"The Bad Side Of Omega 3 Fats"
Ok, let's get right to the point. What is so BAD about omega 3 fatty acids? The only thing that is "bad" about them is that we don't consume enough of them.
Why are omega 3 fatty acids so important though?
Your body can actually synthesize or make some fatty acids from scratch, but your body is not very good at making polyunsaturated fatty acids. Polyunsaturated fats are the omega 3 fats that we don't eat enough of and what provides all those benefits.
Some fatty acids your body can not make at like such as alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and it has to be supplied in your diet and food intake. This is why it is called an essential fatty acid.
Alpha-linolenic acid can be converted into long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids eicosapentanoic acid (EPA) and docosahexanoic acid (DHA). I am sure you have heard of EPA and DHA when it comes to Omega 3 fats and these are through research thought to primarily be responsible for the Omega 3 fats positive effects on your cardiovascular system, your mental health, and much more.
There are a couple of problems with alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) though.
Problem 1: We eat way too little ALA and this is because we tend to not eat enough fresh plant foods where ALA is abundant. It is estimated that we only get 7% of our calories from polyunsaturated fats. Of this 7% only 10% or 0.7% of the total caloric intake is alpha-linolenic acid.
We actually consume 90% of our polyunsaturated fat intake as the wrong fat. We consume way too much Omega 6 fatty acids which scientists have shown to contribute to internal inflammation and this can lead to disease.
When we consume these Omega 6 fatty acids we eliminate the ability for our body to utilize Omega 3 fats. Omega 3 fatty acids and Omega 6 fatty acids compete for the same real estate and we are crowding out the omega 3 fatty acids because of our large intake of omega 6 fatty acids.
Problem 2: Let's assume we do consume plenty of ALA through plant foods. Our body is designed very poorly to efficiently convert ALA into EPA and DHA. Some research says it is as low as 0.2%1. So you could potentially drink flaxseed oil by the gallon and still never achieve the levels of EPA +DHA that is needed to reduce your risk of heart
The solution is easy. You need to consume a larger amount of EPA and DHA directly. The best way to do this is by eating more oily fish or consuming quality krill oil.
Larger consumption of the long chain polyunsaturated fatty acid Omega 3 has been associated with a reduced risk for death largely related to the benefit on coronary heart disease mortality. In a meta-analysis of the effects of treatments for dyslipidemia (diets and drugs), Studer, et al (151) reported that total mortality was reduced by only 2 interventions: [omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids] and statins. There are also 2 large randomized trials with cardiac patients (23,25), treated with EPA+DHA reduced risk for death from any cause.3
The evidence is very solid that consuming more krill/fish oils which contain EPA+DHA reduces your risk for not only heart disease and early death, but numerous other benefits.
The evidence is also very solid that we consume too many Omega 6 fatty acids which contributes to internal inflammation and a higher risk for these same diseases we are trying to prevent with Omega 3 fatty acid consumption.
Our current ratio of omega 6 fats to omega 3 fats is 22:1. We are supposed to have that in the 3:1 range.
Two things have to happen to make this happen.
1. Reduce your intake of Omega 6 fatty acids.
2. Increase your consumption of Omega 3 fatty acids.
It can be challenging to consume enough Omega 3 fatty acids from food and that is why krill oil supplementation is a very good alternative.
Krill oil is a complete essential fatty acid that research shows may be more beneficial than conventional fish oil in reducing cholesterol levels, lowering triglycerides and controlling blood sugars.
1. Pawlosky RJ et al. (2001). J Lipid Res, 42: 1257. NOTE: One of the only studies to compare flaxseed oil with fish oil supplements found that the optimal dose of the former was double that of the latter (2.4 g of flax vs. 1.2 g of fish)11. Also, flaxseed oil took several weeks longer to elevate the long-chain omega-3 content of subjects’ red blood cells than those taking fish oil (~8 weeks vs. ~2 weeks). DHA levels were only elevated in subjects taking fish oil, providing further evidence that ALA cannot be converted into this fatty acid.
2. Harris WS (May 2010). Personal communication. Commenting on the study by Pawlosky et al., Harris adds that it’s one thing to “elevate” your EPA+DHA levels. It’s something else entirely to get them into the target range considered to provide protection from heart disease. He explains that 1 g of EPA + DHA may take someone’s omega-3 index from 4% to 7-8% after several months, whereas 4 g of flaxseed oil (providing ~2 g ALA) may only raise the omega-3 index from, say, 4% to 4.1%.
3. Harris WS et al. (2009). J Nutr 139(4): 840S.
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