Omega-Fatty Acids and Your Health

Here’s the scoop: eating good fats is essential for your overall health and well-being?

Why?  Because every single cell of our body is made up of what is called a “phospholipid bilayer”!

And what, you might be asking, is a “phospholipid bilayer?… and why do I care?”

Well a phospholipid bilayer is, simply put, two rows of essential fatty acids whereby the individual fatty acids are joined together by bonds between carbon atoms, and each row is connected to the other row by the hydrophobic ends of each of the fatty acid chains.

Phew, that’s a mouthful.. but here is why you should care!

The fats that we consume incorporate themselves into the membranes of, that’s right, every single cell in our body.  So, we truly are “what we eat” when it comes to the fats we consume.

Saturated fats are fatty acid chains that have no double bonds, and are therefore quite rigid.  These are found in animal fats, red meat, dairy, etc.  And not to say these foods shouldn’t be consumed! They do have their own benefits, however if we consume them as our main source of fatty acids then our cells correspondingly become more rigid, so the movement nutrients and waste products in and out of the cells, and other cell signalling pathways are impaired, the membranes that harden leave tissues such as arteries more susceptible to damage, increased pressure (hypertension), etc.  Our skin becomes less pliable, smooth, and youthful looking. Our joints and muscles gets creakier as a result of less fluid membranes.

Here is where omega-3 fatty acids, the “good fats”, comes into play.

 

Anytime you hear the term “omega” fatty acid, an unsaturated fatty acid is being referred to.  Permit me to continue to indulge my nutritional biochemistry geek!  Unsaturated fats have double bonds in them. Not every carbon is attached to a hydrogen atom.  This makes them “kinky”.. more fluid.  A “monounsaturated fatty acid” like Omega-9, from olive oil, has one such “kink” in it.  A “polyunsaturated fatty acid” like Omega-3, from flax oil, has multiple double bonds in it, therefore is even kinkier.. aka more fluid in nature.

When our cells are made up of these types of fatty acids, there is free flow of nutrients into the cells, waste products out of the cells, due to the more pliable nature of the cell membranes, and the increased signalling that can happen as a result.

Now, it does get a little more complex.

Omega-6 fatty acids are also polyunsaturated, however what we have shown is that a primary omega-6 fatty acid “arachidonic acid” is actually pro-inflammatory, rather than anti-inflammatory like many of the other omega fatty acids, particularly the omega-3s (especially found in fish, but also in plant sources like flax and chia), and omega-9s (olive oil) are.

There is a specific type of omega-6 that is anti-inflammatory, GLA, found in borage oil, however most of the omega fatty acids we consume through a standard diet convert to the arachidonic types of fatty acids.  These include oils such as canola, corn, sunflower, safflower, and grapeseed.  And “trans fats” are even worse, as with a trans-fat, scientists have taken an unsaturated (liquid at room temperature) omega-6 fatty acid like those found in canola oil, and added hydrogen bonds to it, to essential create an artificially saturated fat that is solid at room temperature (think margarine).  So now our cells are trying to incorporate “fake fats” into their membranes, and we have seen this to be an oxidative mess.

 

Anyway, that is enough scientific background, however it is what makes me excited about the incredible myriad of health benefits found in our natural world.  The bottom line is, we have to eat more good fats – which are basically your omega-3s, and omega-9s.

So.. where are they found? How much do we have to consume? And what exactly do they do for us?

 

Omega-3 fatty acids are found in all fish, most notably in smaller fattier fish, like sardines, mackerel, herring, and larger fish like salmon.  To get 1.5 grams of omega-3 fatty acids, one must eat about 3-4 oz of fish.

The daily recommended amount of omega-3 fatty acids for the prevention of disease and maintenance of good health is a minimum of 1000 mg per day.* I am going to put an asterisks here as not all fish oil supplement are created equally, and I will speak to this in a bit.

When using omega-3s for therapeutic reasons (to reduce blood pressure, lower triglycerides, improve skin health, etc.) the dose increased to anywhere from 2000-5000 mg (2 to 3 grams) per day.

Which would be very difficult to do just eating fish.  Particularly since it is advisable to eat fish no more often than 2x/week due to the potential for heavy metal contamination.  Yes, this is our heartbreaking reality.

So the solution lies in fish oil supplements.

*However, here is where the asterisk comes in.  Fish oil supplement labels must be reviewed carefully.  Studies show we are looking for the amount of omega-3 fatty acids, NOT the total amount of fish oil!

Confused? Understandable. So within fish oil, there are two main essential fatty acids (EFAs): EPA and DHA.  So your supplement might contain 1000 mg of fish oil, but it may only be made up of 90 mg of EPA and 70 mg of DHA, like one popular (yet ineffective) brand of Salmon Oil is.  To get the full 1000 mg of EFAs (EPA+DHA) recommended, one would have to take 5 of these pills every day.  And that is just the baseline dose.  If you were treating high blood pressure, you might have to take upwards of 15 of these capsules per day!

Definitely talk to a trusted health care professional or knowledgeable sales person before purchasing the best deal you can find on fish oil.  It makes a huge difference!

 

We carry a great product called PEAK EPA which contain 700 mg of EPA and 350 mg of DHA in a single capsule.  Now there is an effective product!  That means one may only need 1 capsule per day for preventative reasons, and up to 4 capsules/ day therapeutically.

 

As a quick side note, omega-3 rich plant based oils (flax, chia) do not contain EPA and DHA directly, they contain something called ALA that are bodies can (albeit inefficiently) convert to the more active EPA and DHA.  Which is why I recommend using a mixture of fatty acids.  Supplementing with fish oil capsules, and consuming lots of flaxseed oil, ground flax seeds, and chia seeds, as other ways to beef up good fats in the diet.  For optimal health, about 5-10% of our total caloric intake should come from good fats.

 

Here is a list of the conditions that are a result of EFA deficiency:

  • Eczema, psoriasis, dermatitis
  • Asthma, emphysema
  • IBS, Crohn’s/ Colitis
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Arthritis
  • Auto-immune disease
  • Adrenal insufficiency
  • Fertility challenges
  • Memory problems, depression

 

Take away message: eat more good fat!!