Everybody knows about Omega 3’s, or has the term being thrown around. It’s the latest health buzz word, and even the big corporations are starting to promote the presence of it in their food. We all know we need to eat Omega 3’s, but not everybody is clear on exactly what the benefits are, where to get them and exactly why we should be making such an effort to do so. Let’s review the basics, examine the pros and cons, and then determine the best places for you to get your Omega 3’s from.
Omega 3’s are an essential nutrient. That means that your body cannot create it by itself, and it must be consumed within your diet to ensure your body gets the amount it needs. Omega 3’s are a fatty acid, and contain such crucial acids as a-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), all of which are polyunsaturated. These fatty acids are essential in promoting numerous health benefits which I’ll detail below.
An important source of Omega 3’s are fish such as salmon, herring, mackerel and sardines. You can also find this fatty acid’s in a variety of nuts such as walnuts, pecans, hazel nuts and flaxseed, as well as in eggs, grass-fed beef, milk and cheese from grass-fed cows, microalgae and flaxseed oil.
An important thing to keep in mind is that the amount of Omega 3 you ingest is important relative to the amount of Omega 6’s. In 1963 it was discovered that Omega 6’s are converted by the body into pro-inflammatory agents called prostaglandins, and in 1979 another three types were discovered. These four are known as eicosanoids, and have important biological functions, but if created faster than they can be metabolized, they can cause serious health problems related to cardiovascular disease, triglycerides, blood pressure and arthritis. Omega 3’s are also converted into eicosanoids, but at a much slower rate. Thus, the ratio of Omega 3’s and Omega 6’s in your system will determine how much of each are converted, and whether you’ll make more than your body can handle. A ratio of 1:1 to 1:4 Omega 3’s to 6’s is considered healthy, but many Americans have ratios of 1:20, which causes the problems listed above. Thus making sure you consume enough Omega 3’s relative to your Omega 6’s will keep you healthy.
What are the health benefits? They’re related to the prevention of synthesizing too many eicosanoids, which can cause inflammation in the body. Thus some of the body of preventing too much inflammation are reducing blood pressure, reducing blood triglycerides, and reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease for people with a history of heart attacks. There is also good evidence that proper consumption of this fatty acid can reduce the rate of heart disease in all people, not just people with a history of cardiovascular disease, and help people with morning stiffness and joint tenderness. Further, a new study just released in the Journal of the American Medical Association (Jan 2010) revealed that the more Omega 3’s you consume, the slower the length of your telomeres decreased. Telomeres are the structures at the end of a chromosome that get shorter the more ties a cell divides, making them a significant marker of your body’s biological age.
So, the long and short of it is that Omega 3’s are an excellent source of key fatty acids which your body synthesizes into eicosanoids at a slower rate than Omega 6’s. While eicosanoids are vital to your body’s functioning, making sure their levels don’t exceed your body’s ability to metabolize them plays a vital role in preventing cardiovascular disease and damage caused by over-inflammation.