February is Heart Health Month!
Should I take an Omega-3 supplement for my heart or should I just eat more fish? What if I am vegetarian or vegan? And what are the other benefits of Omega-3’s?
No doubt by now you’ve heard a lot about Omega-3’s. You may have wondered—should I take a supplement? If so, does it really matter which brand I choose? Or should I just incorporate more Omega-3’s into my diet? What exactly do they do? What if I’m vegetarian or vegan and don’t want to eat fish or take a fish oil supplement?
Well, wonder no more! Here’s an all-inclusive look at how Omega-3’s function in the body and what diseases they may help you to stave off, as well as information about increasing your Omega-3 intake whether you are vegetarian/vegan or not.
Omega-3 fatty acids regulate cellular processes as well as producing and balancing hormones. Hormones are critical to the proper functioning of all the body’s systems. Think of them as messengers who tell the body and the brain what to do as far as metabolizing food, sleeping, mood, reproduction, and so on. Omega-3’s also increase cell membrane permeability for better nutrient absorption into the cells and they also help keep toxins out of your cells for better cell health and longevity. Healthy fats are also important in helping the body absorb fat soluble vitamins A, D, and E, and K (from food or from supplements).
Your body does not produce Omega-3’s, they come only from your diet or from supplements. There are two Omega 3’s, known as EPA and DHA. In addition to their role in hormone production and cell permeability, Omega-3’s are also anti-inflammatory. Inflammation is the source of almost all disease including heart disease so increasing your Omega-3 intake is a great way to lower your risk of heart and other diseases.
The potential heart health benefits of Omega 3’s:
- Helps with lowering blood pressure
- Helps with lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol
- Helps with keeping the heart beating regularly
- Helps reduce the risk of a heart attack
- Helps reduce the risk of stroke by thinning the blood
Some additional potential benefits of Omega 3’s:
- Can help with balancing blood sugar which helps curb sugar and carb cravings thereby lowering the risk of diabetes and obesity
- Supports myelin sheath strength (the fatty acid layer that covers nerve fibers in the brain)–this helps with brain synapse function for better mental focus and brain health
- Can help with memory and with reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease which is again related to inflammation
- Can help with ADD, ADHD, and dyslexia
- Can help maintain a positive mood
- Can help with mood disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder– for mood disorders, you should take a high EPA fish oil supplement
- DHA supplementation was shown in one study to reduce stress and aggression
- Can help with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis– for arthritis, it is best to take an Omega 3-6-9 combination supplement
- Can help with gastro intestinal issues such as constipation, IBS, colitis, and Crohn’s disease—for GI problems, it is best to take an Omega 3-6-9 supplement
Consuming more wild caught fish, grass fed meat, and nuts (especially walnuts) is a great way to increase your Omega-3 intake although taking a supplement is an easy way to get a consistent, optimal dose. A 1000 mg. daily dose of fish oil (usually one soft gel) is probably sufficient if you don’t have a particular health problem although you can do up to 4000 mg. daily for maximum benefit or if you have a specific health condition. Fish oil soft gels can be frozen if stomach upset or “fish burps” occur.
If you decide to take a supplement, it’s important to take a high quality supplement. With cheaper brands, it’s likely that the oil was not kept cool during processing which causes it to oxidize and degrade. Once fish oil becomes rancid, it becomes pro-inflammatory rather than anti-inflammatory. Natural FactorsTM manufactures a cost effective, high quality Omega-3 supplement if cost is a concern. There are many other brands of high quality fish oil, however.
TIP! Take Vitamin C with your fish oil! It’s an inexpensive antioxidant that will help keep the fish oil fresh for maximum benefit as it travels through your digestive tract. And Vitamin C has the added benefit of helping build collagen to keep your skin looking firm and your blood vessels, muscles, and bones stronger!
Omega-6’s were mentioned earlier in reference to Omega 3-6-9 supplements. People are often confused about Omega-6’s. There are two, one called GLA and another called arachidonic acid. GLA is anti-inflammatory and most people do not get enough in their diet. Arachidonic acid is pro- inflammatory and most people get too much in their diet. So increasing both your Omega-3 and Omega-6 GLA intake helps to counteract the pro-inflammatory arachidonic acid that most people get too much of in their diet. Another benefit of GLA is that it’s great for your skin. It can help your skin stay moist in our dry climate here in Denver and can help with skin conditions such as acne, eczema, and psoriasis. Supplementation (borage or evening primrose oil) is the easiest way to increase your GLA intake although hemp seeds and hemp oil are good dietary sources of both Omega-3’s and GLA.
Finally, for people who are vegetarian or vegan it is even more important that you incorporate extra Omega-3’s into your diet as a vegetarian diet is typically low in Omega-3’s. In addition to the benefits already mentioned, the Omega-3 DHA is important for avoiding neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease which can be a higher health risk for vegetarians/vegans later in life. Eating lots of nuts can help, especially walnuts, as well as hemp seeds and hemp oil. And there are several vegetarian DHA supplements derived from algae although they are fairly expensive. Look for the brand name Ovega-3TM for a vegetarian supplement containing both DHA and EPA.
If you have any questions about Omega-3’s, you can send us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.