December 01, 2016

Omega 3's part 1 of 2

Articles by Dr. Erdman are for informational purposes, and are not to be taken as specific medical advice.

I’ve written several times over the years on the benefits of Omega-3 fats, EPA and DHA. They are essential to your overall health and to your heart health particularly.

There are many studies confirming that regular consumption of fish and other omega-3 rich foods may lower your risk of a heart attack by about ten percent. One Italian study showed a 50% reduction in sudden cardiac death.

Omega-3 fats benefit your cardiovascular health in multiple ways. They lower blood pressure and triglyceride concentrations. They improve your ability to grow new blood vessels, which helps in areas that may be damaged.

These fats are antiarrhythmic, meaning they counteract and prevent hearth arrhythmias.

They are antithrombotic, tending to prevent clots in vessels.

They are anti-atherosclerotic, helping to prevent fatty deposits on the inner layer of your arteries.

And, they are anti-inflammatory in nature.

The list continues with non-heart benefits, too. Omega-3 fats help build stronger bones, improve mood regulation and promote brain and eye formation in babies. They reduce the risk of many diseases including: Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, PMS, schizophrenia, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohns disease, colon cancer, kidney disease and more. They have been shown to reduce the risk of death from all causes.

Most people find this topic very confusing because there are some myths that need to be clarified. Not all omega-3 fats are made the same.

First, there is a difference between plant based omega-3 and animal based omega 3. Plant based omega 3 is alpha-linoleic acid, or ALA. Animal based omega 3 is docosahexaenoic acid or DHA and eicosapentaenoic acid or EPA.

Secondly, there is a difference between fish based omega 3 and krill based omega 3. Fish based omega 3 is triglyceride bound and krill based omega 3 is phospholipid bound.

The sources of omega 3 fats are not interchangeable; vegetarians would like to think taking plant based ALA is the same as taking EPA/DHA.  It is not.  Your body can convert a small amount of ALA into DHA, but it is one to three percent or less. This is not nearly enough for essential body functions.

ALA, EPA and DHA are considered essential fats, meaning that your body cannot make them and they must be obtained from your diet. ALA is available in many foods, so supplementing is not necessary. EPA/DHA must be supplemented as getting enough in the diet is unlikely.

Next time, we will go a bit deeper into the differences between animal and plant based omega 3 fats, and look into the differences of fish oil and krill oil.