Are you getting enough Omega-4’s?

(Haha! Just checking to see if you’re paying attention!)

OK, we’re just kidding . . . it’s really omega-3’s that you need, not omega-4’s. Now that we’ve got your attention, we’d like to point out that your body is made up of approximately 37 trillion cells and EVERY single one of these cells needs enough omega-3 fatty acids to stay healthy and operate efficiently. Did you know that research from over 30,000 studies points out the importance of getting sufficient EPA and DHA because these fats fulfill many key roles throughout the entire body? Since your body is unable to produce the fats needed to manufacture the omega-3 fats, EPA and DHA, you must depend on consuming outside sources such as fatty fish or flaxseed to get enough EPA and DHA for optimal cell and organ/gland health.  

To obtain these precious, essential fatty acids, the WHO (World Health Organization) recommends eating 1–2 portions per week of fatty fish, an excellent source of EPA and DHA. Without enough omega-3 fatty acids, the body cannot enjoy their many health benefits, including protection against certain diseases. If you are not eating 1–2 servings per week of fatty fish or if you just want to boost your EPA/DHA levels, a great option is to take a high quality fish oil supplement as a great way to help maximize your omega-3 levels. 

The number one cause of death in the U.S. is from heart disease. Studies show that people who regularly eat fish have much lower rates of heart disease (see references below). In an important systemic review and meta-analysis (i.e. a research review paper that summarizes many studies), the authors concluded: “This generally well-conducted review concluded that high fish consumption was significantly associated with a reduced risk of cerebrovascular disease, but long-chain omega-3 fatty acid supplements were not. The beneficial effects of fish might come from a wide range of nutrients found in them. The conclusions are likely to be reliable.” 

Studies show that multiple risk factors for heart disease appear to be reduced by regular consumption of fish or fish oil. The benefits of taking fish oil for heart health include increasing the level of “good” HDL cholesterol and decreasing triglycerides by about 15-30%. Additional benefits show that fish oil, even in small amounts, helps reduce high blood pressure, helps prevent plaques that form in your arteries and helps reduce abnormal heart rhythms. 

Another study links regular use of fish oil supplements to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, such as heart attacks and stroke, and premature death. Over a nine-year span, UK researchers kept an eye on the medical and death records of nearly half a million people between the ages of 40 and 69. Nearly a third of the participants took fish oil supplements at the start of the study. At the end of the study, those who took the supplements had a 13% lower risk of death, a 16% lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, and a 7% lower risk of cardiovascular disease events such as stroke or heart attack. Although this was an observational study that shows a correlation, not necessarily causation, it still provides valuable information. 

To understand why fish oil be beneficial, it’s important to look at its makeup. Fish oil is fat or oil extracted from the tissue of fish. It is usually sourced from oily fish, such as tuna, herring, anchovies, and mackerel. About 30% of fish oil is comprised of omega-3 fatty acids and the other 70% is made up of other fats. It also contains natural vitamins A and D. Together, these nutrients offer a wide variety of health benefits ranging from blood pressure support to plaque control.  

Can I just get my omega-3’s from plants, such as flaxseed? 

While the answer is technically “yes”, an important consideration is that the types of omega-3s found in fish and fish oil have greater health benefits than the omega-3s found in certain plant sources. The major type of omega-3s in fish oil are comprised of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), but the main omega-3 type in plant sources is mostly ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). The difference is that EPA and DHA (from fish or fish oil) have many more health benefits than ALA. It's also important to note that the SAD (standard American diet) has replaced a lot of valuable omega-3 sources with other fats such as too many omega-6s, leading to an imbalanced ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids. This imbalance may contribute to certain diseases. This is another reason why it’s critical to consume high quality omega-3 sources. Armed with this information, it appears that one of the best dietary eating strategies is to adopt a predominately whole-foods, plant-based diet which also includes eating fish (or fish oil) once or twice per week (or more).  

Are most fish oil products the same? 

Definitely not! The best fish oil products are those where the oil has been clay-purified to remove naturally occurring contaminants. The worst fish oil products (in our opinion) are those that have been molecularly distilled which can damage the oil’s structure.  

How much EPA/DHA should I take? 

Although there isn’t a consensus about the exact dosage of EPA and DHA to take, generally, adults need a minimum of 500 mg of EPA/DHA daily for best health. For specific health concerns, more than this amount may be recommended. The American Heart Association recommends 1,000 to 4,000 mg EPA/DHA daily for most adults. For those with high triglyceride levels, they recommend 2,000 to 4,000 mg/day. For omega-3s, the FDA has set a level that is “generally regarded as safe” at 3,000 mg per day. The take-home message to remember: omega-3s are an important, essential foundation to your health, from the young to the elderly. Please be sure your daily omega-3 intake is on track! 

References

  1. D KromhoutE B BosschieterC de Lezenne Coulander, The inverse relation between fish consumption and 20-year mortality from coronary heart disease. N Engl J Med., 1985 May 9;312(19):1205-9. 
  2. Ka HeYiqing SongMartha L DaviglusKiang LiuLinda Van HornAlan R DyerPhilip Greenland, Accumulated evidence on fish consumption and coronary heart disease mortality: a meta-analysis of cohort studies, Circulation, 2004 Jun 8;109(22):2705-11. 
  3. R Chowdhury, S Stevens, D Gorman, A Pan, S Warnakula, S Chowdhury, H Ward, L Johnson, F Crowe, FB Hu, and OH Franco. Association between fish consumption, long chain omega 3 fatty acids, and risk of cerebrovascular disease: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ 2012; 345:e6698.