One of my early childhood memories consists of my mother feeding me a spoonful of fish oil. Perhaps this memory is so vivid because I genuinely loathed those moments. I would put up such a fight that eventually my mother gave up and I no longer had to endure the most dreaded part of my day. I have a feeling that those times are exactly what has turned my taste buds away from liking anything seafood or fish. But here I am, thirty years later, writing about the remarkable benefits of fish oil. Go figure, funny how things work out in life.
Fish oil has been used as medicine for a very long time. Like Hippocrates times, long ago. From prehistoric to present times humans have been using the fish liver to extract the precious golden liquid. Cod liver oil was the crown jewel of all fish oils before the cod fishing industry destroyed almost the entire population of this previously over abundant fish.
So why is fish oil so healthy and why should I care about it even though it tastes so bad? Well, fish oil contains an essential fatty acid called Omega-3 which is necessary for healthy cell formation and is responsible for brain and nervous system functions. Fatty acids play a big role in regulating the immune system and inflammation in the body.
There are three different Omegas out there. Omega-3, Omega-6 and Omega-9. Omega-3 and Omega-6 are considered essential because our bodies do not produce them. Omega-9 is produced by the human body but is also found in olive oil and avocados and is very good for me.
Omega-6 is responsible for many functions of the body, including metabolism, hair and nail growth among others. The most significant of all, however, is its ability to promote inflammation, which is how our bodies fight off various infections. This is why it’s called essential. Alas, the western diet is so rich in Omega-6 that an average person is overdosing on this inflammation inducing fatty acid daily. As we gorge on meat, eggs, butter, whole milk, vegetable oils and processed foods, we shove extremely dangerous amounts of Omega-6 into our mouths. Inflammation follows this over indulgence and our bodies become ill. Inflammation has been linked to many diseases including breast cancer, as it promotes tumor development and metastasis.
On the other hand, we have Omega-3. This fatty acid reduces inflammation, prevents and inhibits breast cancer tumors and metastasis among many other functions. Everything in nature is in balance, Yin and Yang. Omegas demand a similar approach as well. A well balanced intake of the two is paramount to our health.
When I was first diagnosed, I began to do a lot of research and started coming up with long lists of superfoods and supplements necessary for my good health. I quickly realized that my body was completely depleted of most of the things on that list. Omega-3 was one of those supplements, which was highly recommended for BC and also the one my body had never seen before due to my Standard American Diet (SAD) and dislike of fish. An adult should consume around 1000mg of omega-3 per day, in my case, 1500mg would be best. I learned that flax seed was rich in Omega-3, like 6000mg per half of tablespoon rich. Since flax kept popping up everywhere in my research due not only to its Omega-3 content but numerous other nourishing properties, I began to grind it up and eating it on and in everything I could. For a while I was content with my intake of Omegas until I realized that there was more to Omega-3 than just flax.
There are three different Omega-3 acids: EPA, DHA and ALA. All three are cancer fighters. Nuts and seeds contain the one ALA, which actually has to be converted into EPA and DHA through digestion in order for our bodies to absorb it. While ALA is indisputably beneficial, the conversion rates are different for everyone and the science agrees that a substantial amount of Omegas is lost during this conversion process. So while flax is a great champion, how much Omegas my body absorbs from it is a guess. I love my flax but I wanted to know more about the other two fatty acids.
Fish contains EPA and DHA, which play different roles in our bodies. DHA has many important roles especially in respect to structural brain development. Children, pregnant women and elderly with dementia or Alzheimer’s require more DHA intake. This fatty acid is more prevalent in our bodies as its present in all of our organs. Our bodies simply have more DHA than EPA.
EPA’s principal role is reducing inflammation. Our bodies constantly use up this fatty acid and starve to replace it on everyday basis, which makes its presence much lesser than that of DHA. To top this off, the human body economics work in such a way, that if DHA and EPA are presented together, the body will choose the more dominant DHA for absorption first. Knowing this, I decided to look for an EPA only supplement.
There are many formulas out there ranging from 2:1 or 4:1 DHA:EPA and vice versa. Before my discovery of EPA’s super importance, I chose a vegan product made from algae. Its DHA:EPA ratio is 2:1. It’s a bit fishy tasting but vegan none-the-less, so I thought what the heck. After more digging, I realized that in order to get at least 1000mg I would need to empty an entire dropper into my mouth and this thing was not cheap. In fact, the ratio of this product was 2:1 DHA:EPA. So, dig deeper, Rach!
By process of elimination I started checking most products off my list of prospects. Any product from a big fish like salmon or cod was out because of its high concentration of mercury and other harmful agents. Krill is potent in Omegas but not so high in EPA and I remember my husband taking this stuff and it stunk so bad out of the bottle that I could never go for it. I was hoping to find an all EPA supplement and finally stumbled upon a product made from sardine and anchovy. They are tiny fish and therefore do not have much mercury absorbed in them to begin with. This stuff also goes through a purification process to distill all the yuckies out of it. This supplement I love! It comes in small golden gels, not those Brazil nut sized ones my husband was taking. Best of all, when you open this supplement bottle, there is no odor what’s so ever. I could not believe it was fish oil. One gel is 500mg. I take one twice or three times per day with a meal. The real test was to see if it belches up fishy and it does not! Every other day I take my DHA rich algae supplement alone to negate any competition with EPA. I also try to include flax into my daily diet. I am finally happy with my choice of Omega-3 supplement routine, hooray!
Here are a few things to consider before buying Omega-3 supplement. Old product can actually cause more harm than good. If you are belching fish all day long, your supplement is probably not very fresh and has gone rancid. EPA is also excellent for winter blues and many people take EPA rich Omega-3 to combat cabin fever. A supplement which has EPA and DHA ratio of 1:1 may not be absorbed in that manner since our bodies want to absorb DHA first. Omega-3 products are generally very expensive, so be selective. I see gigantic bottles of flax oil in health food stores which contain all three Omegas, including Omega-6. Remember that flax is ALA rich and has to convert into EPA, so the amount of it you are getting is unknown.
Here are some Omega-3 rich foods:
Non Vegan: Cold water fish like wild caught Alaskan salmon or black cod, wild caught sardines, wild caught anchovy and wild caught mackerel.
Vegan: Flax, chia, hemp, butternut, walnuts, pecans, pine nuts, and hickory nuts.
Do you take an Omega-3 supplement? I am always learning and would love to hear your experiences with Omega-3 supplements.
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