Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Making Sense of Omega 3

I predicted a year ago that Vitamin D would be the next nutrient to make the supplement rounds. While its time might be coming, it seems as though Omega 3 fatty acid is currently the supplement du jour. It’s a known fact that most Americans need more omega 3 fat in their diet and they’re not currently getting it. Hosts of sicknesses are attributed to this deficiency.

While I’m far from being an expert in this field, I can convey some knowledge on the topic. All of your hormones in your body are fat-based compounds. So, fat intake will provoke certain responses in your body, good and bad. There are numerous types of fatty acids, and the ones we’re concerned with right now are Omega 3 and Omega fatty acids. These two regulate the inflammation response in the body. Omega 6 triggers inflammation while Omega 3 suppresses it. There is some disagreement on what the ideal ratio of these two fatty acids should be but most agree that it should be between a 1:1 or 1:2 ratio of Omega 3 to Omega 6.

That’s where the problem lies for most of us. While we can manufacture Omega 3 in our bodies to a limited degree, most of it has to come from our diets. Unfortunately our diet is dangerously low in Omega 3 fatty acids and most Americans have a 1:20 ratio. This influx of Omega 6 in our diet and lack of Omega 3 causes many of us to be in a constant state of inflammation. This is linked to everything from joint pain to heart disease to cancer.

Now, the obvious answer to our problems is to get more Omega 3 fatty acids into our diet. The most commonly quoted sources of it are salmon, flax seeds, walnuts, and seaweed. Then there are the fish oil supplements.

Here’s some more thoughts to ponder. While you can get Omega 3 fatty acids from plants sources, they’re generally not as good as animal sources because the body has to process them into a usable form of Omega 3. So, the healthier your body is, the better you can utilize them.

Animal sources are a bit better. They are typically more concentrated. There are a few neglected facts to add to the Omega 3 discussion. Animals get Omega 3 from the plants that they eat. It isn’t something that is inherent in their body. Fish get them from eating algae and other animals that feed on algae, such as krill and plankton. So, if they don’t eat Omega 3, they don’t have it in their body. This is why farm-raised fish can be deficient in Omega 3. The same rule applies for Beef. If beef is raised on grass rather than corn, it’ll have just as much Omega 3 as the vaunted salmon will. Unfortunately, most cows are corn or grain fed. Chickens fed with flax seeds are good sources (as are their eggs). Grain fed are not. To put it another way, the more animals eat greenery (even indirectly), the more likely they are to be Omega 3 balanced.

I’m not the biggest supplement fan because I think that supplements are frequently used to take the place of a healthy diet. In other words, they are a finger on a flooding dyke. This problem isn’t a disease like malaria that just crept up and struck. It’s the sum total of bad diet. It’s a manufactured malady. Do you remember what I said about the body’s role in utilizing plant sources of Omega 3? Fix your diet!

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