The "Omega 3" crisis
Fish oil has been one of the most popular supplements in the past decade. And for good reason. It contains high amounts of omega 3 fatty acids. This healthy fat can help with brain function, mood, inflammation, heart health and other ailments. But for our ancestors, or even people 50 years ago, these problems were more rare. But why? In this blog I will explore what changed in the past century, and potentially has altered the entire trajectory of our species. But first we need to review what omega 3's are.
Omega 3's are polyunsaturated fats that contain a double bond on the third carbon atom (the "3" in omega 3) in the carbon molecular chain. There are 3 types of omega 3's that are used in the human body, DHA (Docasahexaenoic acid), EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid) and ALA (alpha linolenic acid). Knowing these three types is very important to insure that you are eating the right amount of omega 3's for optimal health. DHA and EPA are the most important of the 3. They are essential for brain function, memory, mood, inflammation, heart function and so many other processes in the body that relate to over all well being. Rich sources of these are found ONLY in animal products (fatty fish, free range eggs, grass fed meats etc.), with the exception of algae. ALA is found in mainly plant sources (nuts, olives, avocado, flax etc.). In order to benefit from ALA, it has to be converted to DHA and EPA. Unfortunately this process is extraordinarily inefficient. Depending on your genes, only about 8%-20% gets converted to EPA, and only 1%-9% to DHA. Due to this, most people can not meet their omega 3 requirement eating just ALA fat.....sorry vegans. Other fats we consume are omega 6, and omega 9 . The essential(meaning our bodies require from external sources) fats are omega 3 and 6. For optimal health these fats need to be consumed in a balanced ratio of around 4:1, 4 being omega 3's, according to researchers. But other research claims some people need up to a 10:1 ratio!! The average American gets around 20:1 ratio of omega 6 to omega 3. A higher ratio of omega 6 fats being inflammatory to the body.
Unfortunately, the fat we consume has changed. Today, "good" sources of omega 3's are hard to find without supplementation. Majority of Americans don't get enough. This is because our modern food system, and most restaurants, fill our palates with cheap vegetable oils, hydrogenated oils, corn fed dairy and meats, farmed fish, peanut products and soy products. These all contain high amounts omega 6 fat, and little to no omega 3's. Just a half century ago, we ate all kinds of animal products high in both essential fats. Traditionally, milk, cheese, beef, eggs, lard(used in cooking until margarine took over), butter etc., were produced feeding, and treating animals the way they are supposed to. Cows ate grass, fish swam in rivers and oceans, and chickens ranged and scratched for bugs. They ate omega 3's, which in turn makes their meat, milk and eggs contain them. Animals are now fed corn and soy. Its cheaper, and the yields are the highest they've ever been. But at what cost...
The decrease in omega 3 fats in our diets has correlated with increases in depression, ADD, ADHD, anxiety, Alzheimer's, dementia, autism and more. I don't believe that lack of essential fats is the sole cause for all of these problems, but it is for sure a big piece of the puzzle. One of my key interests with this phenomenon, is what is this doing to our society? The out of balance level of fats in our diets has REAL consequences. The worst, in my opinion, being the potential effect on the development of children. Studies have shown that low intake of dietary omega 3's during pregnancy, can impair a child's brain development, and even effects the fat ratios of the mothers breast milk. This has lasting effects, making children and young adults more prone to ADD, ADHD, anxiety and depression.
Lack of omega 3's has caused potentially millions of cases of depression, and other neurological diseases. Most of which are unknown or untreated. And when they are addressed, they are treated with psychoactive drugs (anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, anti-anxiety etc.). I consider these drugs as potentially dangerous, and clearly not a long term solution. An undeniable observation is that nearly all of the recent mass shootings and public suicides, the shooter or victim was on one of these chemicals. And the prescriptions for these drugs are only going up. This is not to condemn ANYONE trying to manage mental health with psychiatric drugs, it's merely an opinion piece. But these observations do bring up many questions, along with possible connections to omega 3's, and their potential to influence our decisions and behaviors. Something I would like to explore more deeply in future blogs.
I hope this blog sparks interest in how important fats can be in our lives, and possibly cause others to pursue more knowledge on the topic. We are STILL learning about how these different molecules effect our lives. The more I dive into nutrition, the more I realize that food is medicine. A medicine that has the potential to nourish the body, and spirit.