Omega-3 Fatty Acids: The Most Important Thing You Can Do for Your Health
There are a lot of relatively small things that can make a huge impact on your health and reduce your overall risk for disease. Things like getting more sunlight… consuming more antioxidants in your diet… or cutting out the sugar and sticking to low-glycemic foods.
These small changes can benefit your health and longevity in profound ways and you should incorporate them into your lifestyle. But perhaps the most important thing you can do to improve your health is to consume more omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3 fatty acids are vital for your brain and your heart. They can boost your immunity. They can increase lung function and athletic performance. They can alleviate depression and improve critical thinking. They can also tame inflammation and quell oxidation.
In fact, there are more positive, peer-reviewed studies about the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids than any other food or nutrient – by far. You would be hard pressed to find a single health condition that cannot be improved by optimal omega-3 levels in the body.
On the flipside, the risks of every degenerative disease increase when omega 3s are deficient in your diet. Unfortunately, our modern diet is chronically deficient in these healthy and essential fats.
Want to Lose Fat? Take Your Fish Oil…
Contrary to the government’s faulty Food Pyramid, not all fats are created equal. Certainly, some fats can increase your risk of cancer and heart disease and cause you to gain weight. But healthy fats – including omega 3s – not only help improve the health of your heart and protect against cancer, they can even help you lose weight.
The Journal of Nutrition published a study where rats ate diets rich in DHA (a type of omega-3 fatty acid). The researchers found that these rats experienced a significant decrease in body fat mass, compared to rats that did not receive the supplement.
Other studies have shown why this takes place. First, DHA prevents undifferentiated cells from becoming preadipocytes. These are the precursor to fat cells. DHA also inhibits the fat-storage capacity of adipocytes (the cells that store fat). So, not only does DHA decrease the total number of fat cells, it also diminishes the ability of these cells to store more fat.
It is also important to note that when rats are fed corn oil (omega-6 fatty acids) they accumulate fat. By the same token, if you eat a lot of processed food, fried foods and conventionally raised meats, you are probably consuming far too many omega-6 fats and too few omega 3s. If you are carrying too much fat, this could be one reason why.
Why Flaxseed Oil Is NOT the Best Source of Omega 3s
When it comes to omega 3 the question often arises, what is the best source?
As always, food is the optimal source for any nutrient. The very best food sources of omega 3s are wild salmon and sardines. These fish have several times the amount found in most other fish. And they have extremely low levels of pollutants compared to other fish. Grass-fed beef, buffalo and wild game are also good sources of omega 3s (although not nearly as rich a source as salmon and sardines).
But for a nutrient as important as omega 3 that is so deficient in the food supply, it also makes sense to supplement your diet. In that case, you might have heard that flaxseed oil is the best source. This is not true.
Flaxseed oil does contain omega 3s. But the omega 3s found in plant-based sources are short chain fatty acids (ALA). The fatty acids your body needs most for cardiovascular, brain and skin health are the long chain fatty acids (EPA and DHA).
Your body can convert ALA to EPA and DHA, but it is a very inefficient process. And while many factors can impact the amount you convert, most studies show that about 15 percent of the ALA you consume is converted to EPA. Then only five percent of that amount is converted to DHA.
In other words, to get the all-important DHA your body needs, you would have to consume a huge amount of flaxseed oil.
Or… you could take fish oil. Fish oil is made up almost entirely of usable EPA and DHA. So, if you want the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits of omega 3s, take fish oil, not flax oil.
Does Fish Oil Contain Dangerous Mercury?
The next question that often comes up is that of safety. After all, if fish are contaminated with mercury, wouldn’t the oil from those fish also contain mercury? In fact, NHD reader SC writes:
“I took salmon oil for several years but recently stopped after I read that wild salmon is one of the biggest carriers of mercury. How much mercury are you ingesting from salmon oil? And is there a safe fish oil? Mercury toxicity is serious business. What are your thoughts?”
First, it should be noted that wild Alaskan salmon is one of the few fish that is predominantly free of mercury. It is farm-raised salmon that commonly contains mercury, PCBs and dioxins. Do not eat farm-raised salmon.
So what about fish oil?
Fish oils are produced by a process called “molecular distillation.” By its very nature this process removes most contaminants, including mercury. A few years ago, the nutritional supplement testing company Consumer Labs tested 41 leading brands of omega-3 fish oil. They found that EVERY brand tested was free of mercury.
However, a few brands were spoiled (fish oil is susceptible to oxidation). And one brand only had half of the claimed omega 3s. That’s why you should always stick to a reputable brand.
And here’s one more study that should drive home the importance of consuming omega 3s…
Fatty Fish Shown to Prevent Kidney Cancer
Scientists at Sweden’s famed Karolinska Institute discovered that eating fatty fish just a few times per month can significantly reduce the risk of kidney cancer. In the late 1980s, these researchers carefully surveyed 90,000 Swedish women about their diet. Then they followed up with the women more than 10 years later.
What they found is that the women who ate at least one portion of fatty fish per week reduced their risk of kidney cancer by 74 percent compared to women who never ate fatty fish. That is a remarkable risk reduction. But here is the important part. The scientists found NO risk reduction from consuming lean, white-fleshed fish.
So, what’s the difference? According to an article by noted cancer researcher Dr. Ralph Moss, “Oily fish contains up to 30 times more omega-3 fatty acids and three to five times more vitamin D than lean fish.”
Take Your Fish Oil…
We’ve only scratched the surface in regards to the benefits of omega 3s, but we hope that we have helped to emphasize their importance.
Boost your consumption of these healthy and essential fats by consuming wild Alaskan salmon and sardines. If you eat beef, be sure that it is grass fed.
And do your health a favor by taking a fish oil supplement. Carlson’s lemon flavored is the brand we recommend. It tastes great and the liquid is much easier to stick with than swallowing capsules every day. In the Consumer Labs report, Carlson’s received the highest marks for purity and quality.