Everything you need to learn about Omega-3s
General Health

Everything you need to learn about Omega-3s

ALA, DHA and EPA are essential omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids that are essential for maintaining a healthy body. It is important to note that getting the right balance is the key here, where the question of how much omega-3 we should consume should directly relate to how much omega-6 we are already consuming.

  • 5-10% of food calories should come from omega-6 fatty acids, so an equal 5-10% should contain omega-3s.
  • The type of omega-3 supplement that you need depends on what you need as an individual.
  • Lack of omega-3 fatty acids can lead to many types of inflammatory diseases as well as poor cognitive development in infants.

Essential Omega-3s

Nutritionists have coined omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids as “essential” fats, and for good reason. The human body needs them for functions, ranging from building healthy cells to maintaining brain and nerve function. Our bodies, however, don't produce them, so we need to consume sufficient amounts of foods that contain them.

These essential fats are also crucial for another reason. There is growing evidence that suggests that these fats help lower the risk of heart disease. Some studies suggest that they may also protect against type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and age-related brain decline. Following are the key take-aways from this post:

  • While we need to consume omega-3 and omega-6 in a 1:1 ration, many end up with a balance that is more like 1:10-25. This imbalance can lead to increased instances of inflammatory diseases.
  • Omega-3s are primarily found in fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, krill and tuna. They are also found in walnuts, chia seeds and flaxseeds, plus hemp, camelina and flaxseed oils.

Benefits of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids

Both these fatty acids are crucial components of cell membranes, and they are both precursors to many other substances in the body that are involved with regulating blood pressure and inflammatory responses. Increasing evidence has demonstrated that omega-3 fatty acids, in particular, protect against fatal heart diseases and are known to have anti-inflammatory effects.

The human body is capable of producing all the fatty acids it needs. The only two exceptions are: linoleic acid (LA), an omega-6 fatty acid, and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid. These have to be consumed from the diet, and are needed for growth and repair, but can also be used to make other fatty acids. Omega-3 fats contain DHA and EPA. These are highly unsaturated fats and they play a vital role with the function of our bodies.

ALA, DHA and EPA

EPA and DHA are vital nutrients and should be taken to maintain a healthy functioning of the brain and retina. This is because DHA is the building block of tissue in the brain and retina of the eye. DHA helps with forming neurotransmitters in the brain that are vital for brain function. Furthermore, because it is also the building block of the retina, it is necessary for maintaining healthy levels of DHA for normal eye function.

There are basically three important omega-3 fatty acids:

  • ALA is a short chain (18 carbon) omega-3 fatty acid. It is found in small amounts in animal flesh, in very small amounts in a variety of plant products, and in relatively large amounts in soy, walnuts, chia seeds and flaxseeds, plus hempseed, camelina, chia seed and flaxseed oils. The human body cannot make its own ALA, it must be obtained through diet.
  • EPA is a long chain (20 carbon) omega-3 fatty acid. It is found mostly in fatty fish, in small amounts in eggs, and in very small amounts in seaweed. Some EPA is converted into series 3 eicosanoids which can reduce blood clotting, inflammation, blood pressure, and cholesterol. The human body can produce EPA out of ALA and out of DHA.
  • DHA is a long chain (22 carbon) omega-3 fatty acid. It is found mostly in fatty fish, in small amounts in eggs, and in very small amounts in seaweed. It is a major component of the grey matter of the brain, and also found in the retina, testis, sperm, and cell membranes. The body can convert EPA into DHA.

Getting the right balance

The question of how much omega-3 we should consume largely depends on how much omega-6 we are consuming. Over the course of human evolution, there has been a dramatic change in the ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 fats being consumed. This change has arguably had the greatest contribution to the epidemic of modern disease.

Anthropological research has suggested that our hunter-gatherer ancestors consumed omega-6 and omega-3 fats in a ratio of roughly 1:1. This research also indicated that both, ancient and modern hunter gatherers were free of modern inflammatory diseases, like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. These diseases are the primary cause of death and morbidity today.

At the onset of the industrial revolution, there was a shift in the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in the diet. Consumption of omega-6 fats increased at the expense of omega-3 fats. This change was largely due the advent of the modern vegetable oil industry. Linoleic acid from plant-based oils such as, corn oil, soybean oil, and sunflower oil, is a key source of omega-6 fats. Additionally, there was an increased use of cereal grains used as feed for domestic livestock - which altered the fatty acid profile of meat that humans consumed.

Today, the average intake of omega-6 fatty acids is between 10 and 25 times higher than evolutionary norms. The consequences of this dramatic shift cannot be overestimated. For optimal health, it is essential to address this imbalance by consuming more omega-3 fatty acids. The American Heart Association recommends that 5-10% of food calories should come from omega-6 fatty acids, so it follows that an equal 5-10% should contain omega-3s.

Omega-3 recommendations

Our recommendation on which omega-3 supplement to take largely depends on what you, as an individual, needs. While Body Awakening's Omega Me is a high quality, sustainable omega-3 supplement, it is made of krill, a tiny shellfish. So if you are allergic to shellfish, you should have the Nordic Natural or Garden Life omega-3 supplements, as they are fish-based.

If you are a vegan or allergic to seafood, then you can get your omega-3 from chia seeds, flaxseed, flax oil or walnuts. However, if are able to eat seafood, it is best to get your omega-3s from fish or krill based supplements, as it is a more complex process for the body to convert omega-3 fats from plant-based sources from ALA to DHA and EPA.

Verdict

Omega-3s should be an essential part of our diet. Lack of omega-3 can lead to all kinds of inflammatory diseases. Not only that, they are essential for proper cognitive development, especially in infants. So, have a look at our online store or visit The Store in Soho and buy your omega-3 supplement.

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