Omega 3s: Is It the Fish or Just a Fish Story??
As I stood on shore at the 2011 2-mile Pier-to-Pier swim from Hermosa Pier to Manhattan Pier contemplating the swim that lie ahead, I thought to myself, my great health has a lot to do with the sea life that thrives in the body of water before me – The Great Pacific Ocean!
What kind of sea life am I referring to? For the most part, cold-water fish, such as salmon and tuna, and Krill Oil. These creatures contain healthy fats also known as Omega 3s. I take Omega 3s every day – a lot. Every morning, I take about 5 grams (8 softgels) of an Omega 3 fish oil product containing 400 mg of EPA (Eicosapentaenoic Acid) and 200 mg of DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid). This morning was no exception. Before my two-mile swim, I took my standard 5 grams. This gave me a great resource of energy in the form of healthy fats.
With that said, Omega 3s provide an astoundingly wide range of health benefits. I’ll outline these benefits later in this article. Personally, I take these Omega 3s for the following health benefits:
Energy : Omega 3 fatty acids serve as energy for the muscles, heart, and other organs as building blocks for cell membranes and as energy storage for the body.
Inflammation: Helps to combat the constant pounding I exert on myself when I
- do my long training runs, rides and swims
- race endurance events
- lift weights
Cardiovascular Health: For years, the American Heart Association has recommended that people eat fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids at least twice a week and/or supplement with Omega 3s. Be sure to take fish oil products from companies that follow strict procedures to eliminate environmental contaminants to assure the highest purity of its fish oil supplements.
Cognition : The sad fact is that, as we age (I turned 50 this year!), our memory and our cognitive abilities in general are destined to decline (I’m not too vein to admit that I fall into this category). But much research suggests that Omega 3 fatty acids can improve brain function, reduce memory loss and slow down cognitive decline.
In additional to the aforementioned, clinical evidence also suggests that omega-3 fatty acids may also be used for:
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)
- Bipolar disorder
- Skin disorders
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
- Macular Degeneration
- Menstrual pain
- Colon Cancer
- Breast cancer
- Prostate cancer
In fact, new research suggests that Omega 3 dietary supplements may aid psychiatric disorders and alcohol abuse. The research, done in a multi-year study at the Indiana University School of Medicine, examined omega 3 fatty acids at the molecular level to identify these potential benefits. They were then given to mice with constructed models of bipolar disorder, which induced depression and manic behavior when stressed.
According to the lead author of the study, Dr. Alexander Niculescu, the fatty acid DHA “normalized the behavior of the mice; they were not depressed and when subjected to stress, they did not become manic.” The research team also examined the molecular structure of their brains and were surprised to discover that DHA was modulating the problem areas.
Indiana University researchers were also surprised with another added benefit—mice given DHA also showed a reduced desire for alcohol, which the bipolar mice had become dependent on. After being given DHA, the mice drank less and were less likely to engage in alcohol abusive behavior. Despite the fact this was an animal model, this research has great promise. Niculescu hopes that, in the future, omega 3s could be used to minimize the amount of prescription drugs needed to moderate psychiatric disorders.
What is EPA and DHA?
When health professionals and researchers discuss Omega 3 fats, invariably they discuss EPA and DHA. What is EPA and DHA?
EPA and DHA are two types of omega-3 fatty acids that are found in cold-water fish, such as salmon and tuna. Also known as polyunsaturated fatty acids, omega-3 fatty acids are essential to good health.
As an aside, Omega-3 fatty acids are long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids that are liquid at room temperature. Their molecules consist of 18 to 22 carbon atoms linked together in a chain. Omega-3 fatty acids get their name because the first double bond occurs at the third carbon atom in the chain. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids, and must be obtained from the diet because your body cannot make them.
As mentioned earlier, EPA is one of the omega-3 fatty acids found in cold-water fatty fish. According to www.livestrong.com, research into omega-3 fatty acids shows that they may be helpful in reducing depression and that it may be the EPA which is responsible for the beneficial effects.
DHA is another omega-3 fatty acid. Like EPA, it is also found in cold-water fatty fish, as well as seaweed. DHA plays a key role in the development of the nervous system and the visual system of newborn children. In adults, DHA keeps the brain functioning properly. Although DHA is produced in small quantities by the human body, the quantity produced is not enough. Therefore, you need to get DHA from your diet and in supplement form.
More examples of foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids include halibut, sardines, albacore, trout, herring, shrimp, clams, catfish, cod, spinach, walnut, flaxseed oil and canola oil.
It is important to have a balance of omega-3 and omega-6 (another essential fatty acid) in the diet. Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce inflammation while most omega-6 fatty acids tend to promote inflammation. The typical American diet tends to contain 14 – 25 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids.
The Mediterranean diet, on the other hand, has a healthier balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Many studies have shown that people who follow this diet are less likely to develop heart disease. The Mediterranean diet does not include much meat (which is high in omega-6 fatty acids) and emphasizes foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. They include whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, olive oil, garlic, as well as moderate wine consumption.
Omega 3s For Vegetarians?
With the increasing popularity of vegetarian diets and the mounting fears about mercury and PCBs being in our seafood supply, many are turning to plant sources of Omega 3s. Good vegetarian sources of omega-3’s include:
- Flaxseed Oil
- Canola Oil
- Soybean Oil
- Walnut Oil
If you are an egg lover, believe it or not, you can find omega-3 eggs at many health food stores. These eggs are produced by chickens that are fed a high flaxseed diet.
Clary Sage Seed Oil (CSSO) is another vegetarian source of Omega 3. CSSO contains 50% of the Omega 3 Alpha Linoleic Acid (ALA), the most stable Omega 3 found in nature. ALA does not oxidize at room temperature for up to two years. ALA is also found in some vegetable oils, such as soybean, canola and flaxseed, and in walnuts. Additionally, ALA is found in some green vegetables, such as Brussels sprouts, kale, spinach, and salad greens.
Our bodies can convert ALA into EPA and DHA. But the conversion process is slow. In addition, a high concentration of ALA has been linked to higher risk of prostate cancer by some early research. Until more is known, men may be safest to choose fish oil for their Omega 3s instead of concentrated ALA.
I have been contributing articles to Nutricula for almost a year now. When our Editor-In-Chief, Bob Berger, Ph.D, approached me about contributing, I was completely convinced when he revealed the magazine’s tagline: “The Science of Longevity”. I was hooked by the term “longevity”. The same can be said for Omega 3s and their impact on a wide range of health conditions and longevity. Everybody on the planet (kids to seniors) should include foods rich in Omega 3s in their diet. And everyone should supplement daily with at least one of the Omega 3 supplements mentioned earlier in this article. There is a mountain of clinical evidence showing their efficacy. Omega 3s may not be a panacea, but they are a rock star for health and longevity.
Mark Becker has worked in the natural products industry as a marketing and sales executive for almost 15 years. He has written more than 250 articles and has either hosted or been a guest on more than 500 radio shows. He obtained a BA in Journalism from Long Beach State University and did his Master’s work in Communications at Cal State Fullerton. For almost 30 years he has participated in numerous endurance events, including more than 150 triathlons of Olympic distance or longer, 95 marathons and numerous other events including ultramarathons and rough water swims from Alcatraz to the mainland. He has relied on a comprehensive supplement regimen to support his athletic, professional and personal endeavors.
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