Why we Recommend Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Dr. John C. Lowe
We are concerned that our patients achieve optimal health, and for most patients, omega-3 fatty acids are needed for this. We have two reasons for recommending that patients take omega-3 fatty acids. First, some evidence suggests that these fatty acids protect the thyroid gland and may reduce the severity of hypothyroidism.
Second, a deficiency of the fatty acidswhich is common todaycan interfere with normal nervous system and brain function. Among the symptoms that may result are depression and poor memory and concentration. These symptoms are common among hypothyroid and thyroid hormone resistance patients. Providing the patients with adequate thyroid hormone regulation is crucial, of course. But for relieving depression and poor memory and concentration, we cant overemphasize the importance of patients also correcting an omega-3 fatty acid deficiency.
Need for a Balance of Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty Acids.
Our human ancestors evolved with a diet that contained about equal amounts of omega-3and omega-6 fatty acids. (The ratio was about 1-to-1:2.) Over the past 100-to-150 years, humans have increased their intake of vegetable oils from corn, sunflower seeds, safflower seeds, cottonseed, and soybeans. As they did, their intake of omega-6 fatty acids markedly increased. Today, the diets of most people in the West have a high ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. (The ratio ranges from about 20-30:1.) Compared to the diet humans evolved with and with which our genetic patterns developed, the diet is now deficient in omega-3 fatty acids.
A high intake of omega-6 can have adverse effects. The persons physiologic state shifts so that the blood becomes stickier and bleeding time decreases. Blood vessels constrict more easily and may spasm. In contrast, omega-3 fatty acids oppose inflammation, blood clots, and heart arrhythmias. They also lower blood fats and favour dilation of blood vessels. These effects make omega-3 important in preventing a variety of diseases. These diseases include coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, type-2 diabetes, some forms of kidney disease, rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Some benefits come directly from omega-3 fatty acids. Other benefits come from two other fatty acids that cells derive from omega-3. The two fatty acids are “eicosapentaenoic acid” (EPA) and “docosahexaenoic acid” (DHA).
A balance of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in the diet is essential for normal growth and development. Balancing the fatty acids may decrease the incidence of cardiovascular disease and other chronic diseases, and it may improve mental health.
To correct adverse health effects, researches recommend that we decrease the intake of omega-6 fatty acids and increase the intake of omega-3 fatty acids.We can get omega-3 in some foods. The oils of sea fish contain omega-3, but farm-raised, corn-feed fish arent a good source. Green leafy vegetables, flaxseed, rapeseed, and walnuts are good sources.
As I said above, our main reason for recommending omega-3 fatty acids is that we want to optimize our patients brain function. To function normally, the brain must produce several types of fatty acids. To produce them, brain cells must have the required building-block chemicals, such as omega-3.Some fatty acids brain cells produce are important to normal metabolism of brain neurotransmitters. DHA, for example, is involved in dopamine and serotonin metabolism.
Depression occurs more often in people who lower their cholesterol levels through dieting or drugs. The increased incidence of depression with lower cholesterol levels may result from altered levels of fatty acids. The altered levels may involve a deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids or an increase in the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. Some researchers have reported finding lower omega-3 fatty acid levels in depressed patients. Whether increasing the levels improves depression, however, is still unsettled.
Gitlin, at the Department of Psychiatry at UCLA School of Medicine, reported this year that psychiatrists have expanded the treatment of bipolar disorder. In addition to mood stabilizing drugs, some are also treating their patients with high-dose thyroid hormone and omega-3 fatty acids.
Nutrient deficiencies are common in children with “attention deficit hyperactivity syndrome.” Correcting the nutrient deficiencies may improve the childrens symptoms. Among the nutritional supplements researchers recommend are omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. (Other nutrients they recommend include minerals, B complex vitamins, flavonoids, and phospholipid phosphatidylserine.)
Studies have shown that many schizophrenic patients have low levels of the fatty acids needed for normal metabolism of nerve cell membranes. In some studies, evening primrose oil (omega-6) supplementation wasnt of benefit to schizophrenics. But EPA (derived from omega-3) enabled one third of the patients to avoid treatment with anti-psychotic drugs.
These studies typify scores that have recently been published. They illustrate the evidence amassing that a balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids is important to health in general and to brain function in particular. Omega-3 may be an essential ingredient for relieving some patients depression and restoring their memory and concentration. Hence, we recommend that patients take it as a daily supplement.