Sunday, January 31, 2010

2. Nutrition Facts - The Omegas

Omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids seem to be all over the media these days. Some days we hear that they are super good for us and the next they say they are not quite sure. Well, omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat and are very important because our bodies need them but cannot make them. Thus, we need to get them from our diet.

Omega 3 fatty acids serve the important function of decreasing blood clotting and blood pressure. On the other hand, omega 6 fatty acids play the exact opposite role: increase blood clotting and blood pressure. This makes omega 6 fatty acids look bad, but they are still very important. Imagine you get a simple paper cut, if your blood is not capable of clotting, you would most likely bleed to death. We obvously don't want that to happen. Thus, blood clotting is very important and omega 6 fatty acids make it happen. However, you don’t want your blood to clot too easily either since we know that clots are what cause heart attacks. You want a nice balance of omega 3 fatty acids and omega 6 fatty acids. Thus, it is recommended that you have a 4 to 10g of omega 6 fatty acids for every gram of omega 3 fatty acids. There are also set recommendations that reflect this recommended ratio: the optimal intake of omega 3 is 1.1g for women and 1.6g for men (this translates to about 2 to 3 servings of fish per week). As for omega 6 fatty acids, the optimal intake is set at 4 to 10 grams a day. Remember that the ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 is still very important.

Omega 3 fatty acids have been widely advertised in the media lately – especially in the form of fish oil. DHA (a type of omega 3) has also made the news due to the critical role it plays in the development of the nervous system and maturation of visual acuity. As you can see, omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids are very important so why don’t we have a bit more than what is recommended to enjoy even more of their benefits? I used to think that as long as you followed the recommended ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids, it was ok to have more than the recommended grams. In fact, I thought: "the more, the better since these omega fatty acids seem to be almost miraculous in preventing heart disease". However, this changed when I came across these warnings:
  1. Omega-3 fatty acids should be used cautiously by people who bruise easily, have a bleeding disorder, or take blood-thinning medications because excessive amounts of omega-3 fatty acids may lead to bleeding
  2. Three grams of omega-3 fatty acids per day (equivalent to 3 servings of fish per day) increase the risk for hemorrhagic stroke
So, don’t get carried away with those omega 3 fatty acids. As they say: everything’s good in moderation. After all, you don’t need a lot of omega 3 or 6 to get the benefits.

A last piece of info I found quite interesting is that they are testing the possibility of treating depression with omega 3 fatty acids. This idea emerged after it was reported that “seriously depressed patients had lower omega-3 blood levels compared with healthy controls and mildly depressed patients”. But the data is still controversial, though. I guess, we will just have to wait and see what happens.

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