Saturday, April 4, 2009

Omega 3s: Are You Getting Enough?

"Oh, I have flax oil in my breakfast - I get enough."

I often hear this from my patients. Girlfriend, you have to eat about 1½ cup of flax seed oil or salmon daily to get a sufficient amount. 

Take a supplement -- this is one of those very few situations where the food sources probably aren't as good for you as the pill. We have new data showing dramatic benefits of omega 3s in the prevention of depression, cancer, heart disease, inflammation, pain and more. 

You also need to be careful to get a fish oil supplement without contaminants like mercury. Ask your doctor to test your AA/ EPA ratio to find out how low your ratio is. More on this in a moment. 

Good vs bad fats. We eat different types of fat: saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and partially hydrogenated or transfats. While you have a limited budget of saturated fats daily for a healthy diet, they are not your worst enemy. 

Saturated fats are solid at room temperature, i.e., animal fats in meat and cheese contain saturated fats. Monounsaturated fat such as the fat in olive oil is liquid at room temperature but cloudy in the fridge. Your salad dressing should contain extra virgin olive oil.

Polyunsaturated fats are liquid in the refrigerator. They have more double bonds -- the chemical structures that make them fluid. Trans fats are artificial chemically produced fats such as margarine or "partially hydrogenated" fats, which are bad to your health and should not be eaten. Transfats are the worst offenders. Omega 3 and omega 6 are polyunsaturated fats. Both are essential fatty acids, meaning we can't make them in our bodies. Omega 3 refers to the position of the double bond in the molecule itself. There are two types: short chain and long chain. 

When my patients tell me they eat plenty of flaxseed oil, I have to break the bad news: flax won't do it because we need long-chain omegas for the benefits, not short chain. We only convert about 5% of short-chain omega 3s to long chain. So you need to take fish oil. If you're vegan, you can take krill oil as an alternative. We need long-chain omega 3s, and you also need to limit omega 6s. Omega 3s will favor fewer blood clots, kill cancer cells, improve your immune system and mental acuity, and prevent heart disease. 

How is it that Eskimos can eat half their calories from fat yet have low risk of heart disease? Researchers think it's because of their omega 3s. I tend to focus my learning on research in women, and in 2002 we learned that 84,688 nurses who took fish oil had a 45% lower risk of heart disease. Omega 3s don't just help the heart: they also have been shown to benefit cancer risk, ADHD, bipolar disorder, depression, dementia, multiple sclerosis, asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. 

How much omega 3 do you need? 
Goal Grams/day 
Maintaining good health 2 
Improved CV health 2-5 
Improved Brain function 5-10 
Inflammation Reduction 5-10 
Optimal health 5-10 

What to look for in your Omega 3 supplement. Try to find pharmaceutical-grade long-chain essential fatty acids. It should be cholesterol-free and molecularly distilled for the safest grade possible. We now have a new blood test to measure your omega 3 to omega 6 ratio, called the AA/EFA (arachidonic acid to essential fatty acid ratio). Eskimos have a ratio of 0.7; the Japanese 1.5. Americans typically have a ratio of 10, and among kids with ADHD, the ratio is 20. Start your supplement today, and check your ratio. It will help you age optimally and prevent heart disease, depression and inflammation.

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I'm an organic gynecologist, yoga teacher + writer. I earn a living partnering with women to get them vital and self-realized again. We're born that way, but often fall off the path. Let's take your lousy mood and fatigue, and transform it into something sacred and useful.