA and DHA – are extensive and well-documented. This is backed up by thousands of studies conducted over four decades. There is no longer any controversy about either These fatty acids are incredibly important to human health – and fish (and / or fish oil) is the best way to include them in your diet (1-8).

That brings us to the second reason I always recommend fish oil for their omega-3 fats: Nearly nobody get enough of them through diet alone (9.10).

This is especially true if you are eating processed foods.

Let me explain.

A critically important (but little-known) benefit of fish oil

One of the key benefits of fish oil supplements is rarely mentioned in the popular press: the ability of fish oil to neutralize the potential harm that can be caused by consuming too much omega-6.

In fact, the problem of not consuming enough omega-3s is made significantly worse by the fact that almost everyone consumes far too many of the fats known as omega-6s (11,12). And that probably applies to you too, even if you don’t know. (More on that in a minute.)

Omega-3 fatty acids, omega-6 fatty acids and inflammation

Both omega-6 and omega-3 belong to the polyunsaturated family of fats that are generally considered good. Both omega-6 and omega-3 are considered essential fats because the body cannot make them. Hence, it is important that you eat them. But like many things in the body – for example sodium and potassium – they have to be in balance, like a seesaw in balance or a perfectly balanced “scale of justice”. In fact, the balance between omega-6 and omega-3 in the human diet has been the subject of a lot of research precisely because it predicts so much about health outcomes (13).

While both omega-6 and omega-3 are essential, they have very different functions. Omega-6s are considered to be “anti-inflammatory,” which means the body uses them to make inflammatory biochemicals, while omega-3s serve the opposite purpose – that is, the body uses them to make anti-inflammatory chemicals. It may surprise you that you need both inflammatory and anti-inflammatory compounds in your body, but you do and here is why:

Inflammatory chemicals released by immune system cells are part of your immune system’s first aid team. Think about it – you get a splinter in your finger and the area swells up. White blood cells quickly migrate to the site of the injury and surround the wound to ensure that dangerous microbes are not causing infection. Your skin can get red and ugly for a minute, but it’s all part of the healing process, just like having a temperature when you’re sick. Without the immune system’s ability to respond with its inflammatory army, we would all be toast.

“Omega-6 fatty acids produce highly inflammatory or ‘reactive’ eicosanoids, while omega-3 fatty acids produce fewer inflammatory or even anti-inflammatory eicosanoids,” writes Dr. Andrew Stoller, in his book The Omega-3 Connection, was an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School (14).

So you basically have an inflammatory “army” and an “anti-inflammatory” army. You need to keep these armies in tip-top shape and “fund” them with the right foods and fats. And like siblings in a family, they must be treated fairly and equally. What you don’t want to do is fund one army and neglect the other. But that is exactly what we do when we over- and under-consume omega-6s. Because we eat around 16 to 20 times as much omega-6s as omega-3s, we give our anti-inflammatory army essentially 16 to 20 times as much fuel (resources) as we give our anti-inflammatory army (15).

No wonder there is an epidemic of inflammation in this country and that inflammation accompanies, causes, or is the result of every single chronic illness you can name.

Why the imbalance? All of these “healthy vegetable oils” that we are supposed to consume instead of more traditional fats (butter, eggs, meat, milk) turn out to be the greatest sources of omega-6 in our diet and are in everything – certainly every form of baked goods and processed ones Foods that you can imagine. The manufacturers even proudly advertise on the label that their products are made from soybean oil or rapeseed oil, both genetically modified seed oils with a high omega-6 content and not much to recommend. In fact, I urge you to find a single grocery store that comes in a box that does not contain soy, canola, corn, safflower, or what is commonly referred to as “vegetable oil”.

Aside from all the wonderful things omega-3s do themselves, consuming them helps correct the terribly unhealthy omega-6: omega-3 ratio in our diet. According to extensive international studies, the ideal nutritional ratio should no longer be between 1: 1 and 4: 1. Due to the consumption of processed foods and the use of “vegetable oils” in our kitchens, we currently consume an omega 6 to omega 3 ratio between 16: 1 and 25: 1 (16).

Again – that doesn’t mean omega-6 is bad, just that we are getting too much of it and that we are consuming the worst kind (highly processed GMO cooking oils). Adding fish oil supplements to your routine and reducing the amount of processed foods and vegetable oils you eat every day would go a long way in correcting the silent inflammatory pandemic that harms us in so many different ways.

All fish oil is not created equal

When it comes to fish oil, sourcing is important. Always buy from a trusted source that independently verifies that their fish oil is free of mercury and other toxins (Barlean’s has been doing this for decades). Fish oil also comes in a variety of forms, from gels to pure oil to newer (and very tasty) emulsified forms like Barleans Seriously Delicious Omegas. Research shows that the emulsified form of fish oil is just as or even better absorbable than the oil form (17), and it’s probably the easiest way on the planet to get kids to take fish oil. Personally, I haven’t met a child or adult who could resist the Key Lime Pie version!

Most major health organizations recommend a minimum daily intake of about ½ gram of omega-3 per day, but I personally believe that this is far too little for optimal health. Most of my fellow functional nutritionists themselves take (and recommend to their families and clients) much higher doses, typically 2 or even 3 grams of combined EPA-DHA per day. It’s much easier to get this amount from pure fish oil than from capsules, and it’s even easier when it’s in a delicious, emulsified form.

References:

  1. https://www.bmj.com/company/newsroom/fish-oil-supplements-linked-to-lower-risk-of-heart-disease-and-death/
  2. https://stanfordhealthcare.org/medical-clinics/cancer-nutrition-services/reducing-cancer-risk/omega-3-fatty-acids.html
  3. https://www.nature.com/articles/ejcn2013197
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7362115/
  5. https://www.arthritis-health.com/blog/difference-between-omega-3-and-omega-6-and-knee-arthritis-pain
  6. https://omegaquant.com/is-omega-3-brain-food-three-new-studies-suggest-the-answer-is-yes/
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6116096/
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4404917/
  9. https://naturemed.org/are-you-getting-enough-omega-3s/#:~:text=As%20many%20as%2095%25%20of,to%20function%20at%20its%20best
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3992162/
  11. https://chriskresser.com/how-too-much-omega-6-and-not-enough-omega-3-is-making-us-sick/
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4808858/
  13. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12442909/
  14. https://www.simonandschuster.com/books/The-Omega-3-Connection/Andrew-L-Stoll-MD/9780743217200https://www.amazon.com/Omega-3-Connection-Groundbreaking-Anti-depression- Program / dp / 0684871386 / ref = sr_1_2? Dchild = 1 & keywords =% 22the + omega-3 + connection & qid = 1618792432 & s = books & sr = 1-2
  15. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17045449/
  16. https://www.karger.com/Book/Home/249214
  17. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2701654/

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