There has been much written about the benefits of Omega essential fatty acids and there are plenty of supplements out there but what are they and what is the correct balance?
What are they?
These essential fatty acids are required by the body for various functions but cannot be made by the body so our diet needs to provide them. However, the modern western diet provides far too much Omega 6 which is actually inflammatory and can cause heart attacks, strokes and cancers instead of preventing them. In the USA it is estimated that the diet can contain as much as 20 times the recommended amount of Omega 6.
Sources and properties
Omega 3 is found in flax seed and fish oils. Flax seed contains ALA (alpha linoleic acid) which lowers cholesterol and prevents heart disease and strokes. Fish oils contain EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). EPA protects from heart attacks, strokes, diabetes and cancer. DHA protects the brain and nervous system function, it helps children’s brains grow and immune systems develop. In adults it helps with antisocial behaviour, ADD and Alzheimers.
Omega 6 is found in vegetable oils such as canola, grapeseed, corn, maize and sunflower. We consume TOO many of these in our diet and although we think we are being healthy, too much Omega 6 is highly inflammatory resulting in heart attacks, strokes, arthritis and cancer, the very things we are trying to avoid!
Omega 9 is found in macadamia, almond, pistachio nuts and oils, avocados and olives (olive oil must be cold pressed and not heated to cook with). These contain Oleic acid which protects the cardiovascular system, reducing the chance of heart attacks and strokes.
In order to provide the right balance it is important to reduce Omega 6 and increase Omega 3 and 9. One way to do this is to make sure your meat is from grass fed and not grain fed herds (try local, organic meat).
Here are 4 more ways to improve the balance:
1. Eat more fish such as sardines, mackerel, salmon (wild has more omega-3s than farmed which is grain fed), anchovies, herring, sturgeon, lake trout, and tuna. Many experts recommend eating these fish two to three times a week. (see note below)
2. Take EPA/DHA supplements
3. Don’t heat olive oil, use nut oils to cook.
4. Reduce your Omega 6 intake by restricting canola, grapeseed, corn etc oils.
How much should you take as a supplement?
- If you decide to use a supplement, discuss this treatment with your doctor first to make sure you are getting the benefits you need.
- Experts usually recommend 1 gram (1,000 milligrams) of DHA and EPA combined from fish oil daily for those with heart disease. People with certain health conditions may take doses of up to 4 grams a day- but only under a doctor’s supervision. Vegetarians can take an algae-based supplement which provides DHA but not EPA. Flax seed can provide ALA.
- The most common side effect from fish oil is indigestion and gas. Getting a supplement with an enteric coating might help.
- In high doses – 3 grams and above – omega-3 supplements (EPA/DHA) can increase the risk of bleeding. People with bleeding conditions- or who take medicines that could increase bleeding, like Coumadin, Plavix, Effient, Brilinta, and some painkillers – should talk to a doctor before using any omega-3 supplements. Bleeding-related complications are separate effects for EPA and DHA. DHA has not been associated with bleeding problems.
A note on fish: While eating more fatty fish is a good idea, some are more likely to have higher levels of mercury, PCBs (an organic chemical), or other toxins. These include wild swordfish and shark. Farm-raised fish of any type may also have higher levels of contaminants. Children and pregnant women should avoid these fish entirely. Everyone else should eat no more than 7 ounces of these fish a week. Smaller fish like wild trout and wild salmon are safer.