Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Omega-3 Fats Are Key to Good Health

Omega-3 fatty acids have become essential to our health, as they have been a part of our diet through the millennia of evolution. Our pre-evolved ancestors ate from many plant and animal food sources which provided abundant quantities of Omega-3 oils in the diet.  Omega-3 fatty acids have become essential to our health, as they have been a part of our diet through the millennia of evolution. Our pre-evolved ancestors ate from many plant and animal food sources which provided abundant quantities of Omega-3 oils in the diet. Over time these biologically significant fatty acids became incorporated into our cellular structure, and today provide an integral component in cell wall development and regeneration. Insufficient levels of Omega-3 fats have been implicated in a wide variety of diseases from cancer, cardiovascular disease and inflammatory conditions. Omega-3 supplementation has been demonstrated to be preventative and act as a treatment to a growing number of health conditions.

Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fats: The Controversy
There are two types of Omega-series fats which are essential to human health, and must be obtained through diet or supplementation. Omega-3 and Omega-6 fats are both required building blocks our bodies use to synthesize cellular structures. Omega-3 fats are the preferred building material for cell walls, especially in the brain. When sufficient Omega-3 is unavailable, especially during fetal development, the body is forced to use sub-standard fat components which don’t have the same chemical properties. Glucose and oxygen are unable to freely pass through the cell wall leading to potential pre-cancerous conditions. Our earliest ancestors consumed both Omega-3 and Omega-6 fats in a 1:1 ratio, due to the high consumption of fish and grass-fed animals and vegetarian sources. Today’s diet is extremely high in Omega-6 oils, and the health-destroying trans-fats which are prevalent in most of the fast, processed foods we eat. Statistics indicate that most people consume an Omega 6:3 ratio between20:1 and 50:1. This imbalance leads to a systemic inflammatory condition, and ultimately to heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and a host of conditions now known to be caused by inflammation. Over 90% of today’s Western diet consists of highly refined processed foods which have been stripped of any highly perishable Omega-3 fats. Omega-6 fats are used by food manufacturers because of their long shelf life and the fact that they are inexpensive to produce. Excessive Omega-6 fats in the diet are a leading, totally preventable cause of many health conditions today.

Omega-3 Fat DHA and Brain Cancer
Omega-3 fatty acids are composed of two chemical structures known as EPA and DHA. While both are critical to good health, the DHA component has been shown to be essential to brain function. The cellular structure of our brain is composed of nearly 60% Omega-3 fats, of which DHA is the most active form. Low DHA brain levels are linked to depression, suicide, and violence. Recent studies also show that DHA plays an important role in preventing brain cancer. It has been shown that this critical nutrient has the ability to target cancer cells in the brain, and cause the cell to undergo a natural cell death and prevent further development. Researchers were able to further determine that DHA by-products dealt the diseased cell a secondary punch which ensured the cell would not replicate. It is also believed that DHA may be a key to cancer prevention in other models of the disease as well.

How to Get Enough Omega-3 Fats
Most people are not able to consume sufficient Omega-3 fats in the diet. Our evolutionary ancestors received Omega-3 fats from fish and grass fed animals. Meats we consume today are the product of force grain feeding which yields a high level of Omega-6 fat. Many species of fish may contain dangerous levels of mercury and other pollutants making it an unacceptable source. That leaves vegetarian sources such as walnuts, flax seeds and chia. Unfortunately these foods contain a different type of Omega fat known as ALA, and not the critical EPA and DHA which is found in animal sources. The body does have a limited ability to convert ALA to EPA and DHA but the conversion is less than 5%, making these a poor choice of these essential fats. The best way to ensure you have sufficient levels of Omega-3 fats in the form required by the body is to supplement. Fish Oil tablets are readily available and inexpensive. It is important to check the label before you purchase for two important details. First, make certain that the fish oil has been distilled to remove any contaminants. This is an issue since most fish oils are made from large species fish which are most likely to have high mercury levels. Second, you must look to be certain that the quantities of EPA and DHA are listed separately on the label. Some lower quality oils do not break the two critical components down, and use filler oils which provide no health benefits. Most people will need to supplement with a combined EPA/DHA of 1 to 5 grams each day. Individuals with no known health conditions will begin in the lower range, while those with known heart disease or cancer will supplement above 3 grams per day. Recently a blood test for EPA/DHA levels has become widely available which measures the percent of Omega-3 fat concentrations in the red blood cells. Studies indicate that levels below 4 % indicate a high risk of heart disease, while levels above 10% reflect a 50% reduction in sudden death from a cardiac event. This makes the Omega-3 test a requirement for those at risk or with known cardiovascular disease.

Omega-3 supplementation is a necessary component for the vitality of our brain and cellular structure. It can be added to the growing list of nutrients which are known to prevent and treat illness. Heart disease, cancer and inflammatory conditions have reached critical levels and do not appear to be subsiding. We can largely blame our poor dietary lifestyle. Omega-3 fish oil supplementation is one important way we can help reverse this disease trend and improve our health as we age.

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