The more I gather and evaluate research for my anti-aging clients the more omega-3s show up and the evidence is constantly accumulating that they are a VERY important part of our diet and physiology. Our bodies need to ingest omega-3 fatty acids as we do not make them (actually not entirely true as we will see later)
What Are Omega 3s?
Omega−3 fatty acids, also called omega-3 oils, ω−3 fatty acids or n−3 fatty acids; polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs!). They are widely distributed in nature and they play an important role in the human diet and physiology. The three types of omega−3 fatty acids involved in human physiology are α-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acids(DHA). We could have a pronunciation contest with such names! ALA can be found in plants, while DHA and EPA are found in algae and fish. Marine algae and phytoplankton (krill) are primary sources of omega−3 fatty acids. DHA and EPA accumulate in fish that eat these algae or plankton. Common sources of plant oils containing ALA include walnuts, edible seeds, and flaxseeds, while sources of EPA and DHA include fish and fish oils as well as algae oil.
Early Research & Discoveries
Fifty years ago, Danish scientists Hans Olaf Bang and Jørn Dyerberg wanted to understand why the Inuit had the world's lowest incidence of cardiovascular disease-related deaths despite their high-fat diet, which was rich in seal meat and fatty fish. Their research revealed that the average Inuit had lower triglyceride and lipid concentrations than the average Dane. But the Inuit's concentrations were also lower than their Inuit peers living in Denmark, suggesting that environmental factors, rather than genetic ones, were at play. Further research revealed that the Inuit living in Greenland had high blood concentrations of EPA and DHA which were hypothesized as being the cause of the low incidence of CVD.
Omega-3s Influence Multiple Aspects of Health.
Since then the research has shown that omega-3s are involved in nearly every aspect of human physiology, exerting a wide range of effects on multiple organ systems and influencing cardiovascular, neurocognitive, immunological, respiratory health, etc. Higher omega-3 levels are correlated with a reduced risk of premature death. However, studies are very inconsistent although promising for the most part.
What About the Omega-6/Omega-3 ratio?
Chemical cousins to the omega-3s, the omega-6s, are often vilified, but they provide health benefits. Studies have raised concerns about the 6/3 ratio but rather than focusing on decreasing omega-6 intake to improve the ratio, most people would probably benefit from increasing omega-3 intake instead to improve overall blood concentrations of EHA and DHA.
Why Are Marine EPA and DHA Unique?
The Omega 3s that have the greatest relevance for human health are EPA and DHA – as well as alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is found in a wide variety of seeds, nuts, and their oils. These omega-3s share structural similarities but differ in their cardioprotective effects. EPA and DHA play particularly important roles in heart health because they participate in pathways involved in the production of hormones that regulate blood clotting and inflammation, help maintain healthy heart rhythms, and influence the contraction and relaxation of arteries. ALA benefits heart health, too, but to a lesser extent, and may reduce the risk of stroke.
What Are our Omega-3 Needs?
Nutrition experts haven't established a recommended dietary allowance for the omega-3s; rather, they suggest an "adequate intake" of 1.1 grams per day for females and 1.6 grams for males. And many public health authorities simply recommend eating at least two servings of fish per week, providing a minimum average of only about 300 to 450 milligrams daily (which is insufficient)
Although there were genetic differences in how EPA/DHA are processed by the body evidence indicates that a combined dose of EPA and DHA between 1.75 and 2.5 grams per day can help most people achieve omega-3 concentrations of about 8 percent – a level generally associated with improved health outcomes. Reach out if you need your omega-3 level measured!
How Much Omega-3 Should You Get Daily?
According to the National Institutes of Health, the recommended adequate intake of omega-3s by age is:
- Birth to 1 year: 500 milligrams (mg) daily
- 1–3 years: 700 mg daily
- 4–8 years: 900 mg daily
- 9–13 years: 1,200 mg for males and 1,000 mg for females daily
- 14–18 years: 1,600 mg for males and 1,100 mg for females daily
- 18 and older: 1,600 mg for males and 1,100 mg for females daily
- During pregnancy: 1,400 mg daily
- During lactation (breastfeeding): 1,300 mg daily
Note that these recommended dosages combine EPA and DHA - EPA should represent the larger part (for instance I prescribe a male adult at least 1000mg of EPA daily)
The Omega-3 Index is a Marker for Cardiovascular Disease Risk
The "Omega-3 Index" serves as a measurable risk factor for sudden cardiac death. Unlike traditional omega-3 assays, which measure omega-3s in plasma or phospholipids, the Omega-3 Index gauges the fatty acid concentrations in red blood cells. It's a better indicator of long-term omega-3 exposure and is similar to A1C for long term glucose management.
A team of researchers analyzed 17 studies investigating links between blood concentrations of omega-3s and the risk for all causes of premature death. Study participants with the highest blood concentrations of EPA and DHA combined were 18 percent less likely to die from all causes of premature death, compared to those with the lowest levels. When they analyzed death rates by specific causes, they found that those with the highest blood concentrations of EPA and DHA combined were 20 percent less likely to die from cardiovascular disease and 13 percent less likely to die from cancer.
Do Omega-3s Reduce COVID-19 Severity?
Recent data suggest that people with high omega-3 blood concentrations are half as likely to die from COVID-19 compared to those with low concentrations. Computer models showed that DHA keeps the virus spike protein closed, potentially reducing viral entry into cells. The studies still need to be replicated in human models.
Does Omega-3 supplementation create bleeding risks?
Blood-thinning effects of omega-3s raised concerns that they might cause excessive bleeding following trauma or during surgery. Data indicate that the effect of omega-3s on bleeding time is similar to that achieved with aspirin, the drug of choice for most people at risk for clots. Evidence suggests that preoperative omega-3 loading reduces blood losses during surgery. Interestingly, in Japan, where fatty fish intake is high and most people have high blood omega-3 concentrations, bleeding time is rarely a concern.
This is a quick overview of why omega-3s are important. If you would like to learn more become a member, sign up for our longevity program or schedule a personal consultation. Be safe and be well!