What’s the Big Deal About Fish Oil

April 25, 2011

By johnmac

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The important Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) omega-3 and omega-6 are very special polyunsaturated fats. They are called ‘essential’ because the body cannot manufacturer, them, therefore it’s important that we get enough through our food.

While most people consume a lot of foods that contain polyunsaturated fats (e.g. most vegetable oils), these foods typically contain high amounts of omega-6s and very small amounts of omega-3s.

Essential fatty acid deficiencies, particularly omega-3s, can have many negative effects on our health. Omega-3 fatty acids play a number of very basic and important roles in the body, including maintaining the structure and function of every cell membrane (which is crucial to every aspect of our health), regulating metabolism, nutrient uptake as well as being precursors to hormones.

Symptoms of an omega-3 deficiency may include:

  • Skin conditions (e.g. dry skin, eczema, psoriasis)
  • Inflammation, which is a contributing factor to many diseases and chronic conditions such as arthritic conditions, heart disease, obesity, cancer, infertility and diabetes
  • Irritability, lack of concentration, depression and fatigue
  • Behavioural issues and learning problems in children
  • Depressed immune function, frequent colds and flus
  • Obesity or difficulty losing weight/fat. In fact, in the Mindful Weight Control Program, I discuss the relationship between omega-3 fish oil and weight loss. Recent studies have looked at whether or not supplementation with omega-3 fish oils would increase the number of fat calories burned on a daily basis. Two groups were fed exactly the same diet, but one group received omega-3 fish oil throughout the day. After 3 weeks, the group receiving the fish oil had a ‘fat burning’ rate that was roughly 25% higher than the other group, with a daily metabolic rate of 1,775 calories per day versus 1,710 calories per day.  One of the key reasons this happened was that insulin levels were 50% lower when subjects used the fish oil (high insulin levels promote fat storage). The International Journal of Obesity; 2007

A long, long time ago, omega-3 deficiency was unheard of. This is because a long, long time ago, we followed a very primitive diet – also known as the ‘hunter-gatherer’ diet. Foods containing EFAs were eaten in their WHOLE FOOD state, as Mother Nature intended.  The ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids of the primitive diet is about 2:1. Compare this with the typical modern diet, which includes many prepared and processed foods.  The ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids of the modern diet is close to 20 to 1! The following chart illustrates this difference.

primitivevsmoderndietchartv2

Source: Sally Fallon, Weston A Price Foundation

How did we get into this mess?

Well, it all started with what’s been dubbed ‘the oiling of America’, when healthy, natural fats like coconut oil and butter from organic, grass-fed cows (as I’m sure most of it was back in the day) were pushed aside to make way for the new-fangled, highly processed, economical liquid oils and hydrogenated fats such as margarine and shortening (remember how the last two came in those great big plastic containers that could be re-used over and over again?). These oils were not only used in home cooking, but were also used in just about every packaged and processed food available on the grocery store shelf – and unfortunately, this is still the case in many  North American households. Today, the selection of highly processed and refined liquid oils, most of which are high in omega-6s and low in omega 3s, is mind-boggling, and sadly, it’s exactly the opposite of what we need.

What can we do to correct this imbalance?

We need to eat less omega-6s and more omega-3s. A good way to decrease the amount of omega-6s in the diet is to eat fewer processed foods which are typically high in omega-6s, and to eat more whole, unprocessed foods. A good way to increase the amount of omega-3s in the diet is to eat more fish – at least two servings of cold water fish, such as salmon, per week. Even if you do have two servings of fish per week, that will likely not be enough to correct an imbalance. If you’re looking for plant sources of omega-3s, try fresh ground flax seeds, or better yet, whole chia seeds (sometimes referred to as ‘salba’). Add one or two tablespoons to smoothies, cereals, soups, and anything else you want to try them in.

There are a number of processes that have to happen in the body to convert the fat in the fish (or flax and chia seeds) you eat into the end products that will have a positive effect on the body – and for many of us, these processes are compromised. This is one of the reasons why I feel strongly that most people would benefit from daily supplementation with a high quality, potency and purity (free of contaminants) omega-3 fish oil.

How do you find a great fish oil?

When shopping for an omega-3 fish oil, here’s what to look for:

  • The smaller the fish the better, such as sardines and anchovies. This is because smaller fish are low on the food chain, so will have very low levels of contaminants such as mercury, PCBs and other chemical impurities and pollution.
  • The oil should be should be clear, not cloudy.
  • It should list high levels of EPA (Eicosapentaenioc Acid) and DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid) on its label. These are the two most important nutrients in fish oil.  The average North American’s intake of EPA and DHA  is currently estimated to be 130mg per day compared with the 650 mg per day recommendation proposed by an international panel of experts. This is five times more than the average daily intake!

At higher doses, most people find a liquid fish oil easier to take and/or more economical compared with fish oil capsules.

A great liquid omega-3 fish oil that is available through Perfect Resonance is Biomega-3 Liquid from Biotics Research Canada. One teaspoon boasts 740mg of EPA and 460mg of DHA. It has a great lemony taste and is routinely tested for heavy metal contamination, PCBs and other chemical impurities to ensure its safety and purity.

Supplementing with an omega-3 fish oil is one of the most important things you can do for your health.

Take control of what you can!

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