It seems like the term “omega 3″ has become a popular buzz word in the grocery store. These essential poly-unsaturated fatty acids are added to everything now from milk and orange juice to cereal. But what are they and why does it matter? Well, they come primarily from oily fish such as wild-caught salmon and sardines. They are known to have powerful anti-inflammatory actions.
The standard American diet (a.k.a. the SAD diet) is composed of far more omega 6 fatty acids than omega 3’s. The omega 6’s come from corn oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, soybean oil, and margarine. These actually CAUSE inflammation (i.e. pro-inflammatory). We certainly need some omega 6’s in our diet (it’s all about balance, of course)……but not the amount nor ratio that we’re currently eating. Historically, it is thought that humans ate 4 times as much omega 6 as omega 3. The average American now eats 20 times as much omega 6 as omega 3. Lower ratios of omega 6 have been associated with decreased mortality following a heart attack, decreased risk of breast cancer, suppressed inflammation in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, and improvement in asthma.
So you may be asking, “How much of these omega 3’s should I be consuming?” Well, of course there are some situations where more is better. For example, if one has rheumatoid arthritis, depression, anxiety, elevated triglycerides, or a history of a heart attack it may be better to take more than the generally recommended amounts (please talk to your health care provider.) For everybody else, 12 ounces of oily fish (low in mercury, please) weekly should prove beneficial. If you do not enjoy fish, try a supplement that provides about 1000 mg daily of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) plus DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).