“Take your fish oils” is becoming one of the most common suggestions in regards to supplementation. This is because fish oils contain omega-3 fatty acids. With a name that references its molecular shape, omega-3’s are polyunsaturated “essential fatty acid” (EFA) chains. (When a nutrient is “essential”, this means that we need to obtain it through our diet because our bodies are unable to produce it endogenously.) So to properly support our bodies, it is crucial we have sufficient omega-3 fatty acids in our diets.

It is especially important we intake enough omega-3’s because they make up structural components of the body, like the brain and cells, and also greatly contribute to the health of the brain, heart, vascular system, cells, immune system, mood, skin, lungs, and organs. Further, they are one of the most helpful nutrients for counteracting inflammation, a condition that underlies the majority of chronic diseases.

Figuring out your bodily requirement of omega-3’s is not only about eating enough of these fatty acids, but also demands you intake them in the appropriate proportion to omega-6 fatty acids, another type of essential polyunsaturated fatty acid. Ideally, when you intake omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, you do so in a 2 to 1 ratio, so that you have 2 omega-6 fatty acids to every 1 omega-3 fatty acid. Unfortunately, this ratio is generally largely out of proportion in most individuals’ bodies. Since omega-6 fatty acids occur in large amounts in grains, and because grains permeate our food system (due to processed foods made with grain as well as commercial meat manufacturers that feed their animals grain), Americans tend to have very high levels of omega-6 fatty acids in relation to their levels of omega-3 fatty acids. Sometimes these levels become as high as 20 (or even 30!) to 1. At high ratios (20-30 to 1) of omega-6 fatty acids to omega-3 fatty acids, people can experience impaired cognition and brain function, depression, mood disorders, and chronic inflammation, creating pain and higher probabilities of developing chronic diseases like heart disease and cancer. As a result, an imbalance in your fatty acid ratio can be a very serious matter.

Fortunately, there is a lot we can do to improve our omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio. Generally, increasing levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the diet while eliminating processed foods and non-pasture raised animal products will do a lot of work towards balancing essential omega-6 to omega-3 ratios. Some omega-3 foods include flax seeds, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, and walnuts.These seeds (and nut) are good sources of the short chain omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), but research shows that less than 5% of this is converted to the long chain omega-3 fat eicosapentanaenoic acid (EPA) and less than 0.5% is converted into docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which are the two fatty acids our body most relies upon. Thus a more efficient food source which includes ALA, EPA, and DHA might be a better choice if you are especially low in omega-3’s. Seafood and pasture-raised animal meat are two such food categories, providing some of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids as they contain the complete range of omega-3’s that our bodies need. The seafood with the highest levels of the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA are fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, and anchovies. As a note, marine algae also contains both EPA and DHA, so utilizing a marine algae source is a way that vegans and vegetarians can increase omega-3 levels without relying upon fish sources.

In addition to eating fish, supplementation can be an effective way to efficiently rebalance omega-3 to omega-6 ratios. When supplementing, it is important to use a cleanly sourced fish oil supplement with the correct EPA to DHA ratio. Additionally, since suggested dosage ranges depending upon individual needs, it is very helpful to know your current ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. One way to test this ratio and find out your omega-3 levels is to take the BrainSpan assessment offered at Symmetry. The BrainSpan assessment consists of a finger-prick blood test as well as a brief online cognitive test. The BrianSpan analyzes omega-3 levels, fatty acid ratios, as well as toxicity levels in your blood, and compares that to your cognitive results so that we may assess what kind of supplemental support is best for you. BrainSpan is a great assessment to do before planning to make changes towards a health goal, and is also a great way to figure out your current health needs.

For more information on omega-3 testing and supplementation, please reach out to Symmetry at gethealthy@symmetryhealthcenter.com or call us at (510) 769-0125.