by Dr. Thomas K. Lo, Advanced Chiropractic & Nutritional Healing Center
Omega-3 Fatty Acids & Why We Need Them
Omega-3 fatty acids are a group of polyunsaturated fatty acids that are important for a number of functions in the body. This makes them vital to your health and wellbeing. Every single cell in your body—and especially the tissues of your brain—require omega-3 fatty acids to function properly.
The two most important (that are often deficient in people today) are EPA and DHA, which are derived from fish and certain types of algae.
You find omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, in seafood, such as fatty fish (e.g., salmon, tuna, and trout) and shellfish (e.g., crab, mussels, and oysters). A different kind of omega-3, called ALA, is in foods like nuts and seeds (such as flaxseed, chia seeds, and walnuts).
What Are the Benefits of Consuming a Diet Rich In Omega-3?
Omega-3 fatty acids are some of the most important nutrients you can put in your body. Not only are they extremely anti-inflammatory, but they actually make up some of the most important structures of the body, like your brain and nervous system. Not getting enough in your diet increases your risk of many chronic illnesses.
EPA and DHA are found in mother’s milk, algae, fish, and grass-fed meat products. EPA and DHA can be synthesized in the body from ALA; however, it is a very inefficient process and can put excess stress on the liver. ALA is derived from plant sources of omega-3, such as green plants, flax, chia, hemp, pumpkin seeds, and walnuts.
Omega-3 is most beneficial when consumed in proper ratios. The most important balance to consider is omega-3 fats in relation to omega-6 fats. Omega-6 fats are important for inflammatory processes in the body; however, consuming too much in relation to omega-3 can become excessively inflammatory.
Our cells actually need these fats in order to function properly. Every cell in the body is made up of a combination of cholesterol, saturated fats, and polyunsaturated fats.
Saturated fats and cholesterol help to maintain the structural integrity of the cell membrane, while polyunsaturated fats allow fluidity. This fluidity is important for the transportation of materials, cellular communication, and other processes that occur across the cell membrane. The polyunsaturated fats that make up part of our cell membranes are actually the omega-3 fats EPA and DHA.
Health Issues Can Improve When Consuming Omega-3
Depression and anxiety have been associated with something called neuroinflammation. This means inflammation in the brain. Because increasing omega-3 intake can be highly anti-inflammatory, this can make it an important consideration in anxiety and depression. This is backed up by several studies demonstrating the effectiveness of EPA and DHA in mitigating depressive symptoms.
Some evidence suggests that lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids are correlated with higher levels of corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH), which is normally released in response to stress. Chronically elevated CRH due to inadequate omega-3 intake could contribute to depressive or anxious feelings.
Some preliminary evidence from a study published by Oxford in 2014 suggests that higher levels of dietary omega-3 intake are associated with lower instances of insomnia and fewer interruptions in sleep. Another factor to consider is that chronic inflammation can have a detrimental impact on sleep quality due to increased levels of circulating stress hormones. Omega-3 intakes can help to mitigate inflammation and improve sleep by lowering associated stress hormones.
DHA is particularly important for the development and maintenance of eye health. DHA is found in high amounts in the retina where it plays important roles in maintaining photoreceptor membrane integrity and ensuring optimal production of vision through light transmission. Inadequate intake has also been associated with conditions of dry eyes and poor eye structure development in children. And low intake of omega-3 is associated with increased rates of macular degeneration and retinopathy.
Poor immune function is often a result of chronic inflammation, especially in cases of autoimmunity (overactive immune system), so targeting underlying inflammation is extremely important for improving immune function. In fact, a study performed on children up to the age of three showed that adequate DHA early in life is important for lowering instances of allergies and upper respiratory infections.
Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly DHA, are incredibly important for the development of healthy brain tissue. It has been shown to provide many benefits such as improved cognition, lowered stroke risk, improved cerebral blood flow, improved ADD/ADHD symptoms, reduced migraines, and decreased risk of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Adequate omega-3 intake has been shown to be important for optimal bone health. Like several of the conditions listed so far, poor bone health is associated with chronic inflammatory conditions in the body. Additionally, omega-3 intake may improve bone health by helping to regulate calcium balance and osteoblast activity. It has been mostly animal-based studies pointing toward the importance of DHA for bone health.
Fish oil’s ability to mitigate inflammation has a powerful impact on the development and progression of cardiovascular diseases. One of the primary heart conditions, calcification of the arteries, is heavily influenced by inflammation and improper calcium metabolism. Adequate omega-3 intake helps to promote a healthy calcium metabolism. The anti-inflammatory benefits of omega-3 fats further promote heart health by helping to prevent the oxidation of the artery lining and cholesterol.
Omega-3 fats have been shown to also improve cholesterol, triglyceride values, and may help to lower blood pressure in some cases.
What Are the Best Food Sources of Omega-3s?
Now that you understand the many benefits of increasing your intake of omega-3 fats, the best sources are getting plenty of EPA and DHA from food-based sources such as wild-caught fish, shellfish, and algae.
Some of the top sources include sockeye salmon, sardines, mackerel, mussels, crab, and algae. There can be some conversion of ALA into DHA from foods like walnuts, flax, and chia. Conversion of ALA into DHA is typically not enough to reach optimal levels, however.
It may be beneficial for vegans and vegetarians to consume high DHA algae on a regular basis to meet their needs.
If you are struggling with health issues, call the Advanced Chiropractic & Nutritional Healing Center at 240-651-1650 for a free consultation. Dr. Lo uses Nutritional Response Testing® to analyze the body to determine the underlying causes of ill or non-optimum health. The office is located at 7310 Grove Road #107 in Frederick. For more information, check out the website at www.doctorlo.com.