WHY ARE OMEGA-3'S SO IMPORTANT?

One of the healthiest types of fat are the Omega-3 fatty acids. These fats, primarily found in fatty fish, have a wide variety of health benefits for everyone from sedentary individuals to high level athletes. For years doctors and nutritionists recommended eating fish once or twice each week in order to get Omega-3s, however we are now finding that a couple of meals each week just isn’t enough to take advantage of the amazing benefits of Omega-3s. We recommend taking Omega-3s in a capsule form daily.

Benefits of Omega-3's:

  • Reduces Inflammation and Joint Pain
  • Improves Memory and Focus
  • Promotes Emotional Well Being
  • Promotes a Healthy Heart and Cardiovascular System
  • Promotes Healthy Skin and Eyes
  • Improves Body Composition
  • Reduces Harmful Effects of Stress
  • Reduces the Risk of Many Cancers

Of all of the amazing benefits of Omega-3s, probably the most important is its ability to reduce internal inflammation. All major diseases; cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, etc. have a common genesis in inflammation

The Concern for Purity

The quality of your Omega-3s from fish oil is extremely important. Fish can be contaminated with toxic compounds such as mercury, lead, arsenic, and PCB’s. Fish oil must be pure. Make sure your Omega-3 supplement is from a NSF Certified, GMP certified facility in the United States that batch tests their supplements for purity.

Omega-3 is actually a classification of several different forms of fatty acids, not just one singular type of fat. The most beneficial and bioavailable forms are the long chain Omega 3’s: Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA).

Plant Based Omega-3s?

Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in plant sources such as flaxseed and chia, however this is Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA), which is less bioavailable and cannot be used in the body as efficiently as EPA and DHA. While the nutrition facts are correct in saying that a flaxseed or chia product contains Omega-3s, your body can only use a small percentage of it. Currently, the best way to supplement Omega-3s is by taking a EPA/DHA fish oil supplement.

How Omega-3s Work

To Understand Omega-3's, We Must Understand Omega 6's

Omega-3s and Omega-6s are known as essential fatty acids because they are essential for several processes in the body and must be consumed as part of a diet. These fatty acids are metabolized by the body into eicosanoids that play a major role in the mediation of inflammation. Omega-6s eicosanoids are typically pro-inflammatory, while Omega-3s eicosanoids are typically anti-inflammatory. Both types of fatty acids find homes on the phospholipid bilayer of cell membranes.

In general

Omega 3 Eicosanoids EPA, DHA Anti-Inflammatory
Omega 6 Eicosanoids AA Pro-Inflammatory

Simopoulos, 2002)This figure demonstrates the metabolism of arachadonic acid into pro-inflammatory eicosanoids and eicosapentaenoic acid into anti-inflammatory eicosanoids via the cyclooxygenase and 5-lipoxygenase pathways. An important component to note in this figure is the role of the diet in affecting AA and EPA, as these fatty acids are a result of diet.

Unfortunately, the modern Western diet is far too high in Omega-6 fatty acids, and far too low in Omega-3s. Researchers theorize that humans evolved on a diet consisting of an Omega-6/Omega-3 Ratio of 1/1 and our modern Western diets average ratios of 15+/1. The ideal Omega-6/Omega-3 Ratio is between 1-5/1. Omega-6s are not necessarily bad, we need them in our diets, and we need one of the key Omega-6s, Arachidonic Acid, for many important body processes; however most people’s Omega-6/Omega-3 Ratios are out of whack if they eat a typical western diet consisting of processed foods, fast food, etc. This unbalancing in favor of Omega-6s and Arachidonic Acid leads to increased inflammation at the cellular level, contributing to the onset of many diseases.

How do we get back to the optimal balance? Supplementing our diets with Omega-3s is likely necessary to active the optimal balance of 1-5/1. When humans ingest fish or fish oil, the EPA and DHA from the diet partially replace the omega-6 fatty acids, especially Arachidonic Acid, in the phospholipid bilayer of cells. Since we are likely already consuming plenty of Omega-6s from foods containing vegetable oil (nearly all processed foods), most people would need to eat fish daily to back on track. This is not practical in the real world, especially for people who do not like seafood; or even safe, as consistently consuming a large amount of fish puts you at risk for consuming environmental contaminants such as mercury. Having fish a few times each week is still fine and healthy, as a good source of Omega-3s as well as a great source of lean protein; however, using a EPA/DHA Omega-3 supplement daily will help push your Omega-6/Omega-3 Ratio to a more favorable balance.

AA/EPA Ratio as an Indicator of Cellular Inflammation

The aforementioned fatty acids, Arachadonic Acid and Eicosapentaenoic Acid, have been monitored through a blood test as a means of measuring and tracking cellular inflammation. A high AA/EPA Ratio has been correlated with many chronic diseases, and a reduction in AA/EPA Ratio has been associated with a decrease in rates of disease. It is hard to go wrong with safe and sensible supplementation of Omega-3s, but if you want to get very specific and track cellular inflammation, you may want to have a blood test test done.

Omega-3s as a Safe Alternative to Anti-Inflammatory Drugs

Many anti-inflammatory drugs, including corticosteroids and NSAIDS (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs) work by inhibiting the inflammation via arachadonic acid production and the cyclooxygenase pathway and suppressing enzymes responsible for producing pro-inflammatory eicosanoids. Omega-3s allow cells to utilize them rather than pro-inflammatory Omega-6s in the same pathways and have been proposed and used as a safe alternative to anti-inflammatory drugs.

Researchers Have Found a Wide Variety of Benefits

Now that we have learned a little bit about how Omega-3s impact inflammation at the cellular level, what does it mean to the body as a whole? Omega-3s have amazing benefits to several important systems in the body.

The anti-inflammation effects help alleviate joint pain, a huge benefit for everyone that experiences aches and pains, from high level athletes to older individuals dealing with arthritis. Omega-3s also support a healthy heart and cardiovascular system. A higher Omega-6/Omega-3 Ratio is associated with an increased incidence of heart disease and acute cardiovascular events. DHA is the most abundant fatty acid in the brain, and having sufficient levels of dietary DHA is crucial for cognitive function, psychological and emotional well-being, and neuroprotection of the brain and nervous system. Omega-3s are also important for muscle health body composition.

The training and competition of athletes results in an increased stress on all of the body systems. The effects of Omega-3s on cellular inflammation will allow these systems to handle this stress and allow athletes to recover faster. The cardiovascular benefits and cognitive, psychological, and neuroprotective benefits are of great interest for athletes looking for the competitive edge as well as looking to reduce the risk of injury and speed recovery.

How Much EPA/DHA Do I Need?

Depending on a few variables, including size, dietary habits, and current AA/EPA levels, it may be wise to supplement between 1-5 grams per day of EPA/DHA. Your supplement should also contain a ratio of EPA/DHA between 1.4/1-2/1. A safe and beneficial recommendation is approximately 4 Omega-3 fish oil pills daily. You may split them up and take 2 in the morning and 2 at night, but our recommendation is to take them all in the morning to establish a routine as many people get busy and forget later in the day.

This information is our best synthesis of the research and practical application at the time of this writing. Should new research come out contradicting our information and/or recommendation we will update as soon as possible. With our current knowledge, this information is accurate and recommendations are safe for the vast majority of the population.


Don’t take our word for it: The Science Behind Omega-3s

Inflammation

Miles, E.A., Calder, P.C. (2012). Influence of marine n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids on immune function and a systematic review of their effects on clinical outcomes in rheumatoid arthritis. British Journal of Nutrition, 107 S2: S171-184

Wall, R., Ross, R.P., Fitzgerald, G.F., Stanton, C. (2010). Fatty acids from fish: the anti-inflammatory potential of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. Nutrition Reviews, 68(5):280-289

Maroon, J.C., Bost, J.W. (2005). ω-3 Fatty acids (fish oil) as an anti-inflammatory: an alternative to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for discogenic pain. Surgical Neurology, 65(4): 326-331

Stark, K.D., Mulvad, G., Pedersen, H.S., Park, E.J., Dewailly, E., Holub, B.J. (2002). Fatty acid compositions of serum phospholipids of postmenopausal women: a comparison between Greenland Inuit and Canadians before and after supplementation with fish oil. Nutrition, 18(7-8): 627-630

Rizzo, A.M., Montorfano, G., Negroni, M., Adorni, L., Berselli, P., Corsetto, P., Wahle, K., Berra, B. (2010). A rapid method for determining arachidonic:eicosapentaenoic acid ratios in whole blood lipids: correlation with erythrocyte membrane ratios and validation in a large Italian population of various ages and pathologies. Lipids in Health and Disease, 9:7

Kawabata, T., Hirota, S., Hirayama, T., Adachi, N., Hagiwara, C., Iwama, N., Kamachi, K., Araki, E., Kawashima, H., Kiso, Y. (2011). Age-related changes of dietary intake and blood eicosapentaenoic acid, docosahexaenoic acid, and arachidonic acid levels in Japanese men and women. Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes, and Essential Fatty Acids, 84(5-6): 131-137

Simopoulos, A.P. (2002). The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids. Biomedicine & Pharmacology, 56(8):365-379

Simopoulos, A.P. (2006). Evolutionary aspects of diet, the omega-6/omega-3 ratio and genetic variation: nutritional implications for chronic diseases. Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy, 60(9):502-507.

 

Cardiovascular

Yokoyama, M., Origasa, H., Matsuzaki M., Matsuzawa Y., Saito Y., Ishikawa Y., Oikawa S., Sasaki J., Hishida H., Itakura H., Kita T., Kitabatake A., Nakaya N., Sakata T., Shimada K., Shirato K. (2007). Effects of eicosapentaenoic acid on cardiovascular events in Japanese patients with hypercholesterolemia: rationale, design, and baseline characteristics of the Japan EPA Lipid Intervention Study (JELIS). Lancet, 369:1090-1098

Domei, T., Yokoi, H., Kuramitsu, S., Soga, Y., Arita, T., Ando, K., Shirai, S., Kondo, K., Sakai, K., Goya, M., Iwabuchi, M., Ueeda, M., Nobuyoshi M. (2012). Ratio of serum n-3 to n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids and the incidence of major adverse cardiac events in patients undergoing percutaneous coronary intervention. Circulation Journal, 76(2): 423-429

Marik, P.E., Varon, J. (2009). Omega-3 dietary supplements and the risk of cardiovascular events: a systematic review. Clinical Cardiology, 32(7): 365-372

Kashiyama, T., Ueda, Y., Nemoto, T., Wada, M., Masumura, Y., Matsuo, K., Nishio, M., Hirata, A., Asai, M., Kashiwase, K., Kodama, K. (2011). Relationship between coronary plaque vulnerability and serum n-3/n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid ratio. Circulation Journal, 75(10):2432-2438

Ueeda, M., Doumei, T., Takaya, Y., Ohnishi, N., Takaishi, A., Hirohata, S., Miyoshi, T., Shinohata, R., Usui, S., Kusachi, S. (2011). Association of serum levels of arachidonic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid with prevalence of major adverse cardiac events after acute myocardial infarction. Heart and Vessels, 26(2): 145-152

Simopoulos, A.P. (2008). The importance of the omega-6/omega-3 fatty acid ratio in cardiovascular disease and other chronic diseases. Experimental Biology and Medicine Maywood, N.J.), 233(6):674-688

Ohnishi, H., Saito, Y. (2013). Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) reduces cardiovascular events: relationship with the EPA/arachidonic acid ratio. Journal of Atherosclerosis and Thrombosis, 20(12):861-877

 

Body Composition

Noreen, E.E., Sass, M.J., Crowe, M.L., Pabon, V.A., Brandauer, J., Averill, L.K. (2010). Effects of supplemental fish oil on resting metabolic rate, body composition, and salivary cortisol in healthy adults. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 7:31

Smith, G.I., Atherton, P., Reeds, D.N., Mohammed, B.S., Rankin, D., Rennie, M.J., Mittendorfer, B. (2011). Dietary omega-3 fatty acid supplementation increases the rate of muscle protein synthesis in older adults: a randomized controlled trial. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 93(2):402-412

Couet C., Delarue P., Autoine J.M., Lamisse F. (1997). Effect of dietary fish oil on body mass and basal fat oxidation in healthy adults. International Journal of Obesity, 21:637–643

 

Cognitive/Psychological/Neuroprotective

Lewis, M.D., Bailes, J. (2011). Neuroprotection for the Warrior: Dietary Supplementation With Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Military Medicine, 176(10): 1120-1127

Talan, J. (2006). Omega-3 played a big role in healing coal miner's brain. Chicago Tribune.

(Disregard author mistakenly writing “amino acid” instead of “fatty acid”.

Sorgi, P.J., Hallowell, E.M., Hutchins, H.L., Sears, B. (2007). Effects of an open-label pilot study with high-dose EPA/DHA concentrates on plasma phospholipids and behavior in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Nutrition Journal, 6:16

Mills, J.D., Bailes, J.E., Sedney, C.L., Hutchins, H., Sears, B. (2011). Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation and reduction of traumatic axonal injury in a rodent head injury model

Laboratory investigation. Journal of Neurosurgery, 114(1): 77-84

Kiecolt-Glaser, J.K., Belury, M.A., Andridge, R., Malarykey, W.B., Glaser, R. (2011) Omega-3 Supplementation Lowers Inflammation and Anxiety in Medical Students: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity 25(8):1725-1734

Lotrich, F.E., Sears, B., McNamara, R.K. (2013). Elevated ratio of arachidonic acid to long-chain omega-3 fatty acids predicts depression development following interferon-alpha treatment: relationship with interleukin-6. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 31:48-53

Bradbury, J. (2011). Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA): an ancient nutrient for the modern human brain. Nutrients, 3(5), 529-554.

 

Other (Eicosanoid Metabolism)

Burdge G.C., Jones A.E., Wootton S.A. (2002). Eicosapentaenoic and docosapentaenoic acids are the principal products of alpha-linolenic acid metabolism in young men*. British Journal of Nutrition, 88(4):355-364.

Burdge G.C., Wootton S.A. (2002). Conversion of alpha-linolenic acid to eicosapentaenoic, docosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acids in young women. British Journal of Nutrition, 88(4):411-420.

Meskin, M.S., Bidlack, W.R., Randolph, R.K. (2006). Phytochemicals: Nutrient-Gene Interactions. London: CRC Press.p