The reason fish oils are beneficial is due to the imbalance of the omega-3: omega-6 fatty acid ratio most Americans experience today if they follow the Standard American Diet.
In order to understand this fully, we must explore the function of fats in the body as a whole.
Fats have a variety of uses in our bodies and play a crucial role in many biochemical processes. Fats are the building blocks for the cell membrane’s lipid bilayer. Every single one of our cells is wrapped in a coating made mostly of fat.
As you can see, lipids have a number of functions, including:
· Creating a variety of hormones and hormone-like substances. They are incorporated in many of the chemical messengers that allow cells to communicate with each other.
· Allow for the absorption of fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K).
· Provide us with energy (9kcal/g of fat; 4kcal/g of protein or carbohydrate).
· Fat coats the nerves in our bodies, allowing us to think, react, move, and perform any activity we can think of.
· Fats are required for proper absorption of minerals.
· Protects organs.
· A myriad of other metabolic processes.
Lipids are responsible for a vast number of functions in the body. They are not readily given up and used as energy in the body. Mostly glucose and glycogen stores will be used up before fats are broken down for energy. From an evolutionary perspective this makes sense: Early humans went long periods without food. Fat stores were used as energy during these times.
Now, not all fats are created equal, and quality is of utmost importance.
Avoid all processed oils and hydrogenated fats. They will do nothing but deplete vitamin and mineral stores and increase the chances of developing a serious disease.
Stick to traditional oils, like cold pressed extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, fatty fish (like salmon or mackerel), nuts & seeds, and others listed on the shopping list provided. Try to enjoy whole eggs, the yolks contain good fats and other essential nutrients not found in the whites.
If you are cooking high-quality meats, do not be afraid to eat the fat pieces attached to the bones (occasionally). These parts include high levels of collagen. The main structural protein found in connective tissue like skin and muscles.
Be sure to invest in quality products, as they go a long way in improving your health in the short and long term.
Omega-3s are considered essential fatty acids, meaning you must get them from food. Omega-3 fatty acids are derived from alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is used to make other fatty acids like eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Unfortunately, some people lack the enzymes needed for this conversion to take place.
On top of this, many people do not get enough ALA from food, which has led to a nationwide deficiency in a sense. Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in fish, fish oils, nuts, seeds, and vegetables naturally. Sea vegetables, like kelp and nori, actually contain EPA and DHA, while land vegetables only contain the precursor, ALA. Flax seeds, nuts, and other seeds contain high amounts of ALA.
Typical diets of Americans tend to be much lower in DHA and EPA in particular. Instead, they tend to contain much higher numbers of omega-6 fatty acids, thus leading to omega-3 deficiencies. An imbalanced omega-3:6 ratio can lead to increased inflammation, altered immune function, increased insulin resistance, and increases susceptibility to cellular damage via free radicals. When this ratio is corrected (and the correct ratio ranges from 1:1, which is ideal, to about 1:3), the opposite effects occur.
When it comes to choosing an omega-3 supplements, purity and quality are issues, especially if you are choosing a fish oil supplement. Heavy metals like mercury and other pollutants can be found in a variety of marine life, and these can all lead to increased cancer risk if they are ingested in high amounts. That being said, these toxic substances can be extracted, along with DHA, EPA, and other carcinogens that can be dangerous to your health.
Another thing to be aware of along with the source of fish oils is the freshness of it. Fish oils can go rancid, and thus have their health benefits skewed. You can tell if your fish oils are rancid if they develop a strong, fishy odor. Once opening a bottle, keep it refrigerated. If you are purchasing a DHA or EPA supplement, check the labels for a third party certification quality seal.
When it comes to fish oils, it is worth it to delve deep into how the fish is sourced and what potential carcinogens may be in the supplements. Call manufacturers, and ask what goes into making them. Alternatively, knowledgeable health care providers have access to other forms of supplements the general public does not have access to, and are held to higher standards.
Omega-3 dosing can vary, but two capsules daily suffice as a general rule. Fish oils contain roughly 300 milligrams of EPA and 200 milligrams of DHA in each 1000 milligrams capsule of fish oil. If you are looking for a vegetarian source, flax seed oil is a viable option. These are usually found in liquid form, and 1 tablespoon a day taken with food is a good start. Roughly 60% of the fatty acids are omega-3’s.
If you are taking Coumadin, you should consult your healthcare provider before starting fish oils or flax seed oils as a supplement. If you have a fish allergy or are vegetarian/ vegan, consider omega-3’s from flax seed or algae-based sources.
For more information, we discuss fish oils on a podcast episode that I’ll link below.
Hope this helps!