More omega-3s, less omega-6s

Lucas Worrell –

 

***This is part of a 3-part health series dedicated to helping those without amazing genes or the metabolism of Michael Phelps look like Six-pack Shakur for spring break. These actionable tips are very simple, easy ways to increase your well-being.

 

Many of you have probably heard of omega-3 fatty acids. You may have heard they’re good for your heart or have seen them on your packaged foods. What many of you have not heard is that Americans have a real problem getting enough omega-3 fatty acids into their diet. Unless you are consistently eating wild salmon or taking credible fish oil supplements, most of you fall into this category. Before I discuss what the best solution is to consuming sufficient omega-3s, what are omega-3 fatty acids? And why are they such a big deal?                     

NOTE: If you are bored with science or technical details, skip to the actionable step section (last paragraph). You won’t be judged.

 

There are two essential polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs): omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. In general, you want to avoid eating inflammatory polyunsaturated fats because they are unstable and easily oxidized. The healthy, stable fats you want to aim at eating more of are saturated and monosaturated fats. PUFA’s are essential because, unlike Vitamin D, our bodies are unable to make them, and we must get them from our diet.

You need more quality omega-3s, not omega-6s. In a standard Western diet, research suggests most Americans eat 20 to 50 times more omega-6s than needed. Due to the inflammatory properties of omega-6s, the negative symptoms of excess omega-6s range from weight gain to reduced brain function and even increased risk of cancer. Ideally, your omega-6—to—omega-3 ratio should be 1:1, as research suggests that humans evolved with a 1:1 ratio. However, as most American’s ratio is around 20:1, a more realistic aim is a ratio of no more than 4:1. Simply put, we need omega-6s to survive, but we’re consuming way too much. Besides avoiding excess sugar and processed carbohydrates, the next important step towards a healthier, more natural diet is limiting excess omega-6s while increasing your omega-3s.

The key to carrying out an anti-inflammatory diet is not necessarily eating extremely healthy foods, but knowing which foods to avoid. The most common source of bad omega-6s are from vegetable oils such as corn, peanut, soybean, and many other oils. These inflammatory oils are found in most processed foods as they are cheap to make and genetically modified. For instance, these oils are used by large food corporations to help prolong their shelf life. Basically, anything packaged or in a box probably has too much omega-6s which cause inflammation.

Now that you’re a little more informed on omega-6s, why are omega-3s such a big deal? Omega-3s are vital to maintaining your physical and mental health. Think of them as your shield to thwarting the detrimental effects of chronic inflammation. For example, omega-3 supplementation can help prevent people from becoming diabetic. One study indicated that those who supplemented their daily diet with fish oil decreased their insulin response to sugar by 40%. Another study demonstrates that fish oil may help with weight loss. When young, obese adults were given fish oil, they lost around 2 lbs. more than those on calorie-restricted diet. Also, omega-3s are great for your heart. There is an overwhelming amount of research demonstrating that they help prevent heart attacks and strokes. While these are just a couple examples outlining some of the physical benefits of omega-3 supplementation, the mental benefits are equally important to note.

The mainstream mental benefits are that omega-3s, specifically DHA and EPA, help decrease depression and improve cognitive performance. The former has a strong correlation and the latter also has a lot of substance behind it. Around half of the adult brain consists of fat. 10-20 % of that fat is DHA, the major component of omega-3. When looking for quality fish oil supplements, these are the two main ingredients you want to look for. But DHA and EPA also have some other amazing benefits.

The two most fascinating benefits have to do with polar opposite age groups. A Swedish study of around 4,000 15-year old males found that those who ate fish more than once a week had an 11% increase in IQ at 18. On the other end of the spectrum is a study of 899 subjects with an average age of 79. This study found that those with the highest levels of DHA had a 47% decreased chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease. It’s important to note that these are strong correlations and not causations. I’m finally done boring you with all the science. On to the actionable steps:

There are a lot of sketchy fish oil supplements out there. It’s important to supplement smart by finding a fish oil supplement that is high in DHA and EPA and is sourced from wild caught fish. The only downside of omega-3s is the cost, which will be around $20 for a quality product. If you’re low on cash, you can go with the cheapest one in the aisle but there’s a reason it’s less than $5. It’s recommended that adults get at least 1.6g of omega-3s daily. Personally, I take Krill Oil (only 400mg) but will be switching to Nordic Naturals which have over 1g per serving. Now that you know more about omega-3s, the decision’s up to you.

 

**If you implement these simple actions to your life, your health will improve. However, I’m not promising some radical transformation like many fad diets do. Science shows that it takes time for these actions to create noticeable effects. Stay tuned for next issue’s second tip!

 

Lucas Worrell. Junior Psych major. Working on my writing skills. Independent reader. Sports enthusiast. Most importantly, a tortellini master.

Lucas Worrell. Junior Psych major. Working on my writing skills. Independent reader. Sports enthusiast. Most importantly, a tortellini master.

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