It seems that almost everyone has heard of Omega 3 and fish oil, but few know what it really means. It’s good for your heart and helps lower cholesterol, right? But how can eating oil lower your cholesterol? This is a complicated question, but let’s simplify it.
The answer to “what are omega-3’s?” is quite complex, but crucial to your health, so take some time to understand how you can improve your life with a few simple changes.
There are several types of polyunsaturated fats, and Omega 3 is one of them. Polyunsaturated fats are the fats that affect how your body reacts to damage. This includes every type of damage from a broken bone to the flu. Our body uses these polyunsaturated fats to alert the body that damage has occurred and the need for help. The “help” messages that are sent call in reinforcements, which in turn cause four things to occur:
3) Pain Generation
4) Immune Activation
These messages are released from the fat surrounding our cells when damage occurs. The body interprets these messages and the cascade of events that follow allows your body to heal itself.
You see, the type of polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) you eat affects what type of fat that is surrounding your cells. This in turn determines the type of signals your body sends out when it is damaged.
Omega 3 fats can be thought of as OFF switches. They send messages that limit or stop clotting, stop swelling, stop pain and stop immune activation. Omega 6 fats are the ON switches. Both are necessary. Think about what happens when you have a cut. You need your blood to clot so you stop bleeding, but it also needs to bleed or you will have a stroke.
The problem is that we eat far more Omega 6 fat (ON switches) than we do Omega 3 fat. This causes our bodies to have massive overreactions when damage is interpreted by the body.
We, as a society, tend to have the following conditions and they all are affected by our inflammatory profile (omega 3 to 6 ratio).
- Allergies, autoimmune disease, celiac disease, irritable bowel disease, and thyroid conditions Immune system ON
- Chronic pain, joint pain, fibromyalgia and arthritis Pain generator ON
- Strokes and Heart Attacks Blood clotting ON
- General aches and pains, tendonitis, bursitis, neuritis, myositis and any other ____-itis you can think of (-itis means inflamation) Inflammation ON
- Depression: chronic inflammation which causes chronic pain, lethargy and inhibits our bodies hormones and neurotransmitters from working properly Inflammation ON
- Cancer: An inflamed cell is more likely to mutate and become cancerous. Inflammation ON
Cholesterol works into this equation due to the fact that too much Omega 6 fat leads to the body overestimating the magnitude of damage that has occurred. As a result, your body creates too much cholesterol. Cholesterol is crucial in order heal the body’s cell walls. Think of it like this, if there is too much Omega 6 fat in the cell wall, when the cell is damaged it will tell the body that there is a great deal of repair needed. The body then creates large amounts of cholesterol to repair the damaged walls. But if there is not actually that much damage, the excess cholesterol will remain in the blood, thus creating high amounts of cholesterol in the blood!
Are you starting to see how important your ratio of Omega 3 to Omega 6 can be?
So why do we consume so much more Omega 6 than Omega 3? That is an easy one, money!
Foods that contain Omega 6 fats are cheaper in the U.S. than those containing Omega 3 fats. This begs the question, how do I know which foods will have Omega 3 and Omega 6 in them? That is not as easy of a question to answer. That is because Omega 3 and Omega 6 content is not typically listed on food labels, unless they are remarkably high in Omega 3 fat. Also, products such as mayonnaise that state ‘Heart Healthy Omega 3s’ further complicate the situation considering the fact that mayonnaise is not actually healthy.
Here’s how to get more Omega 3 fats into your diet and improve your health:
Eat more of the foods richest in Omega 3 fats:
- Some seeds (chia, flax, hemp)
- Tree nuts (not peanuts)
- Grass fed beef
- Fish (not farm raised)
- Omega 3 eggs
Large volumes of Omega 3 fats can be obtained from supplements as well:
- Krill Oil
- Omega 3
- Cod Liver Oil
- Fish Oil
- Chia Seed oil
- Flax seed Oil
Getting a quality supplement is crucial, especially because Omega 3 fat is such a delicate molecule that is vulnerable to heat, sunlight and time. I suggest you spend a little extra money when purchasing supplements to ensure you are getting what you paid for. Metagenics products offer the best quality and are competitive in their prices.
The foods highest in Omega 6 fatty acids are grains, any product made with grains, animals that are fed grains, cereal, bread, pasta, soy, cookies, fried food, and most processed food. Ideally we want to have a 1 to 1 ratio of Omega 3 to Omega 6. Realistically, if you are able to attain a 4 to 1 ratio (6’s to 3’s), your health will be drastically improved.
Supplementation is always recommended in attaining this goal. Eating well and being mindful of avoiding major sources of Omega 6’s, such as peanut butter which is a legume or bean and not a real nut, makes this task much easier. Eating wild caught, fatty fish (think salmon) at least twice a week also helps your 3 to 6 ratio tremendously. Minimize your whole grain, and processed food intake.
Finally, educate yourself about sources of Omega 3s and 6s as much as possible.There are various programs available online that help calculate the Omega 3 fat content of specific foods. I find the one listed below to be particularly helpful. It can be used to calculate the Omega 3 to 6 ratio of your daily diet. These links are very useful in developing your concept of how much omega 3 or 6 fats are in the food you eat
You can make this change. Your health is riding on it. If you know of anyone who is suffering from inflammation have them call us to schedule a complimentary consultation or attend one of our free workshops. Here’s to your health!