Over the last decade, use of fish oil as a daily supplement has continued to rise. In 2012, it was the most popular natural product used by both adults and children in the US, with nearly 8 million more adults adding it into their daily routine than in 2007. Fish oil is high in DHA and EPA, omega-3 fatty acids that are essential to how our body produces new cells and rebuilds damaged ones. DHA plays an especially important role in nerve cell structure and function, while EPA helps support regulation of inflammation within our cells. Chronic diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure, asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, glaucoma, and cancer all have one particular thing in common: inflammation. Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to protect against many chronic health conditions because of their anti-inflammatory effects. Many studies have shown that supplementing your diet with omega-3s can result in a decrease in your blood triglyceride levels, along with an increase in your HDL (good) cholesterol, which can lower your risk for heart disease and cardiac arrest. Studies have found adding omega-3s to your diet for 3-4 months can also result in a decrease eye pressure of up to 8%, lowering the risk of glaucoma. Those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, which is known to cause severe joint pain and swelling, can also find relief from omega-3 fatty acids; one study found that taking DHA/EPA daily resulted in a decrease in joint swelling by 28%, compared to a placebo. Chronic inflammation is a big risk factor for many types of cancer. Besides being linked to lower risk for colorectal, pancreatic, breast, and prostate cancer, studies have found that DHA/EPA may be able to inhibit the growth of cancer cells and could even help improve the effects of chemotherapy and anticancer drugs. Omega-3 fatty acids have also been linked to improved muscle recovery after exercise, healthy eye and brain development in babies, a healthy reproductive system, and lower risk of pre-term birth. Besides supplementing your diet with omega-3 fatty acids, it’s also important to limit your intake of omega-6 fatty acids. While omega-6s are also essential to our body’s ability to function, excess amounts are known to increase inflammation; maintaining a healthy ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids is important. When the industrial revolution came around, the American diet changed drastically. This is when modern vegetable oil was invented, which contains only omega-6 fatty acids.Vegetable oil is a staple of the modern American diet, meaning that what we eat every day is packed with omega 6 fatty acids. For most people a ratio of 1:4 is ideal, meaning for every 1 omega-3, you get 4 omega-6s; an average American, on the other hand, eats a ratio ranging from 1:12 to 1:25! To get started on optimizing your fatty acid ratio, limit your intake of vegetable oil and the processed foods that are made with it, eat plenty of omega-3 rich animals, and talk to your doctor about adding an omega-3 supplement to your diet.
Image by: Don Bersano. Bersano Photography. 2017.