Tag Archives: inflammation

Omega-3’s: Why do we need them?

Omega-3, also known as linolenic acid, is an essential fatty acid that we must get through our diet.  It’s a type of polyunsaturated fat that our body cannot produce so we have to get it from food we eat.  Omega-6, linoleic acid, is also an essential fatty acid, but most people get a lot of this type of fatty acid through the “standard diet”.  The goal for overall health is to obtain a balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.

There are three forms of omega-3 fatty acids:  ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), and DHA (docosahexanoic acid).  ALA is found in plants and can be converted to EPA and DHA in the body.  DHA and EPA are naturally found egg yolks, some plant and nut oils, and in cold water fish and shellfish.

Some overall health benefits of omega-3’s are:

  1. reduces inflammation
  2. reduces blood clotting
  3. dilates blood vessels
  4. important for eye and brain development (especially important for a growing fetus in the late stages of pregnancy)
  5. acts to reduce cholesterol and triglyceride levels
  6. may help preserve brain function
  7. helps decrease risk factors for disease
  8. may help reduce the risk of mental illness and ADHD, although more research is needed to confirm mental health benefits

Getting the proper amount of omega-3’s in the diet can help athletic performance and recovery.  Reducing inflammation and helping with blood flow are important benefits for athletes and active people.

Omega-6 fatty acids tend to be pro-inflammatory.  These are mostly found in vegetable oils (safflower, sunflower, corn, and soybean oil).  We do need omega-6 fatty acids in our diet, but we need to maintain the right balance.  Most Americans get too much omega-6 and not enough omega-3.  Balancing these two fatty acids is necessary for supporting normal circulation and other biological processes.

While there is not a dietary reference intake (DRI) for the ideal amount of EPA and DHA, the Institute of Medicine has established an adequate intake for ALA (the precursor to EPA + DHA).  The Institute of Medicine recommends 1.1 grams per day of ALA to be the minimum amount for normal growth and neural development.  It has been recommended that we get 1.25 grams of EPA+DHA per day, which is found in about 2-3 serving of fatty fish per week.

Can we get all the needed omega-3 fatty acids from only eating plant based sources?  ALA (found in plants), being the precursor, needs to be converted to EPA and DHA in the body.  According to this study, “the conversion appears to be unreliable and restricted” and “the conversion from ALA to DHA is severely restricted”.

Being plant based, I was always curious if I was getting the proper amount of omega-3’s in my diet.  Earlier in the year, my doctor advised that I take a fish oil supplement.  I was hesitant, but started taking it daily in hopes of decreasing my CRP level .  C-reactive protein (CRP) levels rise in response to inflammation.  After three months (along with some other changes) I was able to get my CRP down to a healthy level.

It’s always best to get your nutrients from food, but sometimes supplementation is needed.  When taking a fish oil supplement, quality is very important.  Some other tips on taking fish oil are:  keep it refrigerated as it could oxidize if left out in the heat;  take it with food to avoid “fish burps” or you can freeze it; most benefits happen over weeks not immediately;  fish oil can increase brain activity, so a stimulatory effect may be felt after supplementation; fish oil may reduce blood clotting, so take caution if you are on a blood-thinning medication. (Examine.com)

Also available is an algae supplement, which is a vegetarian alternative.

Some food sources of omega-3’s are:

  • salmon
  • anchovies
  • sardines
  • walnuts
  • chia seeds
  • flax seeds
Omega-3's: Why Do We Need Them? Click To Tweet

Getting omega-3’s in your diet, as well as lowering omega-6, has many important health benefits.  As you can see, there are several ways to get those essential fatty acids.  Whether from fatty fish or flax seeds or if you choose to take a supplement.  It’s essential to do research or talk to your doctor or dietician to find the best option for your overall health.

How do you get your omega-3’s?

Have you ever taken a fish oil or algae supplement?

Inflammation and CRP

I went to St. Louis for a few days with the family.  We had a great time!  We went to a baseball game at Busch Stadium, visited the zoo, saw the arch, and did lot’s of walking.  I was able to hit the hotel treadmill for a 5 mile run.  I didn’t feel comfortable running outside alone in a “new to me” city.  Some snap shots from St. Louis…..

Now, lets discuss inflammation.  Is it good? Is it bad?  Inflammation is an important part of health as it plays a role in fighting infections and helps in repairs and healing.  What we don’t want is chronic, low-grade inflammation.  This leads to damaged cells, organs, and tissues leading to loss of function and a bunch of other problems.  Chronic inflammation is also known to cause weight gain.

Currently, there isn’t a specific test for inflammation.  The best test is to measure blood levels of C-reactive protein (CRP).  CRP is a substance produced by the liver in response to inflammation.  There are no noticeable symptoms when CRP levels are high.

Being health conscience, I really wanted to get my CRP level tested.  Data suggests that chronic low-level inflammation can lead to serious diseases such as heart disease, some forms of cancer, and conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.  Also, I’ve been dealing with knee pain and couldn’t help but wander if I had chronic low-level inflammation.

I made an appointment with a functional medicine doctor and got my CRP level tested (among other things).  I was surprised to find out my level was 1.85.  It wasn’t dangerously high, but higher than I wanted.  Here are the ranges:

<1.0  = low risk           1.0-3.0 = average risk            >3.0 = high risk

The plan was to get my level below 1.0.  My follow up appointment was 3 months later, so during that time I made some changes.  Not surprisingly, what we eat has a huge impact on inflammation.  Certain foods cause inflammation while other foods contain nutrients that help control it.

The changes I made weren’t drastic or difficult.  One thing I needed to do was boost my Vit D.  I was deficient (and have been in the past) so now I am consistent with taking a Vit D3 supplement daily.

I eliminated gluten.  Gluten is known to be inflammatory for some people.  Everyone is different and you have to decide for yourself if you feel better not eating it.  I pretty much eat gluten free all the time, but it sneaks in every once in a while.  I can usually tell the next day after eating gluten.  Dairy can also be inflammatory for some individuals.

I added a fish oil supplement.  I was hesitant about taking this, as I hear mixed opinions on taking fish oil.  My doctor said quality definitely matters when it comes to fish oil.  So if you take it, I would get it from a reputable source.  Or eat fatty fish once or twice a week!

When I went back for my follow-up appointment 3 months later, I was happy to find out my CPR level was 0.64.  Now, it’s hard to pin point what change was most effective, but it was most likely a combination.

Here are some ways to help decrease inflammation in your body:

  • Get your sunshine! Appropriate vit D levels are associated with less inflammation
  • Get regular exercise
  • Increase omega-3 intake either thru a supplement or fatty fish (I have mixed feelings on the vegetarian omega-3. There are so many different opinions. I have always eaten plenty of flax and chia seeds but maybe not enough to get the proper amount of omega-3’s. There is also a plant algae option)
  • Cut back on sugar and white flour (no surprise here!)
  • Increase antioxidants by eating a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables
  • Enjoy chocolate in moderation (quality dark chocolate)
  • Utilize herbs such as turmeric, curcumin (found in turmeric), ginger
  • Avoid trans-fats (hydrogenated oils)
  • Identify any food allergies or intolerances
  • Tart cherries have powerful anti-inflammatory properties

Keep in mind that inflammation is not always a bad thing as it is necessary for the healing process.   My focus here is chronic inflammation.  I am aware that some people may never know their C-reactive protein level or don’t care to know.   I like finding out what’s going on in my body and just want to feel my best and live a healthy life.  By following these suggestions, you will help fine-tune your inflammatory system and encourage overall health!

Do you take a fish oil supplement?

Do you do anything in particular to ease inflammation?