The two types of polyunsaturated fats found most frequently in foods are omega-3 and omega-6 fats. Polyunsaturated fats are sources of the two essential fatty acids, meaning they must be obtained from the diet. They are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) (an omega-3) and linoleic acid (LA) (an omega-6). Omega-3 fats are known as “anti-inflammatory” fats, and omega-6 fats are known as “pro-inflammatory” fats based on their physiological functions. Both are needed in relatively equal quantities.
Current diets tend to have too many omega-6 fats, pushing the balance toward pro-inflammatory physiological processes. Sources of omega-6 fats in the diet are vegetable oils, nuts, conventionally raised (grain-fed/feed-lot) meat and eggs, and farm-raised fish. Eliminating processed food from our diet should reduce exposure to omega-6 fats from vegetable oils. Nuts and seeds also have more omega-6 fats than omega-3. Therefore, it is possible that even though one eats the foods on our list, his or her diet could still be pro-inflammatory relative to the ancestral past.
Fish-oil supplementation improves the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids and reduces the inflammatory responses in the body. Fish oil provides two types of omega-3 fatty acids: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), the form of omega-3 fats preferred by the brain and body
How does it work:
- The body can convert ALA to EPA and DHA, but the conversion process is inefficient. Some practitioners have recommended a combined daily intake on the order of 3 grams of EPA and DHA for an otherwise healthy individual, although the exact amount is dictated by one’s total omega-6 intake.
- Each brand of fish oil has a different concentration of EPA and DHA per serving as indicated on the label. Individuals might have to take multiple servings to get 3 grams of EPA and DHA, as brands might include omega-3s that are neither EPA nor DHA (e.g., ALA).
- Flax seed or oil is not an appropriate supplement for omega-3s. Flax is a good source of ALA, but because of the poor conversion to EPA and DHA, it is not recommended. If the individual is vegan, DHA can be obtained with algae oil.
Research has indicated positive health benefits by supplementing with fish oil. Omega-3 fats help increase the fluidity of cell membranes, and research has indicated supplementation can improve insulin sensitivity, cardiovascular function, nervous-system function, immune health, memory, and mood issues.
Besides the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3s in the diet, the total amount of polyunsaturated fat is an important consideration. Individuals should work with a primary care doctor to determine if supplementation is appropriate, particularly in cases with specific medical conditions.
See you soon,
Coach Pete Zamarripa