Why all the hype about Omega-3 fatty acids, and what exactly are they good for? The history of fats is a long complex one we will save for another blog. The important thing to know for now is that Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat or one that is liquid at room temperature. Another type of polyunsaturated fat is known as Omega-6 fatty acids and it is vital to know the difference.
Omega-3 fatty acids are critical to keeping the cells of your body healthy and flexible so good nutrients can get in and waste can get out. They have what is known as an “anti-inflammatory effect” in the body versus the “pro-inflammatory” effect that omega-6 fatty acids have. Think of what happens when you sprain your ankle and it swells – this can happen internally to the body when your diet is out of whack and you are not getting the right types of fats.
The 3 types of omega-3 fatty acids have long chemical names but let’s stick with the abbreviations: ALA, DHA, and EPA. ALA is found in high concentrations in ground flax seeds and DHA and EPA are found in fish and fish oil It is thought that 85% of Americans are deficient in Omega-3 fatty acids which has lead to many types of medical problems including heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, depression, Alzheimer’s, and cancer to name a few.
Olive oil is the main one that contains large amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. Most other oils are high in omega-6: vegetable, corn, sunflower, safflower, soybean. Canola oil is a genetically modified product (see blog 4/9/09) and therefore not recommended.
Multiple research studies in the past year have proven:
Daily intake of DHA and EPA (fish oil) can lower triglyceride levels by 25-30% which can subsequently lower risk of heart disease and diabetes
EPA taken daily by patients with colorectal cancer had suppression of cancer cell growth
After supplementing for 4 weeks with EPA/DHA, subjects displayed significantly lower levels of depression compared to controls
Supplementing with DHA and DPA delayed the onset of Alzheimer’s disease by reducing inflammation in the brain
Patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis taking omega-3 fatty acids had significant reduction of their pain intensity, morning stiffness and joint pain and were able to lower their pain medications
Taking EPA/DHA during the 3rd trimester of pregnancy contributes significantly to both neurological and visual development of the baby besides improved mood of the Mother
The ALA in ground flax seed contains a lignan, a type of phytoestrogen that is thought to have a role in prevention of breast cancer. Since the lignan can bind to estrogen receptors, estrogen related cancers are minimized
The take home message is you can’t afford NOT to take omega-3 fatty acids for health and prevention of disease. To get your omega-3’s I recommend a daily intake of:
1. 1 tablespoon per day of ground flax seed for ALA
2. At least 1000 mg. each of DHA and EPA from fish oil or fatty fish
3. Use olive oil as your main oil and minimize other oils