Fact – The brain is made up of 60% fat of which 60% is made up of Omega 3 fatty acids…. So it is true, I do have a fathead. Many of you who I train will have heard me espouse the benefits of fish oils, which is the best source of Omega 3 fatty acids available.
I thought it was about time I gave you the information in a little more detail. Deemed as many to be a super-supplement or by others to be just another snake oil, you may be surprised to see how many health areas fish oil is now being linked to.
I bet that many of you did not realize that fish oil is also a great aid for healthy weight loss as well as numerous other benefits. Some fitness experts tout it as the single most important supplement anybody can take both for general health and healthy weight loss.
Fish Oil & Fat
A fat to lose fat, you must be mad!!! So how does it work where fat loss is concerned?
a) by turning on Lipolytic Genes, fat burning is increased
b) and by turning off Lipogenic Genes, fat storage is decreased. It also increases the use of fat as fuel by other methods.
Once stored in the adipocytes (Adipose tissue is the main bulk of body fat ie hips, tummy, thighs, the fat that is near the surface as opposed to around the organs) it stimulates the use of that fat as an energy source. Increased insulin promotes the storage of fat (bad!!!)
Another way fish oil helps both the battle of the bulge and regulating insulin is that it blocks sugar absorption therefore mitigates the insulin response (Good!!!).
Fish oil helps to turn on the Carnitine enzymes which are responsible for the metabolism of fat (Carnitine is naturally synthesized in the body and one of the highest natural sources is found in beef). Many people supplement Carnitine to aid fat loss.
If you are supplementing Carnitine, Poliquin recommends using a 10:1 ratio of Omega 3 to Carnitine (every 10g Omega 3 = 1g Carnitine) for it to be truly effective.
Omega 3 & Exercise
Omega 3 reduces inflammation post-training thus speeding recovery. It is also good for pain management, as any reduction in inflammation will reduce pain levels from muscular soreness etc.
Results include reduced injury rates and increased ability to train harder and more regularly. It definitely helps improve your focus during training as well.
EPA regulates blood supply to the brain, which is essentialin maintaining focus in weight training sessions. DHA is important in brain membranes, memory and cognitive function.
The fish oil increases your serotonin levels – known as the happy hormone. These are elevated even higher during activities that stimulate the release of serotonin such as exercise and sex.
It can also inhibit the release of the steroids released by the body during times of mental stress. What else does this mean?
Omega 3’s will decrease incidence of depression, anxiety, panic attack and reduce carbohydrate cravings. There have been several studies into the effects of fish oil on the chronically depressed.
Interestingly there have also been successful studies in prisons and in school children showing that increased use of Omega 3’s has a direct link to reductions in violent, aggressive behavior or anti social behavior.
Let’s Talk About The Ticker
At a cellular level it lowers C-reactive Proteins, which positively impacts atherosclerosis, angina, coronary heart disease, heart attack, stroke, congestive heart failure and diabetes.
It also reduces cardio-vascular risk due to its effects on cholesterol: Lowering VLDL (bad cholesterol), triglycerides, homocysteine, fibrinogen.
Increasing HDL levels (Good cholesterol) Combining Omega 3 with plant sterols (found in nuts, legumes and other plant sources – always remember plant sources are best taken from natural sources as opposed to spreads) will improve lipid levels even more than either alone.
As we all know the other major component of heart disease is high blood pressure – fish oil even has a major effect here. It can increase a vasodilatory (makes blood vessels dilate – get larger) compound, called nitric oxide, this reduces vascular inflammation.
It helps reduce blood viscosity (thins the blood) whilst also inhibiting a blood vessel constrictor (thromboxane).
Cell Membrane Health
For general health fish oil is great for cellular health. For a cell to remain healthy its membrane must remain flexible. Fish oil helps with this.
It also increases the number of insulin receptors in the cell wall promoting the healthy and more efficient uptake of glucose – regulating blood sugar levels.
EPA & DHA
When reading labels you will come across the terms EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid). Both are Omega 3 fatty acids. The DHA is more closely associated with healthy brain membranes, brain function and development.
This is why we are encouraged to use it as a supplement for children. EPA is known to help bodily conditions, blood supply to the brain and disease and for its effects on inflammation. When buying fish oil note that different types of fish provide different levels of each.
Omega 3 Supplementation – Why?
Now this is a tricky question. We have naturally less Omega 3 in our diets due to the fact cows are taken off grass and fed grain before butchering. Also our chicken meat and eggs have changed in structure due to cage rearing and also grain feeding.
The obvious thing is eating more fish, but fish are at risk of contamination from heavy metals such as mercury, PCBs and Dioxins due to human pollution of the oceans. So people are turning to distilled fish oil or vegetarian Flaxseed oil.
The trouble with flaxseed is that its bioavailability is not as great as fish oil. Flaxseed does not produce natural DHA, where as fish oil has it ready to go.
Basically fish oil it is loads better. Make sure that it is of a brand that has been distilled or screened for mercury or heavy metals, PCBs and Dioxins.
Quantities Of Supplementation
Oh another tricky question. There are all sorts of views on this. And not wanting to raise the wrath of the TGA (Therapeutic Goods Administration) I will put down the views of both ends of the table.
One end says that the TGA are so cautionary in their approach to supplementation that the recommended Australian dosages inhibit the potential effects of Omega 3’s on debilitative disease, fat loss etc.
A hundred years ago we were eating Omega 3’s in much much greater quantities when disease and conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity and cancer had not become such a problem.
Studies have shown in the good old days before commercial farming, feedlots, grain fed beef, sea pollution and when eating offal and organ meats was still popular, we were consuming up to 300 -400g a week naturally.
Nowadays people tend to consume 2-3 grams a day if we are lucky.
The Inuits of Canada, the native Scots of the Western Isles of Scotland and the Icelandic people up until the 1930 s all ate diets of massive amounts of seafood and fish and had really low instances of all the above mentioned conditions.
Charles Poliquin the Canadian Strength and Conditioning coach and worldwide fitness guru recommends dosages of upto 30 to 45 grams a day for a couple of months (30-45 1000mg capsules) then dropping back to around 15 -20g per day.
The other side of the coin is The US National Institutes of Health, who as well as listing the 30 or so benefits below, lists the possible safety concerns as follows: “Intake of 3 grams per day or greater of omega-3 fatty acids may increase the risk of bleeding, although there is little evidence of significant bleeding risk at lower doses…
Very large intakes of fish oil/omega-3 fatty acids (“Eskimo” amounts) may increase the risk of hemorrhagic (bleeding) stroke.” However there is no hard evidence to support this and Eskimos have no higher instance of stroke than any other race.
Two studies at Harvard Medical School and one at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in 1986 and 1995 dispute the National Institutes concerns.
A Healthy Strategy
So without giving you a dose that I recommend, I will give you a good strategy. When buying fish oil rotate your brandsas different EPA to DHA levels have different effects.
It’s much the same principal as the benefits of varying your vegetables in your diet; stick to one type and you are limiting the nutritional range available. Buy two or three different brands and rotate them every 2 weeks or so.
And There is More ……. Fish Oil and More Conditions Than You Can Shake a Stick At
Studies show that Omega 3 Fatty Acids may be beneficial to many diseases and conditions (As listed by the American National Institute of health an agency of the US Dept health and human services): Hyperlipidemia, Hypertriglyceridemia, Coronary heart disease, Cardiac arrhythmias, Hypertension,
Stroke, Bipolar Disorder, Rheumatoid arthritis, Psoriasis, Atopic dermatitis, Ulcerative colitis, Behcet’s syndrome, Raynaud’s syndrome, Obesity, Asthma, Cancer, Painful menses, Lung diseases, Hay fever, Crohn’s disease, Chronic fatigue syndrome, Albuminuria associated with diabetic neuropathy, Restenosis after angioplasty, Miscarriage,
Preeclampsia, Preterm labour, Intrauterine growth retardation, Systemic lupus erythematosus, Cystic fibrosis, Gingivitis, Renal impairment associated with cirrhosis, Hyperglycemia associated with type2 diabetes, Claudication, Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder(ADHD), Dyslexia, Depression, Dyspraxia.
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EPA (2007-01-31). Fish Consumption Advisories. Retrieved 4-04-2007
Jess Halliday (13/04/2006). Dioxins prompt second UK fish oil withdrawal. Retrieved on Retrieved 4-04-2007
Pollutants found in fish oil capsules (6 April, 2002). Retrieved 4-04-2007
STEPHEN MIHM. “Does Eating Salmon Lower the Murder Rate?”, NYTimes, April 16, 2006. Retrieved 4-04-2007
Charles Poliquin Biosignature workshop Sydney 2006Western A Price Nutrition and Physical Degeneration 1939
Fish oil versus flaxseed oil by Dr m Reades 5 Sept (2005) Retrieved 4-04-2007
Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids. American Heart Association. Retrieved 4-04-2007
NIH Medline Plus. Medline Plus Herbs and Supplements: Omega-3 fatty acids, fish oil, alpha-linolenic acid. Retrieved4-04-2007
John McKenzie. ABC News: Fish Oil Helps Treat Depression. Retrieved 4-04-2007
NIH Medline Plus. MedlinePlus Herbs and Supplements: Omega-3 fatty acids, fish oil, alpha-linolenic acid. Retrieved 4-04-2007