The American Heart Association recommends eating fish – particularly fatty fish – at least twice a week on the grounds that omega-3 fatty acids benefit the hearts of healthy people as well as those who already have cardiovascular disease or have a high risk of getting it.
Research has shown that omega-3 fatty acids decrease the risk of arrhythmias (abnormal heartbeats), which can lead to sudden death. Omega-3 fatty acids also decrease triglyceride levels, slow the growth rate of atherosclerotic plaque, and lower blood pressure to an extent.
With so many benefits, why wouldn’t you want to consume more omega-3?
What is omega-3?
The term “omega” is used to designate unsaturated fatty acid families; saturated fatty acids, on the other hand, do not have an omega designation. Omega-3 refers to the family of fatty acids in which the first cis double bond (unsaturation) closest to the methyl end is in the third position. Omega-6 refers to the family of fatty acids wherein the cis double bond closest to the methyl end is in the sixth position.
Three types of omega-3s
Three types of omega-3s are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These are all members of the polyunsaturated family (PUFA), and they are considered essential because your body is unable to make them on its own. They play a crucial role in brain function as well as normal growth and development.
By the way, don’t be intimidated by their names. I still cannot pronounce them properly, and I use abbreviations when I talk about them with my clients.
Now, let’s take a look at some studies linking the consumption of omega-3 with good health.
The superior benefits of omega-3
The University of Maryland Medical Center states that omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation and might help lower the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and arthritis. Omega-3 fatty acids are highly concentrated in the brain and appear to be important for cognitive and behavioural function, such as brain performance and memory.
In fact, infants who do not get enough omega-3 fatty acids from their mothers during pregnancy are at risk of developing vision and nerve problems. Symptoms of omega-3 fatty acid deficiency include fatigue, poor memory, dry skin, heart problems, mood swings, depression, and poor circulation.
It is important to have the proper ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in the diet. Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce inflammation, while most omega-6 fatty acids tend to promote inflammation. The typical American diet tends to contain 14 to 25 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids, which many nutritionally oriented physicians consider to be way too high on the omega-6 side
Dietary sources of omega-3
Typical recommendations are 0.3 to 0.5 grams per day of EPA+DHA and 0.8 to 1.1 grams per day of α-linolenic acid.
These recommendations can be fulfilled by following the AHA dietary guidelines of eating two servings of fish per week with an emphasis on fatty fish such as salmon and herring. Plant food such as flaxseeds and walnuts contain an omega-3 fat called alpha-linolenic acid. It is easier for fish to convert alpha-linolenic acid from algae and other sea plants into EPA and DHA; humans can only do so to a very limited degree.
Although ALA is not harmful, you’ll ideally want to include the animal-based form in your diet as well. For those individuals who do not eat fish, have limited access to a variety of fish, or cannot afford to buy fish regularly, a fish oil supplement must be considered.
Why krill oil is better than fish oil
Krill – or “okiami” as the Japanese call it – are small, shrimp-like creatures that have been a cherished food source in Asia since the 19th century or possibly even earlier. According to Dr Mercola “Krill oil’s antioxidant potency is 48 times higher than that of fish oil. It also contains astaxanthin, a marine-source flavonoid that creates a special bond with the EPA and DHA to allow the direct metabolism of the antioxidants, making them more bioavailable”.
I have personally been consuming krill oil on a daily basis for the past few years, and my health has never been better. Of course, you should keep in mind that a supplement is only as good as its source and the way its processed. Dr. Mercola’s quality process is second to none. You can watch the video here.
A special note on the safety of eating fish
Fish and seafood are a major source of human exposure to contaminants like methylmercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). These levels are generally higher in older, larger, predatory fish.
The responsibility of regulating the quality of fish for human consumption is shared by individual states and two federal agencies. The Environmental Protection Agency regulates sport-caught fish, while the FDA regulates all commercial fish including farm-raised, imported, and marine fish.
The Environmental Protection Agency advises women who are pregnant or who could become pregnant as well as nursing mothers to limit their consumption of sport-caught fish to one six-ounce serving per week.
The Environmental Protection Agency also recommends that young children consume fewer than 2 ounces of sport-caught fish per week. The FDA recommends that women who are pregnant or nursing and young children eliminate shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish (also referred to as golden bass or golden snapper) from their diets completely.
In addition, they should limit their consumption of other fish to 12 ounces per week (approximately 3 to 4 servings per week) to minimize their exposure to methyl mercury.
The consumption of a wide variety of seafood species is the best approach to minimizing mercury exposure and increasing omega-3 fatty acids. Limit your consumption of farm-raised fishes because their contaminant levels are generally higher than wild water species.
At the same time, avoid larger fishes like shark, swordfish, and mackerel, which have the highest amounts of contaminants. Instead, you should focus on eating shrimp, light tuna, and catfish.