by Doc Mok
I am NOT a supplement advocate. There are no magic pills and no quick fixes. Body composition and wellness changes need to be sustainable and occur over time. However, in the US our diets are markedly deficient in one substance and that is omega-3 fatty acids. This week at maximalbeing.com, we explore 7 Facts Beyond the Fish, Supplementing with Omega-3 Fatty Acids.
1.What are Omega-3 Fatty Acids?
As discussed in our prior article on fat (link HERE), fat is a substance derived from foodstuff. Fat has a long chain of carbons, hydrogens and an acid (carboxyl group) at the end. The length and arrangement are what determines the difference between the type of fat (saturated versus unsaturated).
Now, an omega-X fatty acid, is named using this structure. However, the number corresponds with the location of the first double-bond (two bridges between carbons) on this structure.
One would think that there is not a huge difference between moving this bridge from on location to another, but there is a BIG difference. In fact, omega-6 fatty acids are markedly different than omega-3 fatty acids in the body.
2.Omega-3 and 6 Fatty Acids, Opposites Yet Travel Partners
Moving one little bond in the chemical structure can make a world of difference. Talking fats, transfats (the BAD stuff) and non-transfats (cis-fats) really refer to the direction in which the carbon chain extends on the double bond.
If they are on the same side = GOOD fat
If they are on the opposite = BAD.
Getting back to omega-3 versus 6, these fats are created using the same enzymes in the body. Namely, desaturases and elongases. The main difference is in the initial fuel in the process. Omega 3s use alpha-lineoleic acid and (ALA) and omega-6 just linoleic acid (LA). Again, a tiny difference in the name/chemical structure, but a VAST difference in the effect.
3.The Alpha-Linoleic Acid Effect on Your Body Reduced Inflammation
Adding an alpha to the beginning of your fatty acid can prevent a world hurt. Using those enzymes, we discussed above, your body will turn LA and ALA into omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, respectively.
To be technical, omega-6 fatty acids are arachidonic acid (AA), which is converted into the proinflammatory compounds that can mess your body up. Though they mostly cause inflammation, some of these are actually protective to your body’s mucous membranes (like the stomach) and serve a purpose in the body in small amounts. Such compounds Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes, Eicosanoids, and Thromboxanes are made by cyclooxygenase and lipoxygenases.
Omega-3s, or Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), Docosahexanoic acid (DHA), use the same enzymes to make a bit of Eicosanoids and lots of Anti-Inflammatory Resolvins and Protectins. Aptly named I know. This is why blocking these enzymes (as in medication like ibuprofen) can hamper your body’s ability to generate anti-inflammatory compounds and cause stomach ulcers! Striking a balance in our diet is the KEY to success here, toward letting your body do its’ own job.
4.Getting Lineolic and Alpha-Linoleic Acid in Your Diet
In the US, our diets are primarily composed of processed foods and meat. Such processed foods inevitably contain synthetic oils and therefore LA. Red meats, cured meats, tofu, nut butters and eggs also contain LA.
On the other hand, ALA is found in wild caught oily fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines. Nuts, chia and flaxseeds also contain lots of ALA, thus making them more likely to produce omega-3s. However really most foods that you eat, containing fat will contain some mixture of both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. It is the ratio that matters most!
It is surprising to me which foods have an ideal (low omega-6:3 ratio) versus a high ratio. I encourage you to take a look at the below table and use it in your meal prep (CLICK HERE to Learn how to Meal Prep) and daily food plans. Also, this is NOT the end all be all. Almonds have a higher ratio than walnuts, but that does not mean that almonds are bad for you.
5.Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplementation
There are generally two types of omega-3 fatty acid supplements. Fish and non-fish based. Fish based are by far the most commonly taken supplements. These come in enteric coated (special coating to delay the release in the small intestine) and non-enteric coated (released in the stomach. The difference is really in the “fish burps.”
Yes, some people that supplement with omega-3s can have burps that taste and smell terrible. Enteric-coating (“burpless”) along with sticking your supplement in the freezer, will help prevent this nasty side effect. Freezing your supplement also help preserve them. Remember, they are fats, and hence can become rancid if left out for too long. Rancid fat generates free radicles that can cause cell damage, defeating the purpose of taking omegas.
Another way to avoid the burps is by choosing a non-fish-based supplement. Most commonly, these are made of algae, kelp, etc. Given that they do not use small fish, vital for aquatic ecosystem, they are more environmentally friendly. They are also useful for people who are vegetarian or vegan. Generally, doses should be in 600-1000 mg nightly for all supplements.
6.Potential Health Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
As a healthcare provider proper dosing of omega-3 fatty acids are important for numerous health conditions. The most widely known is with managing cholesterol, a surrogate for heart disease. Though supplementation has not shown benefit for heart diseases specifically, persons eating fish 1-4 times weekly does help your heart.
For your brain, there is limited benefit of supplements for people with dementia. However, mental health conditions such as depression may demonstrate mild advantages, when using omega-3s.
Also showing benefit, are issues involving your eyes and joints. A well-done randomized trial demonstrated benefit for age-related eye disease, like macular degeneration. Rheumatoid, arthritis, on the other hand, a degenerative joint disease, also may be served by omega-3s. A 2012 study, the number uses of anti-inflammatory drugs declined for those using omega-3s.
7.The Possible Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Athletes
In addition to the potential benefits seen in health conditions, one wonders how omega-3 fatty acids can benefit healthy people in order to support recovery and athletic performance. Well, this year a systematic review was conducted.
In this trial, 32 papers were included involving both recreational and elite athletes. Numerous outcomes were evaluated including performance and recovery metrics. The end result, lower pro-inflammatory markers (like TNF-alpha) and consistent effects on nitric oxide response. Authors also found effects on reaction time, mood, cardiovascular dynamics (cyclists) and recovery. They did not find benefit for endurance, adaptation, muscle force, or lung function.
All in all, this was a valuable and methodical study, demonstrating multiple potential benefits for athletes, using omega-3 fatty acid supplementation. Though, I personally am not a big supplement advocate, omega-3 fatty acids are one of the few additions to my post-exercise plan.
Omega-3 fatty acids are a helpful, anti-inflammatory fats, produced by the body and found in numerous foods. Generally, speaking the US diet is less conducive to omega-3 fatty acid ingestion and many people exist in a state of deficiency. Numerous health and athletic benefits have been implicated with omega-3 fatty acid use. Wild-caught fish, nuts, certain oils and vegetables are the best sources. When all else fails, enteric coated, burpless and frozen fish or the more environmentally friendly, non-fish-based supplements can be taken.
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Below is a table highlighting common foods and their Omega-6/Omega-3 ratios
Tuna in Water
Tuna in Oil
Nuts and Seeds
Sacha Inchi Seed
Grains and Beans
Green Leaf Lettuces
Roots and Squash