Balance Omegas for Optimal Health
By Dan Gleason, DC
Omega-3 fatty acids have been popular for decades. There are good reasons. Some remember, fondly or not so fondly, being coerced into taking cod liver oil as a child. People were on the right track 60 years ago. The nutritional benefits of fish products are now well documented. Fish feeds the brain, is a good source of protein and good for the skin. Many have had great experiences after eating more fish or supplementing with fish extracts.
Omega-3 fats are from the family of polyunsaturated fatty acids. That means that there are multiple single bonds allowing extreme flexibility of the molecule. This flexibility, or membrane fluidity, is what allows fish to remain supple in cold water. Imagine if fish had saturated fat like suet or lard—they would be too stiff to swim! Warm blooded mammals keep their saturated fats warm enough to remain flexible.
Mammals, including humans, still require a certain percentage of omega-3 fats to function and good ratios of these fats to thrive. The two main families of polyunsaturated fats are the omega-3 (mostly from fish) and omega-6 (mostly from seed oils). Generally speaking, omega-3 inhibits inflammation and omega-6 promotes inflammation.
Inflammation can be thought of as a two-edged sword. It is necessary to initiate healing. It’s like a police officer at the scene of an accident. It sounds the alarm (pain), stops the damage (clotting), opens the lane for the emergency vehicles to access the site (swelling), calls for reinforcements (redness) and speeds up the resolution process (heat). Without inflammation healing cannot occur. Too much inflammation, however, leads to more inflammation and chaos. It’s as if the officer keeps calling in more police officers and there’s no room for healing and resolution. Thus, a high omega-6 to omega-3 ratio is pro-inflammatory.
The Standard American Diet (SAD) is disproportionately high in omega-6, which contributes to many chronic conditions. The suffix “itis” means inflammation. Here are a few common “itises”:
For those who suffer from inflammatory conditions, it’s a good idea to consider fish intake, get serum levels tested and add fish and fish oil supplements.
Grass-fed or pastured animals have a much better ratio of 6:3 omegas. The best plant source of omega-3s is flax and to a lesser degree hemp and walnuts. ALA, the plant form, can convert to the much more active forms DHA, DPA and EPA. Humans have very limited capacity to make this conversion, so most people need to eat fish frequently or to take fish oil supplements. Deficiency of omega-3s is commonly reported by functional medicine doctors who regularly test for these levels.
Proceed with caution. Fish live in waters containing contaminants such as PCBs and mercury. When fish oil is extracted from these fish, toxins remain in the oil. While fish from the southern hemisphere are less toxic, they still can be problematic. These fragile oils must be carefully distilled and filtered to make them safe for human consumption. One way to determine the quality of a fish oil supplement is to use the smell and taste test. Fish oils should not be fishy tasting or smelling. They should not leave an aftertaste or cause burping. Buy fish oil from a reputable source, one that regularly tests products for purity and effectiveness.
The amount of fish oil one needs can vary. Testing is available, but without that, a good rule of thumb is 1000 mg per day of EPA + DHA. EPA is the omega-3 fraction that helps the heart. DHA is the fraction that helps the brain and nervous system. One of the highest sources of DHA is breast milk, which enhances the development of a baby’s brain. While the ALA from flax doesn’t convert to EPA and DHA well, it can be very helpful with stiffness.
Add years to life and life to years with regular consumption of clean omega-3 fish oil capsules.
Dr. Dan Gleason is the owner of The Gleason Center located at 19084 North Fruitport Road in Spring Lake. For more info: go to TheGleasonCenter.com or call 616-846-5410.