Sunday, June 14, 2009

Whats the big Deal about omega 3 anyway?

What the frack is an Omega 3 anyway?
Okay we are going to have to go into a little chemistry here (and not the sexy kind unless you're a biochemists who specialises in lipids, and if you are, well I'm already married so that ship has sailed my friend!)
Omega 3 refers to a whole family of fatty acids, not just a single compound. An omega 3 fatty acid has a double carbon bond c=c in the third (n-3) postion. These fatty acids vary in length and can have a chain of carbons from 16 to 24 long. They are essential fatty acids, meaning the body can't produce them, you have to eat them!

So they are a bunch of fatty acids, big whoop, who cares?
Mostly your brain and your heart care! There are several studies showing that Omega 3 fatty acids can prevent depresion, improve memory, reduce risk for alzhiemers, reduce cardiac risk, lower your triglycerides, are fuel for your heart, are good for your joints and are improves immune function.

Okay so they are good for you but why Omega 3 why not Omega 6?
Good question, both are essential, but our modern (western) diet is pitifully low in Omega 3, so we end up with an excess of omega 6 metabolites (all kinds of hormones) in the body which can alter metabolic function. Omega 6 metabolites have a more inflammatory effecton the body than Omega 3 metabolites. Inflammation = Bad, diseases like atherosclerosis and ischaemic heart disease are thought to be caused by non-immune derived inflammation.

Where can I get these Omega 3 fatty acids?
There are three main Omega threes we need to get from our diet

GOOD! ALA = α-Linolenic acid

BETTER!! EPA = Eicosapentaenoic acid

YEEEHAA!!! DHA = Docosahexaenoic acid

Our bodies can convert ALA to ----> EPA and EPA to -----> DHA but only in small amounts so its better to get EPA and DHA from our diets. A great source of EPA and DHA is oily fish.
Flax seeds are very high in ALA, and walnuts to a lesser extent.
Aside from fish and flax, you can get omega 3 from grass fed animals. Lamb, beef and even the eggs from free range chickens can have significant amounts of omega three.
Grain fed animals however have high ratios of omega 6 to Omega 3.
If altering your diet seems to hard you can of course just buy fish oil tablets :-) Check the label to make sure it contains plenty of EPA and DHA.


Zed said...

You didn't mention about how Omega 3 doesn't get processed very much by your body if there's too much Omega 6 floating around.
That's pretty scary I reckon - need to really change the ratio that you eat.

Suselore said...

Yes that absolutely true Zed, our enzymes preferentially metabolise Omega 6 fatty acids. So we do need to eat more Omega 3 fatty acids.

Nina said...

And they make your skin pretty. Good for vanity too!