Omega 3 supplements like Omega XL are rapidly growing in popularity. People have realized at long last that they consume far too much pro-inflammatory fat, and far too few anti-inflammatory, heart-healthy fatty acids like omega-3.
Everybody knows that Omega-3s are good for you. Most people can vaguely tell you why omega 3 is healthy; it’s “good” for your heart, it helps with joint pain, etc. But few people actually understand just how important omega 3s are for promoting overall health and performance.
Very few people seem to know what happens if you don’t have enough omega 3.
So what does happen if you don’t get enough omega 3? Do you need to be supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids? Is it necessary to consume DHA?
Let’s find out.
What is omega 3?
Omega 3 is a collection of fatty acids which are characterized by the presence of a double bond three atoms away from their terminal methyl group. In other words, omega 3s are fatty acids which share the same structure.
There are three different omega 3 fatty acids involved in human physiology: DHA, EPA, and ALA. Of these, ALA is the only one that cannot be made by humans.
That’s right; DHA is not the most important omega 3 fatty acid, as you can make it out of ALA. Humans must therefore consume ALA.
Both DHA and EPA are primarily found in maritime plants such as algae. Of course, most people associate omega 3 with fish liver oil. Fish livers are indeed rich in DHA, but only because these fish eat so much algae.
ALA is found in lots of different plants, such as flaxseed and walnuts.
What do omega 3 fatty acids do for health?
The three omega-3 fatty acids have several different roles within the human body.
ALA (alpha lipoic acid) is primarily used for breaking down carbohydrates into simple sugars. It also seems to have an antioxidant effect, protecting your cells from free radical-induced damage.
EPA is primarily used for reducing inflammation, lowering blood pressure, and increasing blood viscosity. This is why EPA supplements are sometimes prescribed to people who are at high risk of heart attack or stroke (although the evidence that omega 3s prevent heart attacks is extremely weak).
DHA is probably the most important of the omega 3 fatty acids in terms of its uses. DHA is one of the primary structural components of your brain’s gray matter. Like ALA and EPA, it also has a potent anti-inflammatory effect, and it may also protect your cells from oxidtive damage.
What happens if you don’t consume enough omega 3?
So do you need to consume omega 3 supplements? What happens if you don’t consume enough omega 3?
As explained above, the body is unable to make its own ALA. You therefore need to consume some ALA. When you do have sufficient ALA, then you can make EPA and DHA by joining together ALA “strands”.
However, it is unlikely that you consume very much ALA from food. Very few of us consume lots of walnuts, flaxseeds and tofu on a regular basis. As such, supplementing with a full spectrum omega 3 supplement might be necessary for optimal health.
If you don’t get enough omega 3, then chances are that you will suffer from chronic inflammation and higher oxidative stress than normal. Your triglyceride levels will likely be elevated above the healthy target, as will your cholesterol levels. All of this will increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.
Not getting enough DHA is also linked to a faster rate of age-related cognitive decline. You somewhat lose your ability to convert ALA to DHA as you get older, which is potentially why your brain gets worse at maintaining itself (and why it ultimately atrophies).
Omega 3 fatty acids are extremely important for normal bodily functioning. Most people today consume large quantities of pro-inflammatory omega 6 and 9 fatty acids. It is therefore more important than ever for you to make the effort to consume more omega 3 fatty acids. Doing so will reduce systemic inflammation, promote good cardiovascular health, and support good cognitive function throughout your life. It doesn’t matter whether you focus on getting more ALA, EPA or DHA; all of them are important, and you can make EPA and DHA from ALA.