This week, our More Than Healthy Tip is one of the most thoroughly-studied nutrients in the world. This nutrient is scientifically proven to benefit everything from ADHD to cancer to pregnancy. It’s something we’re sure you’ve heard about before, but let’s get into the nitty gritty of the true health benefits of omega-3 fish oil, and why it truly is a nutrient “superpower.”
How I learned I was “high risk”
We first learned about this topic four years ago when we met with Dr. Gundry’s assistant. She was going over my bloodwork and said they were very concerned with my triglyceride levels. They were also worried about my high Cardiac PULS score, which meant I was at high risk for heart attack. In fact, she told us that I was three and a half times more likely to have a heart attack than other men my age.
I was completely shocked. I was thinking I was in pretty good shape for my age. My cancer was finally in remission. I wasn’t overweight, and the year before I had won a gold medal for overall cyclist in my age bracket at the senior games. I knew I had some gut problems, which was why we had traveled to meet with Dr. Gundry in the first place, and he confirmed my leaky gut diagnosis. But heart issues?? That completely stunned me. I just sat there thinking, “What is going on? I stay active and I watch what I eat, why is this happening to me?”
At that point, I hadn’t yet learned about all of my food sensitivities that were producing inflammation throughout my system. One of the main things Dr. Gundry added to my diet was omega-3 fish oil. Since then, Carla and I have learned much more about why this is so important for our health.
What are omega-3 fatty acids?
It’s a term you’ve probably heard a lot, but what are omega-3s, really? They are vital nutrients we get from food or supplements, because our body can’t produce them on its own. Omega-3s help build and maintain a healthy body, and they’re integral to the structure of every cell wall you have. They are also a key energy source that helps keep the heart, blood vessels, lungs, and immune system functioning.
There are different kinds of omega-3 fatty acids. EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), both crucial to our health, are primarily found in cold-water, fatty fish, such as salmon. ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), which helps maintain normal heart rhythm, is found in plant sources like nuts and seeds.
Not only do we require these necessary fatty acids to function, they also deliver some extra big health benefits. Let’s take a deeper dive into four of our favorite health benefits of omega-3 fish oil:
Benefit #1: Omega-3 fish oil is good for your heart
This benefit should be important to all of us, since heart attacks and strokes are the leading cause of death throughout the world. In the U.S., heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women of every racial and ethnic group. Here’s a sobering statistic – every 34 seconds, someone in the U.S. dies from heart disease.
There are several studies that help explain the connection between omega-3s and heart health. Scientists made the connection between fish-eating communities and low rates of heart disease decades ago. Later, additional studies linked these low rates of cardiovascular problems and disease to the omega-3 consumed in the fish.
Omega-3s, a predictor of risk of death
One of the more famous studies started in 1948 in a small town in Massachusetts and is now in its third generation. Year after year, this study conclusively shows that the omega-3 index (the total amount of omega-3 fatty acids found in the red blood cell membranes) is an accurate predictor of heart disease. Study participants with the highest omega-3 indices had a full third less risk of death, while those with the lowest omega-3 index had much higher risk. The study also found that omega-3 index levels were a better predictor of risk of death and cardiovascular disease than cholesterol levels.
Omega-3 fatty acids have an anti-inflammatory effect, so it makes sense that it helps protect you from heart disease. They actually help reduce production of substances released during your body’s inflammatory response. They also cause a 15-30% reduction in triglycerides while raising “good” HDL cholesterol levels. Omega-3s can reduce elevated blood pressure levels, prevent the formation of harmful blood clots, and prevent plaque that can restrict and harden your arteries. It really is a heart health super- nutrient!
Benefit #2: Omega-3s are good for your gut microbiome
As instructed by Dr. Gundry, I started taking omega-3 fish oil supplements. But, it turns out you can’t just take the supplements and keep eating some of the unhealthy foods and get a better PULS score. The next year, even with all the supplements, my score got worse. I was so confused! But Dr. Gundry put it bluntly, “It’s obvious you’re not removing the foods that are causing your leaky gut. You have to be 100% compliant if you want to see the results you’re looking for.”
He was right. I had taken an 80/20 approach that first year. Meaning that 80% of the time I was compliant, but the other 20% of the time I let myself have some of the foods on his “no list.” I made a commitment to go 100% after that visit. And that’s when my numbers really improved. Turns out omega-3 fatty acids help to heal your leaky gut when you stop taking the offending foods.
That’s because omega-3 fish oil improves the biodiversity of the gut. As we discussed in our recent post on healthy fats and oils, there is a whole ecosystem within your gut. And the more diverse it is, the better your health.
One really interesting study involved 876 twins. Researchers found that omega-3 serum levels were strongly associated with the diversity and number of species of healthy bacteria in the gut. They discovered high levels of a compound called N-carbamylglutamate (NCG) in the gut. NCG has been shown to reduce oxidative stress in the gut. It appears that omega-3s induce the gut bacteria to produce NCG. It’s just so fascinating that this essential fatty acid does so much!
Omega-3s and a healthy, blooming gut microbiome
I’ve recently had my gut microbiome tested, and it came out superb. My gut microbiome diversity scored at 95, and the results actually state that my diversity is like “a booming rainforest with a growing population of species.” Now that’s a healthy gut! I can guarantee if I would have done that test just five years ago, my microbiome would have failed. That’s because when you have a leaky gut, the gut lining is being penetrated, and there is no way to get the diversity you need to be healthy. But by getting the health benefits of omega-3 fish oil plus eliminating unhealthy foods, I’ve been able to heal my gut and regain my health.
Benefit #3: Omega-3s are good for your brain
Something else we’ve learned is that omega-3 is critical for brain health. A couple of weeks ago we talked about the importance of adding more good oils to your diet to improve your brain. Omega-3 fish oil is one of the best ways to increase your good oil intake. Since your brain is made up of 60% fat, it makes sense that you need more good oils in your diet to help support that.
Remember that DHA and EPA we discussed earlier? Those fatty acids are necessary for brain development and performance. They also help to prevent and improve several neurological conditions. As we age, our brain goes through many physical and biological changes, including shrinkage in volume, a loss of plasticity, and a decrease in omega-3 levels, all of which can contribute to cognitive decline.
Adequate levels of DHA and EPA omega-3s help preserve the brain as it ages. Specific ways that omega-3 fatty acids help our brain and nervous systems include:
- Preserves cell membrane health
- Supports brain blood flow
- Aids in growth of brain tissue
- Supports cognition and memory
- Helps neurons communicate
- Assists neurotransmitter function
- Prevents neurodegenerative disorders, including depression and anxiety
Reduced risk for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
Omega-3s reduce neuroinflammation and oxidative damage. This reduces the production of plaque in the brain. Adequate levels of omega-3s increase levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, known as BDNF, improve insulin signaling, and support proper blood flow in the brain. Brain imaging studies show that higher blood flow in certain parts of the brain is associated with better performance for various cognitive tasks. Importantly, all of these positive effects are linked to decreased risk for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Additionally, a new study found that those two essential fatty acids found in fish oil, DHA and EPA, improved cognitive function in older adults with coronary artery disease (CAD). People with CAD have a 45% increased risk for cognitive decline. The largest improvements in brain function were seen when both of these types of omega-3 fatty acids were present in the bloodstream.
Clear up that brain fog
Personally, one of the worst side effects I was having from my health issues was persistent brain fog. It’s been such a relief to see that symptom improve as I’ve reclaimed my health. Carla says my memory is now better than hers! We know that increasing my omega-3 consumption helped me get rid of my brain fog.
Benefit #4: Omega-3s help improve sleep
Here we go again talking about improving your sleep. Since here at More Than Healthy we believe it’s a foundation to all health, anytime something contributes to better quantity and/or quality of sleep, we’re going to bring it up! There is no denying that what we eat and drink impacts how we sleep. But there is more to it than just regulating caffeine.
New research says there is a direct link between omega-3 consumption and improved sleep quality. That all-important DHA helps increase the release of melatonin from the brain. Melatonin is a critical hormone that helps you fall asleep and get more deep restorative sleep. Omega-3s also regulate your levels of norepinephrine, which is a stress hormone. High levels of this hormone will decrease your REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.
One interesting study should perk the interest of all parents (and grandparents!). Researchers studied 362 children and were able to link infants and children with poor sleep and behavior or learning difficulties to low blood omega-3 levels. Children who took daily omega-3 supplements experienced an hour more sleep each night. Since sleep problems in children are strongly correlated with health, behavioral, and cognitive problems, these results are pretty compelling.
But how do I know if I need more omega-3s?
So how do you know if you need to take omega-3 fish oil? The easy answer is that unless you’re living in Greenland and eating fresh-caught herring every day, you do.
Unless you are eating a large amount of sardines, herring, salmon, nuts, and seeds each day, you are probably deficient.
To give you an idea of how deficient we are as a society, the average ratio in American adults is 15:1. Meaning we’re getting 5 to 6 times more omega-6 oils than we should, which we get from our many highly-processed foods, while not getting nearly enough omega-3s. Scientists believe this distorted ratio of fatty acids is one of the most damaging aspects of the Western diet.
If you want to know your levels, you can have your doctor order a lipid panel that includes an essential fatty acid analysis the next time you’re getting blood work done. This analysis shows what your omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio is. Ideally you want it to be a 3:1 ratio, meaning you have no more than three times the amount of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in your blood. Most of us need to lower our intake of processed oils and foods and increase our intake of omega-3 fatty acids.
The health benefits of omega-3 fish oil supplements
If you’ve been following Carla and me on our More Than Healthy journey, you’ll know we usually encourage getting your vitamins and minerals from food sources. But it’s really hard to get the amount we need from food. Dr. Gundry says that the only patients he has that are “profoundly sufficient” in omega-3 fatty acids eat sardines or herring on a daily basis.
But even if you eat a lot of seafood, scientists say getting the recommended amount from fish alone is hard. Dr. Kris-Etherton, Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Penn State College of Health and Human Development, explains:
“You’d have to eat a lot of fatty fish every single day. One serving of fatty fish, which is 3.5 ounces of salmon, for example, has about 2.2 to 2.3 grams of omega-3 fatty acids. To get 3.36 grams per day means that you’d have to eat about 1 1/2 servings of fatty fish every day. The recommendation of two fish meals per week, including fatty fish and lean seafood like shrimp, would only get you about 0.25 gram per day, and most Americans don’t even eat that much.”
Why fatty acids are essential
Those omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids, (especially the DHA and EPA we’ve discussed above). When nutrients are labeled “essential,” it means that although we need them to stay healthy, the human body cannot produce them on its own. We have to get them from food or supplementation.
Carla and I get our essential omega-3s through supplementation. Our doctor recommends getting 1000 milligrams a day of DHA. To get that amount, we take four Kirkland Signature Natural Fish Oil Concentrate with Omega-3 Fatty Acids. We just take two in the morning and two at night. It’s such an easy way to access the incredible health benefits of omega-3 fish oil, without even needing to catch a fish! (Although I’ll always recommend the joy of fishing to everyone, and hope to still be out on the river doing it at 95!)
As with all supplements, we recommend checking with your doctor first.
The list of benefits of omega-3 fish oil goes on…
We didn’t even begin to cover all of the benefits you receive when you give your body proper amounts of omega-3s. If you’re still on the fence, here are a few additional benefits from omega-3 fish oil:
- Alleviates depression and anxiety
- Eye health
- Brain health during pregnancy and early life
- Reduces symptoms of ADHD in children
- Reduces symptoms of metabolic syndrome
- Fights autoimmune diseases
- Improves mental disorders
- Helps prevent cancer
- Reduces asthma in children
- Reduces fat in your liver
- Improves bone and joint health
- Alleviates menstrual pain
- Improves skin health
Wow! That’s a powerful punch from a few capsules a day of omega-3 fish oil.
Let us know if you have any questions about omega-3 fish oil. Do you have a favorite supplement you use? Let us know! We love hearing from you.
We’d also love to have you join us for our free More Than Healthy coaching calls. We do them once a month on a Tuesday night at 6 PM MST. Anyone can join us. We discuss all the tips we’ve covered that month, as well as any questions you might have. Just text COACHING to 1-647-558-9895 to join our email list or watch our social media pages and we will have the link there.
See you next week!