I'm sure you're aware of omega-3 fatty-acids, and maybe you even know that they're considered "good," or beneficial, fats. Perhaps you know fish oil is one of the absolute best sources of omega-3 fats around. Did you know, however, that most Americans are extremely deficient in this important source of fat?
Before I dive into why we aren't getting enough omega-3 fatty-acids in our diets, you'll need to know about omega-6 fatty-acids. Omega-6 fats are found largely in vegetable oils (sunflower, canola, soy, and corn) as well as processed foods (fast foods, baked goods, "junk foods" like cookies and chips, etc.).
In ancient times, humans ate a diet, composed of an ideal ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s, or a ratio close to 4:1 (omega-6 is a little higher than omega-3). Today, the average American consumes close to a whopping 20:1 ratio of omega-6s to omega 3s. WOW!
So what's the big deal? This imbalance of omega-3s to 6s is a huge contributor to the most common of age-related diseases: cardiovascular disease, obesity, dementia, and metabolic syndrome (a cluster of disorders, including abdominal obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and triglycerides, high blood sugar, insulin resistance, and high risk for Type 2 diabetes), not to mention general inflammation (a state that sets us up for auto-immune diseases, chronic illnesses, and cancers).
While omega-6 fatty acids, in abundance, seem to cause inflammation in the body, omega-3 fatty-acids actually reduce inflammation in the body by reducing the production of compounds that cause inflammation.
Omega-3 fatty-acids are also extremely important for proper function of the brain and nervous system. Omega-3 fatty acids comprise your brain cell membranes, which generate and conduct electrical impulses, which play a role in everything from movement, to speaking, reasoning, and memory formation/recall. Omega-3s also make up myelin, which insulates the fibers of your nerve cells, AND omega-3s increase levels of a hormone-like protein, which promotes "brain-plasticity." This helps the brain respond to changes, form new memories, recover from injury, and maintain cognitive function.
Are you seeing a pattern here? Omega-3 fatty-acids keep our brains healthy and young! With the rise of diagnosed dementia and Alzheimer's, it seems like a no-brainer (no pun intended!) that we'd want to get as much of this in our diets as possible.
From an Ayurvedic standpoint, those who are naturally drier and more prone to anxiety (vata dosha in Ayurveda) would benefit greatly (maybe even the most) from Omega-3 supplementation in that the Omega-3s pacify an overly-active nervous system and reduce dryness throughout the body. Those who are more prone to heat, inflammation, and intensity (pitta dosha in Ayurveda) would also greatly benefit from more Omega-3s their diets, due to Omega-3's anti-inflammatory and soothing effects on the nervous system and tissues of the body. Those prone to weight gain and tissue accumulation, which can include plaque accumulation in the vessels of the body, compromising brain and heart health (kapha dosha in Ayurveda), would likewise benefit from an increase in Omega-3s in that it reduces risks associated with high cholesterol and heart disease. Bottom line: WE COULD ALL BENEFIT FROM THIS AWESOME NUTRIENT!
Here are a few more reasons to increase your Omega-3 fatty-acid intake, especially from fish oil:
And the list goes on...and on.
So how much should you take? Experts agree that daily doses of about 2400 mg of EPA/DHA from fish oil is important for maintaining blood levels, which benefit the brain, nervous system, cardiovascular system, and all the cells of the body. NOTE: "EPA" and "DHA" are two sources of omega-3s found in fish; they are the most bio-available (easiest for the body to digest, absorb, and put to use) forms of omega-3. Unless you live on the water and eat fresh fish at every meal, it's really tough to get 2400 mg of EPA/DHA into your diet, so supplementing is optimal.
Are there vegetarian sources of omega-3s? Yes, "ALA" is a vegetarian source of omega-3s (found in flaxseeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, and seaweeds); however, your body has to undergo several metabolic processes to convert ALA into EPA, and not everyone's body is efficient at these processes. This can largely depend upon your genetics, as well as your diet and nutrient levels in that the body needs an adequate supply of B3, B6, magnesium, and zinc to undergo these conversion processes. With overfishing of our ocean's fish populations and pollution (mercury content in fish), I wouldn't blame you if you decided to go with a plant-based approach to your omega-3 consumption. So again, if it works for you, supplementing with fish oil is ideal, but amping up your intake of plant-based omega-3s is always a great idea!
If you're having your blood levels tested, you'll want an omega-3 index of 8% to 12%.
If you're going the fish oil route, you'll also want to make sure you use a high-quality fish oil with maximum EPA and DHA. Here's the brand I use (I take 3 capsules a day with meals for better absorption).
I hope this helps elucidate how omega-3 fatty-acids and daily fish oil supplementation can assist to improve your health. As I mentioned, it's not a "magic pill," but it sure is an amazing one!