Over the years there has always been so much hype over each new health “discovery.” I remember in college when the low to no sugar diet was supposed to help you lose weight, lower your risk of diabetes and help you feel great. The only thing that it did was put me in the doctor’s office repeatedly for fainting. FYI: Your body MUST have sugars – if not your brain cannot function! Although, that doesn’t mean you have carte blanche to eat as much sugar as you want – too much WILL make you gain weight and cause lots of problems.
Probably like most of you reading this, I’m very skeptical of new trends. But, my love of research helps me get to the bottom of it…
What are Omega-3’s?
Omega-3’s are polyunsaturated fatty-acids (PUFA’s) and are one of the two types of essential fatty acids (EFA’s). Notice the word “essential” in their name. That’s because they are essential. Their are 3 of them:
- alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
- eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
- docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
DHA is the most important of these. In fact, any ALA that is consumed is converted to EPA and DHA.
DHA is found in every organ in the body but can be found the most in the liver and brains. In fact, it is crucial to brain function. Without sufficient DHA, our brains will work, just not like they’re supposed to. The signals will pass from neuron to neuron at a slower rate and less intensely as when the body gets enough DHA.
The main purpose of DHA is to reduce inflammation, whereas Omega-6’s (the other type of EFA) increase inflammation. The optimal diet should consist of about a 3:1 ratio of Omega-6’s to Omega-3’s. Unfortunately, the typical American diet is so out of whack that the ratio is more like 20:1 which many doctors feel is one of the main contributing factors to such an increase in inflammatory diseases.
What is it good for?
- Infant development particularly fetal eye and brain development including nerve and neurological support
- Depression including Post-Partum depression, bi-polar and schizophrenia
- Heart Disease
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Menstrual Pain
- High Cholesterol
- High Blood Pressure
- Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Skin disorders
- The list goes on…
What are the sources?
ALA – Nuts, seeds, green leafy vegetables (Walnut, Flaxseed & Canola oils all have ALA)
EPA & DHA – Algae, fish oil
Most women have a diet high enough in ALA but they do not get enough EPA & DHA. The only source of EPA & DHA is from algae. The reason that fish oil is so high in it is because the fish’s diet is algae and the EPA & DHA move up the food chain as the fish gets consumed. Some animal products such as eggs, liver & brains contain trace amounts.
If you are going to get fish oil, make sure that you get fish oil from sources that test for toxicity. While you’re pregnant or nursing it is important that your DHA source is free of toxins, in particular mercury. The brand “Life’s DHA” is made from algae and not from fish so it is free of contaminants and is vegetable based.
But how much?
Most of the prenatal vitamins that have DHA in it have about 200mg. Most of the studies that have been done show a positive health benefit at 200 mg and a decline around 1,000 mg. However, since DHA is so crucial, the bodies of pregnant and nursing women will actually deplete their own body’s reservoir of DHA and pass it on to the child or children in the case of multiples. The doctor I spoke with about this recommended I take in 400 mg on days when I did not eat any fish. On the days that I did eat fish then the 200 mg in my prenatal vitamin was sufficient.