There are plenty of reasons to take Omega-3 based on all the research done in this area. Positive health effects such as reduced risk of cancer, improved cardiovascular health, reduced risk for depression has been proven but let’s understand why Omega-3 is good for us.
Modern life, with too much stress and not enough time for a good diet nor exercise, induce inflammation in your body. You may not feel ill but that’s only because your body is working hard in the background to kill the inflammation and not let it blossom into disease.
Dr Sears calls this silent inflammation and argues that cancer, cardiovascular disease, Parkinsons, depression etc are not different diseases but different sympthoms of the root cause – high levels of chronic inflammation. Managing the level of inflammation in the body is the single most important key to prevent development of disease.
The one reason: Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory.
Read on and I’ll give you the short version, based on available scientific research, on why Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory and how they work.
Your body is fighting for you!
Your body wants life, to be vibrant of health and move freely, to take you places! Unfortunately, modern life puts us in a cubicle at least a third of our waken time and feeds us with pre-fabricated food chosen based on taste and our cravings rather than based on what’s optimal fuel for our body. The good news is that your body can tolerate a lot of abuse, year after year. The bad news is that althogh you may feel “healthy” this life style is feeding body inflammation. Eventually, your body can’t cope with the abuse anymore and the high levels of inflammation that you have built up over the years will express itself in what we call a disease. Depending on genetics and how you abuse your body the constant high levels of inflammation will express itself differently: cancer, depression, Parkinsson, diabetes, skin disorders or differently.
Nobel Prize for discovering how it works
The key medical term here is eicosanoids, a “super hormone” as they control the actions of other hormones. Eicosanoids are also special because unlike with other hormones you do not have a specific gland for producing eicosanoids but they can be produced by most of your cells. There are many different types of eicosanoids and the common denominator is they are all made from essential fatty acids that are 20 carbon atoms in length (the Greek word for twenty is eicosa).
Eicosanoids were only discovered in 1935 and the big breakthrough in eicosanoid research came in 1971 when Vane discovered that aspirin works by changing eicosanoid levels. Building on this research Vane, Samuelsson, Bergelson continued to explain the role of eicosanoids in human disease and were awarded the 1982 Nobel Prize in Medicine for their work.
In short, eicosanoids are produced inside the cell as a reaction to stimuli outside of the cell. The role of the eicosanoids is to test the environment outside the cell and report back to the cell which action to take. The stimuli could be an insect’s sting leading to the eicosanoids reporting back to the cell to release substances TXA2, PGE2, and LTB4 in to the local area to deal with the sting and as a side effect of dealing with the sting you will experience local redness, swelling, pain and heat.
Other types of stimuli could be a cold, muscle break down due to over-training, excessive levels of bad cholesterol due to poor diet, and more.
There are many types of eicosanoids and they produce different responses depending on the type of stimuli. This is used in the pharmaceutical industry to manufacture medicine to inhibit specific eicosanoids. As an example medicine that limit LTB4 release is used to treat asthma.
The good, the bad and the hang-around
The eicosanoids are formed from three types of essential fatty acids: EPA, AA and DGLA.
For the sake of simplicity the three types can be described as follows:
Increased level of EPA and DGLA reduce the activity of AA and this is the reason that the intake of Omega-3 promotes health, level of inflammation is reduced.
The US National Institute of Health and the National Library of Medicine state that there is strong evidence that increased dietary intake of Omega-3 is beneficial to prevention of and in reversing hypertriglyceridemia, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, arthritis, and preliminary evidence that it reduces symptoms of many psychiatric disorders.
Omega-3 versus Omega-6 ?
Having established why Omega-3 is good for you, what about Omega-6? We need Omega-6 as well, it’s an essential fatty acid, meaning that your body can’t produce it, so you need to get it from your diet. The trick with Omega-6 is that it’s both good for you and bad for you.
With Omega-3 you can’t really get too much. Ok, you can but the significant side effect is the hole in your wallet it would burn rather than health risks. Some research suspect that there may be a correlation between excessive intake of Omega-3 and increased risk of bleeding, hemorrhagic stroke and raised levels of bad cholesterol, LDL.
With Omega-6 you can get too much so it’s important to control the balance between Omega-6 and Omega-3. The modern diet typically has a ratio of 15:1, in other words 15 units of Omega-6 to every unit of Omega-3. Research indicate that the optimal balance is somewhere around 3:1, that’s 3 units of Omega-6 to every unit of Omega-3.
How much Omega-3 should I take?
First of all, remember that when we talk about Omega-3 it’s the EPA and it’s derivative DHA that you are after. Omega-3 supplements typically have the level of EPA and DHA stated on the label in milligrams and as a percentage of total oil content. As a baseline, you want to supplement with 2 gram of total EPA and DHA per day. Check the label and calculate how many capsules or spoons that is. Most gel capsules are 1 gram total weight with a total EPA and DHA content of 25%-30%, so you would need approx. 8 capsules a day. Increase your intake of natural sources of Omega-3 and you can reduce that.
Omega-3 fatty acids are great for you because they are anti-inflammatory and plenty of research link chronically high levels of inflammation to diseases such as cancer, diabetes, Parkinson, cardiovascular disease, depression and skin disorders such as psoriasis and eczema.
In later articles we will look into the natural sources of Omega-3 and Omega-6 to understand why we get too much Omega-6 and what to eat to improve the ratio to Omega-3.
Sources and further reading:
cancer, depression, DHA, eat clean, EPA, essential fatty acids, fish oil, hypertension, omega-3, omega-6, paleo, paleo diet, silent inflamation, slider
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