by Dr. George Best
Omega 3 fatty acids are getting more and more good press as an important part of preventing a number of common health problems. But why is supplementing with Omega-3's so important?
First you have to understand that supplementing with Omega-3 fatty acids does not give you "extra" of these beneficial fats. In fact, most supplementation recommendations probably give most people the minimum they need to balance the other fats in their diets. Various studies have indicated that indigenous cultures (which typically have very low rates of cancer, heart disease, arthritis, and other chronic conditions) consume a ratio of omega-6 fats to omega-3 fats of approximately 1:1 to 2:1. Currently in the United States, that ratio ranges from 20:1 to more than 30:1!
Why the huge difference? First of all, grains and most commercially produced vegetable oils are primarily omega-6 fats and these are staples in the modern American diet. Second, the primary source of omega-3 fats in the American diet used to be from meats, fish, eggs, and poultry. What do I mean used to be? Don't we still eat those foods in relatively large quantities? Yes, but what those foods are being fed has changed.
At one time, most of the meat and poultry came from "free-range" livestock, meaning the animals ate insects and plants that grew wild in their environment. Insects and plants are high in omega-3 fats, so the animals that eat them are likewise high in omega-3's. Today though, most commercially raised meat, poultry, eggs, and even farm-raised fish, are fed primarily grain - which is high in omega-6 fats, not omega-3's, so the meat, eggs, and fish are also high in omega-6. This combined with our own tendency to eat a lot of grain-based foods has led to a dramatic shift in the ratio of fats in our diets.
This shift in the dietary fat ratio with very little omega-3's being consumed sets us up for a wide variety of health problems. Because omega-3's are essential to a number of biochemical processes, the lack of these important fats has led to a general increase in problems that include depression, inflammatory conditions (such as arthritis and allergies/asthma), and cardiovascular disease. There is even speculation that a lack of omega-3's may be at least partially involved in the development of neurodegenerative disorders and some types of cancer.
In any event, except for those very rare individuals who eat almost no grains AND who consume primarily free-range meats, wild game, and/or wild-caught fish, I strongly recommend taking a high-quality supplement at a dosage of 1000 mg of omega-3 fatty acids per day. Omega-3 supplements are usually made from fish oil, or may be from krill oil. In either case, if you are getting a good product from a reputable company that has independent lab certificaton of their supplements (as to purity and potency), you should be fine.
For those who are strict vegans and do not consume animal products of any kind, I suggest using flax seed oil supplements(at least 1000 mg per day). Flax oil is not high in omega-3's but the fats in it can be converted to omega-3 in the body in most individuals. There are some people who cannot efficiently make the conversion to the needed omega-3's, and if you are having problems with depression and/or inflammatory conditions despite taking flax oil, you may want to consider fish oil, or you may want to try walnut oil (which is high in omega-3's). Another option is to try evening primrose or borage oil , as these contain fatty acids that don't require as much conversion in the body to produce omega-3 fats.
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Dr. George Best is a holistic healthcare provider in San Antonio, Texas. For free health-related information on a variety of topics, please visit his blog at http://www.BestHealthAndWellnessInfo.com .