Omega-3 fatty acids have enjoyed the media limelight in recent years, due to the Anti-Inflammatory Fats properties they elicit within the body, but what are Omega-3 fatty acids? Why is the ratio between omega-3’s and omega-6’s so important? And what foods contain the greatest proportion? All will be discussed in this article.
What are Omega-3 fatty acids?
Omega-3 fatty acids are considered essential fatty acids meaning humans cannot synthesise them, therefore they must be ingested. The two most important omega-3 fatty acids are EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).
Omega-3 fatty acids are vital for the normal functioning of all tissues of the body and have long been documented to reduce inflammation in turn lowering the risk of chronic lifestyle diseases such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes and arthritis. A deficiency in any of these fatty acids can lead to a wide array of symptoms and disorders including reduction in growth rate, poor immune function, poor memory, depression, mood swings, heart problems, poor circulation, dryness of the skin and abnormalities within the liver and kidneys.
As omega-3 fatty acids are highly concentrated within the brain, they are imperative to brain health in particular cognition, brain memory and performance and behavioural function. In fact, researchers have discovered that infants who did not receive sufficient omega-3 fatty acids from their mother’s in utero were at risk for developing vision and nerve problems..
Why the ratio between Omega-3’s and Omega-6’s is so important!
A balance between omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids is paramount, and I’ll explain why. Omega-3 fatty acids help to reduce inflammation, whilst omega-6 fatty acids more often than not promote inflammation. A typical westerner’s diet consists of a 20:1 (omega-6:omega-3) and in some cases as high as 25:1, our hunter gatherers ratio was 1:1, and therein lays the answer.
This dramatic rise in omega-6 consumption is all thanks to the industrial revolution (around 140 years ago) which saw the advent of our modern day vegetable oils and increased use of cereal grains as feed for the domestic livestock, thereby altering the fatty acid profile of the meat that we humans consumed.
This damaging ratio of 20:1 in westernised societies has unequivocally lead to the increase of the inflammatory load on the body. Although inflammation is vital for our survival as a human race as it helps protect our bodies from infection and injury, when inflammation becomes excessive it can cause a multitude of diseases. Excessive inflammation is the backbone to virtually every chronic disease out there; this includes Alzheimer’s disease, metabolic syndrome, IBS, obesity, macular degeneration, asthma, psychiatric disorders, autoimmune diseases, plus many more.
What are the best sources of Omega-3s?
- Grass-fed beef
- Halibut, shrimp, cod, tuna
- Soybeans, tofu, kale, collard greens, and winter squash.
- Flax seeds and walnuts
A side note….
This week researchers from the University of Eastern Finland found that “Omega-3 fatty acids may help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes” Researchers went through serum omega-3 fatty acid concentration of 2,212 men aged between 42-60 years of age. During a follow up of nearly 20 years later, 422 men were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.
“The risk of men in the highest serum omega-3 fatty acid concentration group to develop type 2 diabetes mellitus was 33 per cent lower than the risk of men in the lowest concentration group”
A well-balanced diet should include at least two fish meals per week, preferably fatty fish and a high quality fish oil capsule.
By Megan Maitland