Omega-3’s Are Essential for Radiant Health (And They Even Fight Cancer)

| Feb 5, 2016

omega_fatty_acids

It would be an understatement to say that there’s a lot that’s wrong with “the American Diet.” For too long, the role that proper nutrition plays in health maintenance has been tragically downplayed in Western medicine. The result: many, many people are sick because of terribly unhealthy eating habits.

But now the tide is starting to turn quickly, and we’re learning that there are some identifiable patterns behind our dietary madness. One of them is an imbalance between omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids (EFA’s)—which nearly always manifests as an “omega-3 deficiency,” given that so many American staples (like vegetable oils, snack foods, desserts, and meats) are high in omega-6’s.

Unfortunately, this health issue is rarely talked about, and therefore very few people have a full understanding of it. Nevertheless, the long-term effects of EFA imbalance can be detrimental to your health.

A primer on EFA’s

Here’s how it works: these fatty acids are called “essential” because your body requires them in order to function, but cannot produce them endogenously—meaning that they must be consumed in the form of food or supplements. They help with all the bodily processes that allow cells to communicate with one another, and they do so in part by triggering an inflammatory response (inflammation is one of the body’s primary methods of moving “signaling” molecules).

And that’s where the trouble starts. While inflammation is a completely natural and necessary response, it wreaks havoc on the body when it becomes excessive or chronic.

Omega-6’s are much more inflammatory then omega-3’s, so an excess of the former can easily cause chronic inflammation. When the two are consumed in the proper ratio, however (no more than 4:1, omega-6’s: omega-3’s, with 1:1 being ideal), each balances the mechanism of the other, and each can confer its benefits on the body.

To be clear: omega-6’s are not inherently bad. Consuming all omega-3’s and no omega-6’s can be just as bad as consuming too many omega-6’s—it’s all about balance. a

It just so happens, though, that almost everyone is getting plenty of omega-6’s (or too many), which is why the rest of this article will focus on how to get enough omega-3’s (and what benefits you can expect from doing so).

How omega-3’s can revolutionize your health

First and foremost, getting enough omega-3’s helps balance the runaway inflammatory effects of omega-6’s (reducing your consumption of omega-6’s will help in this regard, as well). To get a feel for how hugely beneficial it is to reduce inflammation in the body, just remember that inflammation is often called the root of all disease. Doctors and researchers alike call it a “common denominator of disease,” and the Arizona Center for Advanced Medicine even states that “every chronic disease is an inflammatory disease.”[1]

Heart disease, cancer, immune dysfunction, and cognitive degeneration have all been linked to EFA imbalance (which, remember, almost always means too many omega-6’s and not enough omega-3’s for Americans). And that’s not even counting the innumerable diseases and conditions that are linked directly or indirectly to chronic inflammation. Stemming inflammation is one of the true keys to a pain-free, disease-free, high-energy life.

And omega-3’s have their own direct benefits too. One study demonstrated that Greenland Eskimos, who consume high levels of omega-3’s (in a 1:1 ratio with omega-6’s) have an 85% lower incidence of heart disease than Eskimos living in the U.S. and eating a standard American diet.

Other studies have shown that omega-3’s help balance blood sugar levels, slow signs of aging, improve mood and well-being, improve cognitive function, balance cholesterol levels, alleviate joint pain, maintain healthy skin, and boost immune function.[2]

Researchers from the University of California Davis even demonstrated that a metabolite of the omega-3 fatty acid DHA can halt the growth of cancerous tumors. Once it’s in the body, DHA naturally breaks down into epoxy docosapentaenoic acid (EDP), and it turns out that this molecule cuts off the flow of blood and nutrients to developing tumors, thus preventing their metastasis.[3] For similar reasons, DHA is also excellent for preventing cancer in the first place.

Start receiving these benefits today

Consuming enough omega-3’s can be a bit tricky, but it’s absolutely worth the effort. Good food sources include leafy greens (especially spinach, alfalfa, and argula), avocados, beans, flax seeds, hemp seeds, wild Alaskan salmon, and 100% grass-finished meats (just be very careful about where you source your meat).

All things considered, though, it can be very difficult to get enough omega-3’s from food alone (especially if you’re vegetarian or vegan). It can be accomplished with enough diligence, but supplementation is a much easier route to take. Here’s your best options, each of which comes with its own set of pros and cons.

Fish oil is the most popular omega-3 supplement, and for good reason: it contains plenty of EPA and DHA, in perfect ratio with omega-6’s. You need to very cautious when choosing a fish oil brand, though, as many products easily become rancid, contain low concentrations of EFA’s, or are contaminated by mercury and other toxins that fish pick up through a process called bioaccumulation.

Krill oil has been put forth as a worthy alternative to fish oil. It is not in keeping with Kosher principles, but it does avoid all the usual problems associated with fish oil (it contains far lower levels of accumulated toxins, and doesn’t oxidize easily).  

Flax seed oil is a good choice if you’re a vegetarian or vegan. Unfortunately, though, it’s a very inefficient source compared to fish or krill oil. It contains ALA, which must be converted into EPA and DHA within the body. In order to get the amount of usable omega-3’s in one gram of krill oil, you need to eat forty grams of flax seed oil. If you can tolerate this inconvenience, though, it’s a very clean, plant-based source of omega-3’s.

Hemp seed oil. In the same way that krill oil addresses many of fish oil’s issues, hemp oil has emerged as an alternative to flax seed oil. It is far more abundant in immediately usable forms of omega-3’s, and is packed with other health-supporting nutrients. Hemp still has a long way to go before it fully shakes off the controversy of its association with marijuana, but it’s finally becoming a more easily accessed product.

Algae oil is still relatively new on the scene, but it shows great promise. Preliminary studies show that it is a great omega-3 source for vegetarians and vegans, and it certainly is far more ecologically sustainable than fish oil or most krill oils. Some studies suggest that it has a higher bioavailability than fish or krill oil, but these results have been called into question by other researchers.

Decide which choice is right for you, and try it out! You’ll be amazed by the far-reaching benefits that come from making this simple change to your dietary and supplementation regimen.

 


 

References

[1] http://www.arizonaadvancedmedicine.com/Articles/2013/June/Inflammation-A-Common-Denominator-of-Disease.aspx

[2] http://draxe.com/omega-3-fish-oil/

[3] http://myoptimalhealthresource.blogspot.com/2013/11/omega-3-fatty-acid-compound-found-to.html

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