Whether you suffer from Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge Eating, Obesity, emotional eating, or have problems with weight management due to restricting or overeating, you need to know about what fats do in your body once and for all. In other words whether you are obese, underweight or a normal weight, if you are having problems regulating food intake in healthy ways, this series on fat is a must. If you missed my article about saturated and unsaturated fats, be sure to read it HERE.
Omega 3, 5 & 6 fatty acids are poly-unsaturated fats while Omega 7 and 9 fatty acids are mono-unsaturated fats. The name “Omega” indicates how far from the end of the molecule (i.e. the omega position is the last letter in the Greek alphabet) the first double bond occurs. In an Omega 3 fat it occurs on the third carbon atom from the end of the molecule, in an Omega 5 it occurs 5 from the end of the molecule and so on.
Polyunsaturated Essential Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 Fatty Acids are referred to as Essential Fatty Acids; i.e. fats that our bodies need them to function, but are not capable of producing. As a result, we need to obtain Omega-3 Fatty Acids directly from dietary sources.
It is best to obtain Omega 3 directly from the foods that are rich in them. The chart below is a good guide.
In addition to supporting the heart, brain and eyes, studies show that Omega-3s:
- Reduce inflammation throughout the body
- Keep blood from clotting excessively
- Maintain the fluidity of cell membranes
- Lower the amount of lipids (fats such as cholesterol and triglycerides) circulating in the bloodstream
- Decrease platelet aggregation, preventing excessive blood clotting
- Inhibit thickening of the arteries by decreasing endothelial cells’ production of a platelet-derived growth factor (the lining of the arteries is composed of endothelial cells)
- Increase the activity of another chemical derived from endothelial cells (endothelium-derived nitric oxide), which causes arteries to relax and dilate
- Reduce the production of messenger chemicals called cytokines, which are involved in the inflammatory response associated with atherosclerosis
- Reduce the risk of becoming obese and improve the body’s ability to respond to insulin by stimulating the secretion of leptin, a hormone that helps regulate food intake, body weight and metabolism, and is expressed primarily by adipocytes (fat cells)
- Help prevent cancer cell growth
Conditions or symptoms that indicate a need for more Unsaturated Omega-3 foods:
- Cardiovascular Disease
- Type 2 Diabetes
- Dry, itchy skin
- Brittle hair and nails
- Inability to concentrate
- Joint pain
Unsaturated Omega-3s have been show to protect against:
- Alzheimer’s Disease
- Attention Disorders
- Skin Disorders
- High Cholesterol
- High Blood Pressure
- Macular Degeneration
- Digestive Difficulties
To Get the Most Polyunsaturated Essential Omega-3 Fat
Research indicates that omega-3s may be better absorbed from food than supplements. Norwegian researchers compared 71 volunteers’ absorption of omega-3s (EPA and DHA) from salmon, smoked salmon, cod (14 ounces of fish per week) versus cod liver oil (3 teaspoons per day). Cooked salmon provided 1.2 grams of omega-3s daily, while cod liver oil provided more than twice as much: 3 grams of omega-3s per day.
Despite the fact that the salmon group got less than half the amount of omega-3s as the cod liver oil group, blood levels of omega-3s increased quite a bit more in those actually eating salmon than in those taking cod liver oil. (This is such great news, as it is a hard sell getting patients to take their cod liver oil :-). My grandmother used to line us all up and it wasn’t an option not to take it. But most people did not grow up that way.)
The researchers found that after 8 weeks, EPA levels rose 129% and DHA rose 45% in those eating cooked salmon compared to 106% and 25%, respectively, in those taking cod liver oil. In the group eating smoked salmon, blood levels of omega-3s rose about one-third less than in the salmon group. In those eating cod, the rise in omega-3s was very small.
But that’s not all. Concurrent with the rise in omega-3s in those who simply enjoyed a couple of meals featuring salmon, a drop was seen in blood levels of a number of chemicals that lead to inflammation (TNFalpha, IL-8, leukotriene B4, and thromboxane B2). The researchers think omega-3s may be better absorbed from fish because fish contains these fats in the form of triglycerides, while the omega-3s in almost all refined fish oils are in the ethyl ester form.
Once absorbed from the Salmon, the body converts omega-3s from triglycerides, to ester forms, as needed. The body does this naturally on it’s own. Since we want triglycerides to be as low as possible, this is a good thing.
Bottom line: Eat wild caught Salmon, 14 oz’s. a week, or eat less of that and include flax and walnuts along with grass-fed protein. At the very least take a fermented, non-refined fish oil such as Blue Ice, from Green Pastures, every day!
The most common Omega-3s are α-Linolenic acid (ALA), Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Compared with their plant Omega 3 counterparts, the marine Omega 3’s have another advantage; they are excellent sources of low fat protein. They are also critical to our neurological well-being. Fish oil, when combined with exercise, is the only thing presently known to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s.
In our next blog post, we’ll discuss Omega-6 Fatty Acids, and the importance of balancing your Omega-3s and Omega-6s!
Updated on Aug 5 2013.
Dr. J. Renae Norton is a clinical psychologist, specializing in the outpatient treatment of obesity and eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, bulimarexia, and binge eating disorder (BED) and the Director of The Norton Center for Eating Disorders and Obesity in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is the Director of The Norton Center for Eating Disorders and Obesity in Cincinnati, Ohio.
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Medical Advice Disclaimer: The information included on this site is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan. Reading the information on this website does not create a physician-patient relationship. This information is not necessarily the position of Dr. J. Renae Norton or The Norton Center for Eating Disorders and Obesity.
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