Omega 3 & Why It Is Needed
The omega-3 fatty acids are very important nutritional factors that are lacking in almost everyone’s daily diet. The most important of these are EPA or eicosapentaenoic acid and DHA or docosahexaenoic acid. There are other fatty acids, such as the omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids. However, most people get plenty of these from their diets – too many, in fact, in relation to the omega-3 fatty acids.
For that reason, I do not ever recommend a supplement of omega 3-6-9. I only suggest a supplement of omega-3 fatty acids.
WHY ARE THE OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS SO IMPORTANT?
Fatty acids are used in our bodies for many purposes. Among the most important are as lubricants for the joints, to keep the cell membranes flexible, and as general anti-inflammatory substances that are essential for health. Fatty acids are extremely important for the nervous system, as well, especially the developing nervous system of babies before and after they are born.
If the omega-3 fatty acids are lacking, which is very common, the nervous system of a human being does not develop correctly. This contributes to cases of attention deficit disorder (ADD and ADHD), autism, learning disabilities, delayed development, and many other common mental and emotional problems of children and adults. Most of these would not occur, or would occur far less often, if everyone took a supplement of fish oil, for example, or flaxseed oil every day.
WHY ARE SO MANY PEOPLE DEFICIENT IN OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS TODAY, BUT NOT IN THE PAST?
This has to do with modern agriculture and modern feeding of livestock. In the past, people obtained enough omega-3 fatty acids from eating pasture-raised meats, and dairy products and eggs from pastured cows and chickens.
Today, however, most cows, chickens and pigs are not fed mainly pasture, which contains the omega-3 fatty acids. Instead, they are fed corn or other grains, which contain much less of the omega-3 fatty acids. As a result, their meat, milk and eggs contain much less of these fatty acids.
Grain fattens the cows, so the farmers are happy, and the meat tastes sweeter, which satisfies most consumers, even if the meat and dairy products are less healthful.
Another important change has been a switch in the people’s diets away from eating butter, lard and tallow, which contain some omega 3 fatty acids. Instead, we eat much more vegetable oils such as corn oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, canola oil and others, which are lower in omega-3s, but which are less expensive. As a result of the changes in feeding livestock and the changes in human diets, our consumption of omega-3 fatty acids has decreased sharply.
WHAT IS THE BEST SOURCE OF OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS?
These include raw dairy products, especially cream and butter. Cheese and milk have a little, but not as much. Another source is wild game, pasture-fed lamb, or other pasture-fed meats and eggs.
However, these food sources do not provide enough omega-3s in most cases. One reason is that one cannot be sure that meats are really pasture-fed. Many are a combination of pasture-fed and grain-fed. Also, the consumption of vegetable oils is so high in processed food items, for example, that people need more of the omega-3s to balance things. As a result, the food sources are not reliable enough to provide for our needs, in most cases.
WHAT ABOUT FISH?
A few fish are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids - mainly tuna, salmon and sardines. Other fish are not a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. I do not recommend ANY tuna or salmon because of their high mercury content. Cod liver oil has a little omega-3 fatty acids, but not enough.
I heartily recommend eating 3-4 cans of sardines for adults each week as an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids. Children need proportionately less. Please do not eat more than this, as there is some mercury even in small fish such as sardines. If you don’t like sardines, they can be mashed and mixed into other foods. For more on this, read Sardines on this website.
If an adult does not want to eat 3-4 cans of sardines weekly, I always suggest using an omega-3 supplement that contains a mixture of EPA and DHA. The usual dose for adults is 900-1000 mg total fatty acids per day. Some people may need to go higher for a while, but usually this is enough.
Children can take proportionately less, depending on their size. Children under age 3 or 4 usually do not need a supplement if the mother took omega-3 oils during pregnancy. In other words, the children get a supply during gestation that will last a few years. If the mother did not supplement with omega-3 during pregnancy, then these babies and children would definitely require a supplement. EPA and DHA are beginning to be added to commercial baby formula because they are so critical for brain development and other reasons, as well.
FISH OIL SUPPLEMENTS
These are made from sardine oil or salmon oil. The mercury in these products is removed, so toxic metal poisoning from them is not a problem, in my experience. However, some brands work better than others, for whatever reasons, so one must beware of this problem with fish oil supplements.
What about cod liver oil? Cod liver oil will not provide enough omega-3 fatty acids unless you take a lot of it. It just does not contain very much.
Flax, hemp and krill oil supplements. None of these are as good as the fish oil, in my view. The fish oil is more yang, and the krill oil is slightly toxic, it seems.
People are often misinformed and believe that eating some flaxseeds or some hemp seeds will give them enough omega-3 fatty acids. They will not.
What about source versus derivative supplements? Recently, some doctors and others are suggesting that flaxseed oil or other vegetable oils are better sources of omega-3 than fish oil because they are the “source” essential fatty acids. This means that they contain the linolenic acid or a linoleic acid that can be converted to EPA and DHA. In conrast, fish oil is a “derivative” oil because it only contains EPA and DHA.
I disagree strongly with this perspective for the following reasons:
- The fatty acids that are needed are EPA and DHA . Most people do not need the others. In fact, they have too much. So there is no good reason to use the “source” oils.
- Flaxseed, hempseed, and other vegetable sources are much more yin in Chinese medical terminology. While this may seem esoteric, it is not that esoteric. All vegetable source products are more yin than animal source products. Today the bodies are very yin, and adding more yin products is not good at all. This is why vegetarian diets are not healthful, either, no matter how “balanced” or properly set up they are. For more on this important topic, read Yin Disease and Yin and Yang Healing on this website.
- One does not know if the body will convert the source oils properly in all cases. Why take a chance they will be converted to omega-3 improperly?