You have no doubt noticed Omega-3’s being mentioned an awful lot by the media, and you’ve probably figured out that they’re supposed to be good for you.
But are they really?
And what the heck are they, anyway? Let me clue you in on why every guy should be getting these beneficial nutrients incorporated into their diet.
Omega-3’s are a type of essential fatty acid — they’re referred to as essential because the body can’t produce them on it’s own and therefore can only be obtained from diet. There are several different types of Omega-3 fatty acids, but there’s just three that we’re concerned with for their importance to health: ALA (α-linolenic acid, mainly found in plants and nuts), EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), both of which are found primarily in cold water fish and fish oils and grass fed animals.
Of these three fatty acids, EPA and DHA offer the greatest protective health benefits. While ALA is converted over to EPA and DHA in the body, it’s a really inefficient way to get them (only about 5- 20% is converted).
The Differences Between EPA and DHA
EPA and DHA are two of the most important fatty acids required by the body and yet most people don’t get adequate amounts of them in their day-to-day diets. Numerous studies show that consuming EPA and DHA provides a ton of health benefits, including prevention of heart disease, arthritis relief, lowered cholesterol levels and treatment for depression, just to name a few.
And while both of these essential fatty acids work in tandem to benefit the body, there are slight differences between them.
DHA is very important for fetal health and infant brain development, which is why it’s found in human breast milk. It’s also crucial for neurological development and, in fact, the brain shows a preference for DHA over other fatty acids.
A diet containing generous amounts of DHA helps to improve cognitive ability, but a diet deficient in DHA has been linked to poor learning performance. DHA is also important for brain function as we grow older in order to fight against cognitive decline.
DHA was also recently shown to increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy in prostate cancer cells, reduce levels of blood triglycerides and help treat and prevent heart failure.
EPA has been shown to produce significant improvements in various medical conditions, including atherosclerosis, thrombosis and particular types of cancer. It is also important for bolstering mental health and fighting depression.
Increasing your intake of this omega-3 fatty acid can help to relieve symptoms of depression, bi-polar disorder and even schizophrenia.
While both EPA and DHA have unique properties, you’ll definitely want to get plenty of both to obtain the greatest benefits from these essential fatty acids. This is one reason why fish oil and krill oil is so convenient since they naturally contain both types of these omega-3’s.
Omega-3 Health Benefits
The list of positive health benefits that these omega-3 fatty acids provide is about a mile long, with almost too many for me to mention, but among some of the most important are:
- Cardiovascular Health – Research has shown that omega-3 fatty acids decrease triglycerides and cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, reduce blood clotting, decrease stroke and heart failure risk, reduce irregular heartbeats, and slow the growth rate of atherosclerotic plaque.
- Muscle Gain – Studies demonstrate bodybuilding benefits by a positive correlation between omega-3 supplementation and protein synthesis, and a diet rich in these fatty acids can lead to a marked increase in muscle growth and anabolic response. They may also significantly increase growth hormone production.
- Brain Health – Omega-3’s have many brain-boosting benefits and have been shown to improve learning, memory, age-related cognitive decline, depression and mood disorders.
- Anti-Inflammatory – These fatty acids display an ability to reduce inflammation throughout the body, alleviating symptoms caused by conditions such as arthritis. Inflammation in the body can also damage your blood vessels and lead to heart disease.
- Eye Health – Several studies suggest omega-3’s may help protect eyes from age-related vision loss, dry eye syndrome and decrease the risk of high eye pressure and glaucoma.
- Weight Loss – When combined with exercise, the effects of essential fatty acids like those in found in fish oil may be substantial. It is believed to enhance blood flow to muscles during exercise, stimulating enzymes to use up fat for energy.
How Much Omega 3 Should You Take?
Based on my own research of available clinical studies, to get the optimal benefits from these fatty acids you need to take a lot more omega-3’s than most fish oil supplements provide. I personally recommend taking 2 g EPA and 1.5 g DHA daily (2,000 mg and 1,500 mg), so pay close attention to the nutritional label of fish oil before you buy.
Which Foods Contain Omega 3’s?
While taking supplements is no doubt the easiest way to incorporate large servings of omega-3’s into your diet, you can still get plenty from a variety of foods. Here’s a list of foods rich with these fatty acids:
- Cold water fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring, and tuna are the best sources for EPA and DHA.
- Grass-fed animals such as beef, bison, sheep, lamb and goat, and also the milk from grass-fed animals are good sources.
- Eggs that have been enriched with omega-3’s by adding flax seed, fish oil, fish meal or algae to the hens’ diets.
- Seaweed contains actual DHA rather than the less efficient precursor ALA found in most plant sources.
Do Omega 3 Supplements Cause Prostate Cancer?
You may have heard about a study showing that omega-3 supplements were linked to an increased risk of prostate cancer. This study’s conclusions, however, smell fishier than a cod’s liver.
There was no cause and effect shown in the study, only a vague correlation. On top of that, more than half of the men involved were smokers, 63% drank regularly and 80% were overweight or obese.
There wasn’t even any indication that these men took omega-3 supplements in the first place.
The fact is, omega-3 fatty acids have been the subject of countless studies, virtually every one of them showing the enormous benefits of consuming these vital nutrients. If I were you I wouldn’t be in any rush to throw my bottles of fish oil out just yet, the one study claiming a link with cancer was far from conclusive.
And if the omega-3’s in fish oil are somehow carcinogenic, that would mean that Scandinavian, Japanese and Eskimo men (who consume large quantities of fish oil) would be suffering from some of the highest rates of prostate cancer in the world rather than the lowest.
There is little doubt as to how amazingly beneficial EPA and DHA are to maintaining and extending good health. By eating a diet high in these essential fatty acids and adding supplements such as fish or krill oil, you are going a long way to improving circulatory health, brain function, eyesight, muscle mass, weight loss, reducing inflammation and more.
Adding these powerful nutrients to your supplement stack is not just a good idea, it may actually change your quality of life.
Do you use omega-3 supplements? I’d love to know what you think. Feel free to leave a comment below.
See Also: The Best Multivitamins for Men