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Vitamins & Supplements

Why You Need Omega-3

April 11, 2011

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Okay so you’re looking to kick up your health a notch, and you think: supplements. Yes, that’s easy. I can do that.

But where do you start?

How about Omega-3? Sure, you think. That sounds good. There’s a lot of talk about Omega-3 these days. It’s got to be good, right? But…what about Omega 6? If 3 is good, 6 has got to be better, right? And then, um, I think there’s omega 9 too, isn’t there? Should I take all three? What about food sources? Maybe that would be better. Oh hell, it’s too confusing, let’s just forget the whole thing.

If you want to be savvy about your health (and I’m hoping you do, if you’re reading this blog) let’s scratch the surface a little. First, some science-y stuff.

Omega-3s are polyunsaturated fatty acids. There are two critical omega-3s that the body needs: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic (DHA). The main sources of omega-3 fatty acids are: cold water fish like salmon, cod, sardines, mackerel and tuna. Vegetarian sources are walnuts and flaxseed, and eggs enriched with omega-3.

Which is all fine and good. But…what’s so hot about Omega-3 exactly?

Research has shown that omega-3 decreases inflammation, which helps to prevent a host of diseases influenced by inflammation: heart attacks, strokes, and cancer.

Just little things, really.

Further studies have also shown benefit to brains, specifically reducing ADHD and Alzheimer’s. More? It’s good for your joints. And how about some details on what it does for your heart: it reduces triglycerides, makes platelets less “sticky”, lowers blood pressure, and increases HDL (the “good” cholesterol). Being an anti-inflammatory, it also reduces the risk of autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis.

Okay sounds good. Now, how about Omega-6?

Well this is where you need to pay special attention. Omega-6 does the opposite of 3. In fact, excess omega-6 thwarts the health benefits of omega-3. Which is crap, and leads to a bunch of confusion, since they both sound so similar. While North American diets are typically low in omega 3, it seems we get plenty of omega 6 (found in various vegetable oils and the foods cooked in them)…too much, in fact. What you need is a 1 part omega-3 to 4 parts omega-6. What you probably get is about 1 part omega-3 to 20 parts omega-6. Oops. Too much 6 and you’re at increased risk of heart attacks, cancer, diabetes, depression, and other nasties.

So what about omega-9?

Not something you need to take. Omega-9 is manufactured in the body from saturated fat, so you don’t need to get it from food or supplements.

So that brings us back to omega-3. Who, in particular, should take Omega-3? People with heart disease risk factors (like a strong family history, or a poor cholesterol profile), for one. But I think anyone interested in keeping their hearts and brains healthy should consider it.

So, most people, then.

I certainly recommended upping your food sources of omega-3 fatty acids. But if you opt for supplements how much should you take? Check the label. You want a daily dose of DHA 600-1000 mg. Fish oil supplements are the best way to obtain a balance of DHA and EPA.

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