Your Body Needs Omega-3s
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential nutrients found in fatty fish, grassfed beef, and a few other foods. Like all essential nutrients, our bodies cannot make them, but must have them to survive. They are crucial for proper brain development, for example, and play an important role in regulating inflammation. Vegetarians get some omega-3s from foods like flaxseed and walnuts. But they run the risk of deficiency, too, because the plant form of omega-3, ALA, is not easily converted in the body to the forms we need; EPA and DHA.
We were created to require a roughly equal balance of omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids in the diet. Found in foods like corn oil and soybean oil, omega-6 fatty acids are extremely common in the food supply. There’s little chance you haven’t been getting enough of this nutrient.
But omega-3s are a different story. Modern agricultural practices have all but eliminated omega-3s from the diet. Most beef is raised on grain, rather than grass, as nature intended, so it contains virtually no omega-3s. For most people, that leaves fatty fish (tuna, salmon, shark, etc.) or fish-oil supplements, as the sole source of appreciable amounts of omega-3s.
This is a huge problem, because omega-3s are an important component of brain tissue. They are also generally anti-inflammatory in the body, while omega-6s are converted to chemicals that promote inflammation. Consuming these nutrients in equal amounts helps regulate the delicate balance between the need to fight infection with inflammation, and the ability to quell the flames of inflammation when the threat has passed. Many experts believe rising incidences of various diseases can be traced back to this dramatic, and relatively recent shift in the diet. Tomorrow, I’ll discuss some new research that suggests the damage done by this form of malnutrition may get worse with each succeeding generation.
Bondi CO, Taha AY, Tock JL, Totah NK, Cheon Y, Torres GE, et al. Adolescent Behavior and Dopamine Availability Are Uniquely Sensitive to Dietary Omega-3 Fatty Acid Deficiency. Biol Psychiatry. 2013 Jul 25. pii: S0006-3223(13)00578-7. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2013.06.007. [Epub ahead of print]
Rombaldi Bernardi J, de Souza Escobar R, Ferreira CF, Pelufo Silveira P. Fetal and neonatal levels of omega-3: effects on neurodevelopment, nutrition, and growth. ScientificWorldJournal. 2012;2012:202473. doi: 10.1100/2012/202473. Epub 2012 Oct 17