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The Incredible Importance of Omega-3's

September 23, 2008 | 59,377 views
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elderly menThe American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has published three studies investigating the role of EPA and DHA omega-3 fats in elderly populations.

In short, the story the studies tell is this: low concentrations of EPA and DHA result in an increased risk of death from all causes and accelerated cognitive decline. However, short-term intervention with EPA and DHA in the healthy elderly had no effect on mental well-being, suggesting that dietary habits that include a higher intake of omega 3’s may bring certain health benefits that short-term supplementation cannot provide.

All three studies underscore the importance of maintaining a high dietary omega-3 intake throughout your life.
 

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

If you are not yet taking a high-quality, animal-based omega-3 fat supplement every day, what are you waiting for? The science on this one is loud and clear: omega-3 fats are essential for optimal health.

Omega-3 is also one of the rare instances when I recommend you take a supplement instead of getting it from your food. This is because the major source of dietary omega-3 is fish, and most fish that is commercially available (even wild-caught varieties) are polluted with mercury, PCBs and other toxic substances. If you can find a source of lab-verified clean and pure fish, then this would be your best source of omega-3. But for those of you who can’t (the vast majority of people), a supplement is your next best option.

Are You Getting Enough Omega-3?

Omega-3 in fish and seafood is high in two fatty acids crucial to human health, DHA and EPA. These two fatty acids are pivotal in preventing heart disease, cancer, and many other diseases. Your brain is also highly dependent on DHA -- low DHA levels have been linked to depression, schizophrenia, memory loss, and a higher risk of developing Alzheimer's.

Researchers are now also linking inadequate intake of these omega-3 fats in pregnant women to premature birth and low birth weight, and to hyperactivity in children.

Yet, most people fail to consume sufficient quantities of this essential fat. Even the mainstream health media now reports that lack of omega-3 is one of the most serious health issues plaguing contemporary society.

While most people are seriously lacking in omega-3, they are overdoing another type of fat, omega-6. Omega-6 is found primarily in vegetable oils (which if you eat processed foods you’re eating a lot of) and although it is also essential for human health, when eaten in the unprecedented large quantities it is today, it causes health problems.

The ideal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats is 1:1. Today, though, our ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 averages from 20:1 to 50:1!

As one of the studies in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition pointed out, high ratios of omega-6 to omega-3 may increase your risk of dementia, and this is only the tip of the iceberg. University of Michigan researchers also agreed that including more omega-3 than omega-6 in your diet may help protect your tissues and organs from inflammation, one of the underlying causes of countless chronic diseases and aging.

To get your omega-6 to omega-3 ratio closer to the ideal 1:1, simply cut back on all vegetable oils (this includes those in processed foods) and get a regular supply of high-quality omega-3 fat, like that from krill oil, daily.

What is the Best Source of Omega-3?

The first distinction to make is that you need to get the bulk of your omega-3 from animal sources, not plant sources.

Plant-based omega-3 sources like flax, hemp and chia are high in ALA, NOT EPA and DHA. Although ALA is an essential nutrient, the key point to remember is that the conversion of ALA to the far more essential EPA and DHA is typically severely impaired by inhibition of delta 6 desaturase. This is an enzyme that is necessary to produce the longer chain EPA and DHA from ALA. 

Elevated insulin levels impair this enzyme and over 80 percent of the U.S. population has elevated insulin levels. So from that perspective alone it is important to include animal-based sources of omega-3 fats.

There are even studies that show ALA from flaxseed can actually increase your risk of cancer. Personally, I regularly include ALA omega-3 plant-based foods, like flax and hemp, in my diet, but these are always combined with animal-based omega-3 fats.

When it comes to choosing between the animal-based omega-3 options, the primary options are fish oil, cod liver oil or krill oil.

Cod liver oil is unique in this lineup because it contains valuable vitamin D, another nutrient that many Americans are deficient in. However, ideally you should get your vitamin D from sunlight exposure, as this is the best source of vitamin D available.

That said, I still recommend both fish oil and cod liver oil in some cases, but I believe krill oil is an even better option for most people. Personally, I take krill oil every day. I particularly appreciate the fact that the omega-3 is attached to phospholipids that dramatically increase its absorption, especially into brain tissue.

Meanwhile, fish oil is weak in antioxidant content, whereas krill oil contains potent antioxidants.

This is a major drawback for fish oil, because as you increase your intake of omega-3 fats by consuming fish oil, you actually increase your need for even more antioxidant protection.

Why?

This happens because fish oil is quite perishable, and oxidation leads to the formation of those unhealthy free radicals. Therefore, antioxidants are required to ensure that the fish oil doesn't oxidize and become rancid inside your body. So, you need to consume additional antioxidants both for your health in general, AND for your increased need for antioxidants when using fish oil.

The antioxidant potency of krill oil is actually 48 times higher than fish oil, and krill oil also contains astaxanthin -- a unique marine-source flavonoid -- that creates a special bond with the EPA and DHA, which allows direct metabolism of the antioxidants, making them more bioavailable for you.

As the above studies suggest, the best way to get the benefits of omega-3 is to consume it over many years. So don’t wait until a health problem appears to start taking this advice seriously. Adding an omega-3 supplement to your daily diet is one of the simplest, and most powerful, things you can do for your health.

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