One of my favourite books I’ve read since starting this holistic nutrition journey is The Inflammation Syndrome, by Jack Challem (I highly recommend it!). It put many things in perspective for me regarding the significant impact inflammation has on my disease…on all disease, for that matter. A key point the book makes is the effects of the standard (North) American diet on inflammation in our bodies and the importance of the balance between omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids.
Omega 3 and 6 are essential fatty acids, which means we cannot make them in the body. We need to get them from food or supplements. Both play extensive roles in every cell and are critical for optimal health. Although both are essential, they act in opposite ways: omega 6 has a pro-inflammatory effect in the body, whereas omega 3 is anti-inflammatory. The idea ratio of omega 6:omega 3 is 2-1, but the standard (North) American diet, high in unhealthy fats, sugar, commercially raised meat, and processed foods, provides a ratio of 20:1! Way too much inflammatory and not nearly enough anti-inflammatory. Wonder no longer why so many folks suffer from inflammation-related illness and disease…and how closely it’s linked to diet!
We need to get those omega 3 levels up!
As with so many things I talk about on the blog, we can increase those levels of omega 3 quite easily through our diet. Foods that are naturally high in omega 3 include:
- cold water fish like wild salmon, tuna, and sardines
- grass-fed animal products
- nuts and seeds (walnuts, chia, flax, hemp, pumpkin seeds)
- healthy oils (extra virgin olive oil, flaxseed oil)
After learning of typical imbalance between these two essential fatty acids and the anti-inflammatory properties of omega 3, I made a conscious effort to add more of these foods to our diet. I also started a daily supplement – it was a game-changer for my health. Until that point, I had managed to lower the inflammation markers in my blood to a “suitable level”, according to my rheumatologist. But after six months of omega 3 supplementation, my inflammation markers had dropped significantly – “so low, it’s not even detected in your blood work!” (it was so cute…she was so excited!). I should point out that to get these benefits, I took a therapeutic dose which is much higher than the RDA…be sure to consult a nutrition or health care provider to determine what’s best for your body.
I’ve since learned so much more about the benefits of omega 3 and the ways in which it can help us move up the “slope of health“. By working to reduce inflammation in the body, omega 3 can improve many symptoms the average person deals with regularly, as well as several that are outside the “norm”. Omega 3 is one of the baseline supplements I recommend to all of my clients, regardless of their individual situation – it’s that important. My main use for it was to control joint inflammation, but here are some more specific reasons to increase your daily intake of omega 3:
- Hormone Balance: The anti-inflammatory properties of omega 3 make it helpful for hormone balance. Increased inflammation can instigate conversion of testosterone into estrogen – even in men! This raises estrogen levels in the body and can lead to (or exacerbate) estrogen dominance. Increasing your omega 3 levels can help limit this conversion.
- Postpartum Depression: We know that when we’re making a baby, the baby takes precedent when it comes to nutrients. This makes it so important for mom to get more than enough nutrients for two, otherwise, she’ll be the one lacking. This is especially true for omega 3, as essential fatty acids are critical for baby’s brain development, but also critical for mom’s mental health, particularly postpartum. If you’re pregnant, or planning to become pregnant, be sure you’re getting enough omega 3 (which can mean up to 3000 mg – talk to your doctor) to take care of both mom and baby during and after pregnancy. (Seriously, how cool – and easy – is that?!)
- Anxiety: Omega 3 fatty acids have numerous positive biological effects on brain health. Low levels of omega 3s (especially EPA and DHA) can trigger (or make worse) neurological issues such as anxiety. Increasing foods like wild salmon (fresh, frozen, or even canned), walnuts (if you can tolerate them), avocados, and pumpkin seeds will help, as will a daily, good quality supplement (we’ve found this particularly helpful for our kids…let me know if you need some options!).
- ADHD (& ADD): Many children with ADHD, ADD, dyslexia, and learning disabilities are deficient in omega 3, It’s been found that increasing levels through diet and supplements can help mitigate symptoms such as poor attention, hyperactivity, impulsiveness, and learning and reading difficulties. In many children it’s an effective treatment on its own (with no side effects!), while in others it can enhance the effectiveness of medications.
- Heart Health: Increasing omega 3 levels can lower triglycerides in the body, helping to reduce the risk of heart disease. It can also help lower blood pressure and decrease the chance of blood clots by not allowing platelets to clump together. One more bonus – it can help increase HDL, the “good” cholesterol.
- Insulin Resistance: Trouble losing weight, hormone imbalances, acne, high blood pressure, menopausal symptoms like hot flashes, and fatigue are issues that can be signs of insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is a serious problem as it can lead to things like type II diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and cancer. It’s actually quite a common thing with women, but most don’t even realize they have it. Enter the wonders of omega 3! Studies have shown that by increasing our intake of omega 3 fatty acids, we can improve insulin sensitivity and alleviate many of these symptoms.
In many cases, omega 3 can provide effective relief of these issues (and more!) without the need for medications, which is always a good thing. Making the effort to use food and nutraceuticals (supplements) as our first line of defense is a practice we all should employ – it’s often as, or more effective than the drugs we’re so quickly prescribed, with none of the side effects. Whether or not you have any of the issues or symptoms listed above, chances are good you have some level of inflammation in your body (hard-pressed to find someone in perfect condition) and would benefit from adding more omega 3-rich foods and/or supplement to your daily routine. Just another natural thing we can do to move us in the right direction along the road to optimal health!