Omega 3 Fatty Acids: The Foundation for Optimal Health
Why Omega 3 Fatty Acids Are Foundational For Good Health
Omega 3 fatty acids are known to have numerous health benefits, so it is worth understanding how and why you should incorporate them into your nutritional or supplemental routine.
It’s also important to note that although omega-3s have been the subject of much medical and nutritional research, there are factors that can influence how they work within an individual’s health ecosystem – factors such as genetics, lifestyle and health habits.
Another consideration is the balance between omega 3 fatty acids and omega 6 fatty acids (found in vegetable oils, for example). Though omega-6s are just as essential for health as omega-3s, problems arise when the ratio between them is off.
Studies have found that, in general, people are not getting enough omega-3s yet are consuming excessive amounts of omega-6s, leading to many, sometimes serious, health risks.
So making sure you are getting enough omega-3s, and making sure the ratio between omega-3s and omega-6s is close, can be a great step towards better health. This is especially true if you suffer from conditions like Cardiovascular Disease or Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS).
AFS is a condition whereby your adrenals become fatigued, most commonly due to chronic or traumatic stress. As a result of this, inflammation, cardiovascular, and many other issues often arise. Let’s take a look at how omega-3 fatty acids can help these symptoms and your overall health.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids and Heart Health
Omega-3s are known to be protective of heart health – they are a major actor in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. They even reduce the risk of death from heart attacks and the recurrence of heart attacks in patients with already-established cardiovascular disease. Omega-3s can also mitigate hypertension.
What is more remarkable, is their ability to reduce triglycerides (a type of lipid found in the blood which can negatively impact heart health) by up to 50%, while increasing the healthy cholesterol, HDL.
Omega-3s can help prevent or stabilize irregular heartbeats (arrhythmia) and they can prevent blood clots and fatty plaques from forming inside blood vessels, which then helps prevent strokes and heart disease.
Considering that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the US, making healthy omega-3 consumption a priority is common sense. In fact, the American Heart Association recommends adults eat fatty fish, a great source of omega 3 fatty acids, at least twice a week.
Heart palpitations and tachycardia are common symptoms seen in adrenal fatigue. They come about as a result of an overactive sympathetic nervous system(SNS). Your SNS will activate more frequently when your adrenals are weak, as a compensatory mechanism. The SNS does have side effects when activated, however, it can act on your heart and increase heart rate as well as heart strength, making the heart beat harder. Over time, if left unchecked, this can lead to heart palpitations, and potentially arrhythmias as well. It is important to take omega-3s to maintain heart health in AFS because it has an anti-inflammatory and electrical signal stabilizing effect, both are calming for the body.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids For Brain and Nerve Function
Omega-3s are essential for brain and nervous system function. In fact, they are found to be most concentrated in the brain and nervous system – they are needed for nerve transmission, they are needed for neuron and brain cell formation, they boost circulation in the brain and nervous system, and they improve cell-growth in general.
Omega-3s help increase the levels of serotonin and dopamine, the feel-good compounds that keep depression and aggression at bay. Studies show that omega-3s help patients with depression who are already on antidepressants respond more effectively to their medication. Omega -3s are also anti-inflammatory, and depression is now being thought of as consequence of an inflamed brain.
Other Health Benefits of Omega-3s
- There are studies showing that omega-3s support bone density, helping prevent or manage osteoporosis.
- Due to their anti-inflammatory properties, omega-3s can alleviate rheumatoid arthritis, pain, swelling and heat in joints.
- Other inflammatory conditions such as Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis seem to also respond well to omega-3s.
- Skin issues like eczema and psoriasis show improvement with the use of omega-3s.
- New research is suggesting that omega-3s can be a factor in inhibiting the growth of breast, prostate and colon cancer cells.
Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome and NeuroEndoMetabolic Stress Response
The Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) hormonal axis is the main pathway the body uses to interpret stress-signals coming in through the senses. It converts the messages into neurotransmitters and hormones that are then sent to the organs needed to mount a stress response. Though the HPA axis is meant to deal with stress, it is not made to handle chronic stress. With chronic stress, the adrenal glands, which are what secrete the important stress-hormone cortisol, can become dysregulated and their output eventually compromised.
The body is then unable to handle stress appropriately, leading to a number of issues including lowered thyroid function and the many symptoms of adrenal fatigue, such as:
- Tiredness and lethargy
- Frequent colds and flus
- Easily gaining weight and difficulty losing it
- Difficulty falling and staying asleep
- Difficulty with focus and memory
- New or worsening allergies
- Lowered libido
- Mild depression
Beyond the neuroendocrine component, we can take a look at the entire NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response, which takes into consideration the body’s many other organs and systems that play a role in handling stress. This gives us a more functional picture of the different stages of adrenal fatigue, ranging from the mild to the severe.
With chronic stress, disruptions can begin to show up in the hormonal, metabolic, neuro-affective, cardionomic, inflammatory and detoxification responses, all of which are part of the unified NEM stress response system. This can create challenging health conditions if not addressed – one of which, as mentioned, is AFS.
Omega 3 fatty acids can be a great addition to a holistic plan for managing and ameliorating adrenal fatigue symptoms. Because omega-3s can help increase serotonin and dopamine levels, they can help alleviate the mild depression symptoms that can come with adrenal fatigue. They can also help with brain function to improve focus and memory by improving myelination of neurons.
Adrenal fatigue can cause heart palpitations and unstable blood pressure, and omega 3 fatty acids can aid in stabilizing both. Because omega-3s are anti-inflammatory, they can help prevent one of the main factors that contribute to the development of adrenal fatigue –stressors caused by inflammation. Symptoms of inflammation include leaky gut, frequent infections, food sensitivities, and autoimmune conditions.
Types and Sources of Omega 3 Fatty Acids
There are three main types of omega-3s: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and alpha-linoleic acid (ALA).
EPA and DHA are found in marine animals such as fish and krill – and that is why the American Heart Association recommends two servings of fatty fish a week for healthy adults, as EPA and DHA offer the greatest health benefits. ALA comes from plant-based sources such as flax, hemp seeds, and chia seeds. Though ALA is also beneficial, it is not as essential as EPA and DHA.
Because the body cannot produce its own omega 3 fatty acids, they must be consumed from outside sources. Combining animal and plant-based sources of omega-3s in your diet is a good option. But if you find it difficult to ensure you are getting enough omega-3s from food. Most fatty acid supplements are derived from fish. With mercury toxicity on the rise, and ever increase mercury levels in fish. It is important to find high quality dietary supplementation.
Because each person has a unique physiology, lifestyle and eating habits, it is advised to get customized nutritional coaching and recommendations on the dosage and source of supplementation. This is especially important if you are dealing with any of the health conditions mentioned above or adrenal fatigue. While omega-3 fatty acids are a relatively safe supplement for most people, Those with severe sensitivities and advanced adrenal fatigue may still react negatively to EPA and DHA. Remember that the clinical effectiveness of omega-3 is dose dependent. High doses can have side effects including GI disturbances, and blood thinning, so careful dosing is required. In the setting of AFS, omega-3 may not be well tolerated, especially for those in a catabolic state. The time of intake, dosage, and frequency are very important considerations and should be planned out properly to avoid clinical failure.
© Copyright 2016 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.