The body has a limited ability to manufacture its own omega-3 fats EPA and DHA.
It can convert alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) found in flaxseed oil, canola oil or walnuts, to omega-3s, but this ability is lessened if the diet is too high in omega-6 from vegetable oils such as corn, sunflower, soybean or safflower. The very fats that we get a lot of in our Western diet.
Unfortunately, the message to reduce fats in our diet to around 33% has been corrupted over the years by various diet book authors, food manufacturers and even by some health organizations that should know better, into ‘very low fat’ or even worse ‘no-fat’. As a result, we have developed a phobia for anything that contains fat, including essential fats.
Omega-3 Fights Pain
Of particular interest to those with chronic pain caused by inflammation, is that omega-3 fatty acids inhibit the production of prostaglandin. Prostaglandins play important roles in the development and progression of chronic inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, inflammatory bowel disease and a variety of other inflammatory disorders. Omega-3 also assists in the alleviation of depression which many chronic pain sufferers develop.
What We Are Designed To Eat?
Our ancient ancestors are believed to have consumed a ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 of about 1:1 in their diet. Today our diet has a ratio closer to 20 Omega-6 to 1 Omega-3. Studies have shown that if the ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 exceeds 4:1 health problems are likely to occur. The American Heart Association recently issued dietary guidelines for healthcare professionals which said:
“Because of the beneficial effects of omega-3 fatty acids on risk of coronary artery disease as well as other diseases such as inflammatory and autoimmune diseases, the current intake, which is generally low, should be increased.”
The Organization recommends that fatty fish, such as mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna, and salmon, are eaten at least twice a week. (But see pollution fears below) Including omega-3 fatty acids from plant sources such as flaxseed, canola, soybean and walnut oils in the diet is highly recommended. The oil can be incorporated into salad dressings or whole flax seeds and nuts can be ground and sprinkled on salads or cereals. Alternatively, they can be taken as a nutritional supplement.
Omega-3 is what your Mum gave you when she brought out the cod-liver oil bottle. Mum was right How did they know that it really does feed your brain? That’s because the brain is largely composed of omega-3 and needs a supply of it to do its job. Omega-3 also reduces inflammation which is present in many chronic pain conditions.
Omega-3 How It Works
EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) are two of the essential fatty acids (EFAs) known as omega-3 fats. EFAs from the primary structural fatty acid of the brain and the retina. Numerous published studies provide strong evidence that omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation and reduce the risk of coronary artery disease and sudden death from cardiac causes. DHA also supports mental and visual functions in human beings.
Omega-3: Fish Is The Best Source
The best source of Omega-3 is oily fish or fish oil capsules. Not flax oil. This is why: flaxseed oil contains Omega 3 Alpha-linolenic Acid (ALA) which is the precursor of the Omega 3 oils (EPA and DHA) found in fish oil. ALA must be changed to EPA and DHA to be of any nutritional benefit. But ALA is not readily converted to EPA and is severely restricted in its conversion to DHA. This negative effect is increased if the diet is too high in omega-6 fatty acids from vegetable oils such as corn, sunflower, soybean or safflower oils, which is very likely to be the case.
This means that if flax oils are your only source of omega-3 you may not be getting all that you need. By eating cold-water oily fish or taking a fish oil supplement you will get Omega-3 in the form in which your body needs it.