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There are nutrients that are essential, that means that our body cannot produce them. One of the most important of these essential nutrients is omega 3, a key fat for our health. However, omega 3 is one of the nutrients that most people have in deficit.
That is why in this article we are going to see what are the best sources of omega 3, how much omega 3 we need to consume, and what happens if we do not consume enough amounts of omega 3.
What happens when we have an Omega 3 deficiency?
Like many other essential nutrients, we need omega 3 for endless processes in our body and, obviously, when we do not have sufficient amounts of omega 3, we will suffer the consequences in our body.
We have different mental symptoms of low levels of omega 3 such as:
- Disorders or attention deficit.
- Greater tendency to depression.
- Levels of inflammation in our brain that alter our mood and our cognitive performance.
- Problems related to our memory.
- Eye problems and macular degeneration inside our eye.
These mental symptoms and in our nervous system that I mentioned to you appear for a very important reason. Omega 3, particularly an omega 3 subtype called DHA, forms the sheath of your neurons, something called myelin. Think of myelin as the insulation of the wire, which is going to allow the electrical impulses in our neurons to travel further quickly. This is essential for the proper electrical functioning of your entire body, but mainly of your brain.
In the case of an omega 3 deficit, your body will be able to manufacture less myelin, leading to memory problems, concentration problems and high levels of inflammation in the brain that will alter your mood.
In addition, we can have cardiovascular related symptoms, such as:
- Higher cardiovascular risk in general due to low consumption of omega 3.
- More tendency to hypertensive disease.
- Arrhythmias or heart rhythm disturbances and even angina pectoris.
On the other hand, at a dermatological level, we can have these symptoms:
- Greater hair loss.
- Dry or flaky skin.
- Greater tendency to skin allergies.
But not all omega-3s are useful for everything. There are omega 3 subtypes more related to mental symptoms and with the solution of these symptoms, and omega 3 subtypes more related to cardiovascular problems.
These problems happen because good levels of omega 3 are necessary to lower our inflammation. When we have high levels of inflammation in our scalp, for example, we shed more skin, more quickly, leading to the symptom we know as dandruff. And on the other hand, if we lead to greater damage by inflammation to the hair follicles, we lose hair. That is why a good treatment for hair loss has to include reducing the inflammation of the scalp, if any.
Other additional symptoms due to low levels of omega 3 can be higher levels of sterility and spontaneous abortions, or other diseases such as arthritis.
Inflammation: Omega 3 vs Omega 6
Like everything in life, we need a balance of omega 3, and although we need many types of fatty acids to be healthy, we need a specific balance between omega 6 and omega 3.
Nowadays, we consume much more omega 6 than omega 3, and a high intake of omega 6 may even be useful in predicting premature death and cognitive decline. This happens because an excess of omega 6 damages your red blood cells, it oxidizes them, and makes it more difficult for you to distribute oxygen to the different parts of your body.
This ratio of omega 3 and omega 6 and the benefits of omega 3 are so important that they can even be predictors of our brain volume, the total size of the brain. Historically, human beings consumed a much higher amount of omega 3 than we consume today and a much lower amount of omega 6. This high consumption of omega 3 is one of the possible reasons why homo sapiens some 15,000 years ago had a larger brain than we have nowadays.
The point here is that the excess of omega 6 and the deficiency of omega 3 leave our body in pro-inflammatory conditions. By increasing my inflammation, it speeds up my aging while increasing cell damage.
On average today, depending on our diet, we consume between 12 and 25 times more omega 6 than omega 3, giving us a much greater tendency towards inflammation. However, we calculate that the ideal ratio of omega 6 and omega 3 would be 4 to 1, and even the view of some functional doctors today is that we should consume the same amount of each, which basically in all cases implies that we need more omega 3 and less omega 6.
Functions of Omega 3
Not all types of omega 3 are the same and serve the same purpose. There are many types of omega 3 with different functions and different benefits:
- DHA. It is particularly good for our brain, for our heart and for our eyes. DHA is part of myelin, as I said above, which is what allows these electrical impulses from the brain to travel faster.
So if you want to improve your cognitive performance, you have an attention deficit disorder, difficulty concentrating or you are worried about developing dementia in the future, this is the main type of omega 3 you want to consume. Also, there are studies that show how DHA supplementation makes us less aggressive towards others in periods of high stress levels.
- EPA. It has benefits for vision, benefits for the heart and for inflammation specifically. It has a little activity in our brain but its concentration is between 250 and 300 times lower in the brain than that of DHA.
Helping us reduce inflammation is key to a good quality of life, because more inflammation means more damage to all our cells and more aging. For this reason, although omega 3 is not considered a supplement related to longevity, it definitely makes us live longer and better by generating all these benefits.
- ALA. It is mainly beneficial for everything cardiovascular related. Although it has anti-inflammatory and cerebral effects, they are less than those of other types of omega, but it is very effective in modifying our blood cholesterol pattern and reducing cardiovascular risk if we have high cholesterol.
So if you don't want to do anything for your health because you don't have the willpower, but you have a high cardiovascular risk because you have an altered cholesterol profile, at least take an omega 3 supplement of this type.
In addition, EPA and DHA have been shown, not only to resolve attention deficit disorders, but also to improve important psychiatric conditions when used at high doses.
Sources of Omega 3
Where can we get these omega 3? Each of these types of omega has its main sources.
In the case of omega 3 ALA, we find it in seeds and nuts, mainly in chia flax and walnuts. The problem with these substances is that if we consume them in the form of oils, such as flax oil, for example, they oxidize very quickly, so we need to protect the oil from light and exposure to oxygen, consume it very quickly or consume those ground seeds. And this oxidation problem also applies to when we consume fish oil. They are supplements that we have to consume quickly.
As for EPA and DHA, the sources are mainly extracted from the sea. We have fish, we have fish oil in supplement form, algae (although it is extremely difficult for humans to extract omega 3 from these algae directly), eggs and meat, especially offal from free-range animals.
And with regard to eggs, there are studies on how the amount of omega-3 in an egg varies depending on the hen's diet. If we feed flaxseed to chickens, the eggs will have a much higher amount of omega 3 and will have less of an impact on our cholesterol.
Unfortunately, I not only have to think about what foods to eat, but how and where that food was produced. For example, many people need more magnesium and potassium, but if we grow our food with permaculture and compost it is unlikely that we need to supplement these minerals because we get them through food.
With all this said, what is the best source of omega 3? Krill, without a doubt. Krill is a crustacean that is at the base of the food chain in the sea. It feeds on phytoplankton, which is a key nutrient to help us humans produce more stem cells. Also, krill serves as food for most marine mammals such as large whales.
Krill itself is rich in omega 3 of the EPA and DHA types, but it is also rich in phosphatidylcholine, an essential substance for maintaining healthy cell membranes and the function of sodium and potassium pumps. In addition, you can use that phosphatidylcholine as a raw material to produce a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine, essential to concentrate and remember things.
And if that wasn’t enough, krill is also rich in substances such as astaxanthin, which is a carotenoid that gives the animals that consume it their reddish color, such as salmon, which has anti-inflammatory properties that are very important but are still under study.
For all this, and because it is an animal that abounds in the southern seas, krill is the best source of omega 3 today without a doubt.
How much omega-3 do we need?
The first thing you have to understand is that not all of us absorb omega 3 in the same way. Omega 3 are essential fatty acids, so if you have problems digesting fats in general, you will have difficulty absorbing the omega 3 you consume and you will need a higher dose than another person.
The more bile salts I produce, for example, the easier it is going to make me absorb fats, but in turn, the worse the bacterial flora I have, the more these bile salts are altered and the more my absorption of fats is altered.
And on the other hand, if we eat a balanced diet, we can reduce our need for omega 3 in supplement form. We can do this by consuming omega 5, omega 7, omega 9, and omega 11, gamma linoleic acids, conjugated linoleic acid and minerals that help us in the use of these fats, such as magnesium and zinc, and in this way we can reduce our omega 3 requirement.
You can achieve this if you have a diet that includes:
- Pasture meats.
- Offal from pasture animals, such as the liver.
- Wild fish that are rich in fat.
- Olive oil, avocado oil and coconut oil.
- Algae such as spirulina or phytoplankton.
- Seeds, especially grounded.
- Leafy vegetables.
But how much omega do we need in a normal diet for the average person? First we need to reduce omega 6 as much as possible and guarantee at least 1 or 2 grams of omega 3 per day, especially DHA and EPA. But keep in mind that the exact figures have not been determined, and that what we need is a balance between these two substances. Consider at least a 4:1 ratio of omega 6 to omega 3, or increase the amount of omega 3 you consume.
In any case, there are several facts that you have to take into account, many vegetarian nutrition specialists will tell you that, as the omega 3 ALA is transformed in our body into other types of omega 3 such as EPA, you can consume all the omega 3 you need from plant sources.
But this information is wrong, only a very small percentage of this type of omega 3 called ALA can be transformed into other omegas. In general this transformation happens in less than 2%, but it can be much less. In fact, if you are of European or Native American ethnic origin, you are going to transform much less of that omega into the other types of omega that you need, unlike if you come from India or Africa.
On the other hand, we can extract EPA and DHA, which are the other two omega 3 types, from algae. But it is a process that continues to be complex and more expensive than extracting omega 3 from fish. Therefore, make sure to consume all sources of omega 3, and if you do not want to consume any animal products, use an omega 3 supplement extracted from algae, in addition to flax oil or ground seeds.
The reality is that omega 3 is one of the noblest supplements that we can consume, especially when we guarantee that the fish oil where the vast majority of omega 3 is extracted does not have heavy metals. But the omega 3 from krill and the omega 3 from algae that do not have this problem, are something that practically everyone can consume, there are even specific omega 3 for pregnancy and lactation.
In conclusion, if you do not have a balanced diet that meets the omega 3 requirements as in the vast majority of people, supplement to obtain dozens of benefits to reduce the damage we generate in our own body and to lower inflammation.
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