Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Defend Your Body, Defend Your Mind
It is no secret that our bodies are barraged by a myriad of unseen forces every day, seemingly increasing in intensity and ferocity as the years go by. Unfortunately, our defenses sometimes succumb to this relentless attack—and we experience achy joints, sickness, disease, and cognitive decline. It’s a morbid thought, however, these things characterize a major part of the human experience; none are immune to the effects of sickness and aging. We can thank our immune system for the fact that we have made it this far, but history has taught us that sometimes a tactical edge is needed to turn the tide of battle. Napoleon Bonaparte is often credited for the saying “an army marches on its stomach”, which applies strongly to this situation; the immune system is completely reliant on good nutrition to function properly. Regrettably, nutrition rarely gets the attention it deserves as life hangs in the balance for all of us; as a society we are too eager to push pharmacy as a solution to all these problems. Don’t get me wrong: prescriptions definitely have a place for good health, but the absence of good nutrition makes the practice moot; a cover-up for the real issues. While most people generally know what a good diet is composed of—foods like fruits and vegetables—not many people understand the importance of omega-3 fatty acids: drivers of the immune response and brain health. When paired with good dietary habits, proper use of omega-3s becomes a secret weapon for the body to use to defend itself!
Many people like to mention omega-3 fatty acids, but few explain what they actually are. Fatty acids are a major component of fats and oils, and omega-3 just describes the chemical structure of a type of fatty acid. This is similar to the various shapes and sizes of the 2x4s and 2x6s in a house; omega-3s are a type of building block for fats. It is the shape of omega-3s that give them their special characteristics! There are three main types: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosapentaenoic acid (DHA). Each is unique and has special characteristics that help the body defend itself.
ALA is consumed the most out of the different omega-3s. Healthy food sources of ALA include canola oil, flaxseed, walnuts, and avocados. It has many documented benefits: ALA is neuroprotective, reduces inflammation, and helps protect against oxidative damage! For those concerned about heart health, ALA helps to lower cholesterol, triglycerides, and overall risk of heart disease! It certainly won’t cure everything, but choosing rich sources of ALA is giving the body an additional tool to protect against disease.
EPA and DHA have a similar array of health benefits: improved blood lipid values, reduced risk of heart disease, reduced inflammation, and reduction of oxidative damage to cells. Extra attention is given to these omega-3s because of the impact they have on brain health: they are essential for brain function, have neuroprotective properties, and may even slow the progression of Alzheimer's Disease. Despite these amazing health benefits, average intake totals 90 mg, far less than the recommended 220 mg of EPA and 250-500 mg of DHA for good health. Food sources of EPA and DHA include fish and seafood, with salmon being one of the richest sources of these omega-3s. These are very important nutrients, so if you are not already eating fish on a regular basis, I recommend you act today! For those who do not like fish, fish oil supplements are commonly available. Additionally, Nutrient Survival has the Brain Omega 3 Bar®, which contains a whopping 430 mg EPA, 323 mg DHA, and 1160 mg ALA per serving!
Some time ago a researcher named Ron Pardini wrote a case study on a 78-year-old man who had cancer in both of his lungs1. When he was diagnosed and told he didn’t have long to live, he asked his neighbor, Dr. Pardini, what he should do. Dr. Pardini studied EPA and DHA throughout his career, so he recommended fish oil supplements based on what he had seen in mouse models. This man took the advice to heart and started consuming very large doses of EPA and DHA daily in combination with some changes to his diet. What happened has a result of this went beyond everyone’s expectations: a whole four years after the initial diagnosis a CT scan showed that the cancer had reduced in size by over 90%! The researchers involved attributed this change to the patient’s intake of omega-3 fatty acids.
Left: The initial CT scan performed on July 24, 2000. Two large masses were found.
Right: A CT scan performed on April 2, 2004. The cancerous masses are significantly reduced in size.
This is an extreme example of the power of nutrition. It is nothing short of amazing what the body can accomplish when the diet is optimized. This does not necessarily mean that taking mega doses of omega-3s will cure cancer—the body harnesses immense power from nutrients to function and thrive, and imbalances in the diet rob us from our potential. I think of what this meant to the patient with lung cancer—he gained multiple years beyond what was expected because of the changes he made, probably to the immense gratitude of his family and friends. In that regard, this case is not unique; we may all benefit substantially simply through making sure the body has what it needs through a balanced diet.
About the author
Taylor Zappe is a master's graduate in nutrition from the University of Nevada, Reno, and an R&D Lead at Nutrient Survival. He enjoys hiking and camping with his family, having acquired a love of the outdoors at a young age. He is a strong believer in the power of nutrition in everyday life, having spent the last seven years applying nutrition principles in day-to-day meal planning and in outdoor excursions.
- Pardini RS, Wilson D, Schiff S, Bajo SA, Pierce R. Nutritional intervention with omega-3 Fatty acids in a case of malignant fibrous histiocytoma of the lungs. Nutr Cancer. 2005;52(2):121-129. doi:10.1207/s15327914nc5202_2