Essential Fatty Acids are “essential” because our bodies cannot manufacture them and we must get them from foods or through dietary supplements.
The “Typical American Diet” has an imbalance of essential fatty acids — too much Omega-6’s and too little Omega-3’s, of which fish is one of our main sources.
Every cell in your body is affected by this ratio. Essential fatty acids are structural components of every cell membrane in your body!
Many health experts believe that the very high ratio of Omega 6’s to Omega 3’s, promotes inflammation.
Inflammation is thought to be an important root of many chronic degenerative diseases like arthritis, inflamed joints, diabetes, heart disease, even obesity and Alzheimers.
What’s the Typical American or Western Diet?
The standard American diet is:
High in foods rich in Omega-6’s:
corn, soy, sunflower and safflower oils, processed foods made with these vegetable oils
animals (beef, pork, chicken) raised on corn and soy feeds, including their milk products or eggs.
Low in foods rich in Omega-3’s:
wild fish, fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.
About 100 years ago, Westernized diets starting changing when processes were developed to refine vegetable and seed oils that are rich in Omega-6’s.
The more recent introduction of using grains rich in Omega-6’s (corn, soy) to feed farm-raised animals (and even farmed fish) has even more dramatically compounded this change.
It’s estimated that before the industrial revolution,
the Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio in the diet was 1:1 or 1:2.
Today, Westernized diets are estimated to have
an Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio of 1:20 or 1:30.
That’s a fifteen to twenty-fold increase in the proportion of Omega-6’s.
This imbalance which has transpired in such a short time of human history, may be causing a relative deficiency of Omega-3’s.
3 Ways to Get your Omega’s back into balance:
Omega-3 Fatty Acids Are Critical to Good Health
In addition to reducing inflammation, Omega-3’s support the heart, brain, neurological system, eyes, skin, immune system and may even be related to mood disorders.
Omega-3 fatty acids support heart health and may prevent sudden cardiac arrest and stroke
Studies have shown Omega 3’s may improve heart rate and rhythm, reduce blood triglyceride and cholesterol levels, reduce blood pressure, promote vasodilation and arterial elasticity, reduce inflammation of the heart and blood vessels and help prevent artery-blocking clots and platelet aggregation.
Omega-3 ‘s are critical for proper neurological and brain development
In utero, in infants and in children, Omega-3’s may be important to learning. For the elderly, they may help with memory and maintaining cognitive functioning.
Omega-3’s are important for eye and skin health and for your immune system
Research suggests that Omega-3’s may help prevent macular degeneration (and resulting loss of vision), common in aging.
Omega-3 deficiencies may be associated with depression and other mood disorders, ADHD and impulsive behavior and dementia
It is hypothesized that the mechanism may have to do with the composition of cell membranes, neurotransmission and prostaglandin formation.
These are important considerations in selecting an Omega-3 supplement:
Selecting an Oil or Caplet Form of Omega-3’s
Omega fatty acids can be successfully “delivered” in a dry caplet form (bound to phospholipids) or in liquid oil or oil gel capsule (bound to triglycerides as fish oil).
Some fish oil gels also contain blends of other healthful oils like borage or primrose oil (GLA’s). Others may include Oleic acid (an Omega-9 fatty acid that supports blood vessels and cell membranes).
What are the Recommendations for Omega-3’s?
It’s always best to consult with your physician regarding taking an Omega-3 dietary supplement.
That said, many health organizations recommend around 500 mg of EPA+DHA (combined) per day.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends consumption of Omega-3 fatty acids to decrease the risk factors associated with heart disease, such as hypertension, high triglycerides and atherosclerosis.
- The AHA recommends that adults eat at least two servings of fish high in Omega-3 fatty acids per week, plus flaxseed, canola and soybean oils, flaxseeds and walnuts.
- For people with heart disease, the AHA recommends 1 gram (1000 mg) of EPA+DHA daily from fish and dietary supplements, as recommended by their physician.
- For people with elevated triglycerides, the AHA recommends 2-4 grams (2,000 – 4,000 mg) of EPA+DHA each day from fish and dietary supplements, as recommended by their physician.
The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (put out by the federal government) recommend that most adults eat 8 ounces of seafood each week, typically two four-ounce servings, and about 12 ounces for pregnant or breastfeeding women.
Check out my web pages for more about essential fatty acids, and fatty acids, cell membranes and the inflammatory process.