The omega-3’s found in fish oil, EPA and DHA, have 3 critical functions that underlie virtually all fish oil benefits. These 3 basic functions are: 1) inflammation response; 2) gene expression regulation; and 3) cell membrane function. They explain why fish oil has been found to help everything from depression and dementia to high cholesterol, fatigue, and osteoporosis.
1.) Inflammatory responses
The omega-3’s in fish oil get broken down to form potent chemical messengers (called eicosanoids) that exert complex control over inflammation. Eicosanoids are also derived from omega-6 fats (which mainly come from vegetable oils). Your overall level of inflammation depends in part on your body’s level of omega-3 fatty acids compared to its level of omega-6 fatty acids. The omega-6-derived eicosanoids are generally pro-inflammatory; omega-3-derived eicosanoids are much less so. The amounts and balance of these fats in your body as a result of your diet and supplement routine will affect your body’s eicosanoid-controlled functions, which are mainly associated with your immune function and your inflammation response. Taking fish oil as a supplement will up your ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids, resulting in eicosanoids that are much less potent creators of inflammation.
The latest discovery about fish oil and inflammation: “resolvins”
The latest studies show that omega-3 fatty acids not only suppress the initial stages of inflammation, the way NSAIDs like ibuprofen do, they also enhance the resolution of inflammation in its later stages. They do this by generating newly discovered compounds called “resolvins.” Not surprisingly, drug companies are currently busy trying to create pharmaceuticals that mimic these naturally-occurring resolvins made by EPA and DHA.
These actions may not sound like a big deal, but they have profound effects on your overall health. Inflammation has now been linked to just about every chronic disease known. Inflammation plays a huge role in the development of heart disease, Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia and cognitive impairment, depression, osteoporosis, cancer, autoimmune diseases, and even chronic fatigue. Lowering your inflammation levels with fish oil can help prevent and treat all these conditions and more.
2.) Regulation of gene expression
Omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil alter and control the expression of your genes. They do this by controlling the abundance and function of what are known as transcription factors. Transcription factors are proteins that control which genes are turned on or off in the genome. For instance, EPA and DHA suppress the transcription factor called NF-kappaB. NF-kappaB plays a key role in regulating the immune response to infection and has been linked to cancer, viral infections, and inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. This may explain why fish oil supplementation has been shown to help prevent cancer and to treat such conditions as rheumatoid arthritis.[5,6]
3.) Cell membrane function
Fats are the major constituents of every cell membrane in your body. Cell membranes are the outer lining of cells that act like gatekeepers—they determine what goes into and out of each cell. This makes them absolutely critical for proper cell function.
In terms of cell membrane function, there are “bad” fats and “good” fats. Saturated fats and trans-fats are bad. Saturated fats are sticky and tend to clump together, causing problems for cell health. Trans-fats are processed to have an altered shape which ends up causing irregularities in the cell structure, the permeability of the cell membrane, and hence the cell’s health.
Fats that are good for cell membranes, on the other hand, are more fluid and allow easier and healthier function. The omega-3’s, and especially the long chain omega’s found in fish oil, EPA and DHA are the most important “good,” fluid fats of all. DHA, for example, is selectively incorporated into cell membranes in the eyes, brain, and other parts of the nervous system. DHA therefore plays important roles in vision and nervous system function. Brain and vision-related diseases like depression, Alzheimer’s, and macular degeneration are all associated with DHA’s incorporation into cell membranes. The cell membranes that make up the cells of the brain’s gray matter contain high proportions of DHA. Studies have shown that depletion of DHA in the brain can result in learning deficits. Higher intake of EPA and DHA is associated with more grey matter in the brain and improved cognitive health.
The omega-3 fats are vitally important as cell membrane components not just because they act like the cells’ gatekeepers, but also because they produce chemical messengers. Some of these chemical messengers, such as prostaglandins, regulate and control almost all cellular activity, including control of inflammation, blood pressure, and immune system activity, as indicated above.
The best way to reap the fish oil benefits
There are many ways to reap the benefits of fish oil. Whether you choose to eat fish, take whole fish oil or cod liver oil, or take a concentrated fish oil with higher amounts of EPA and DHA per serving depends on many factors, including your reasons for taking it in the first place, your taste preferences, and your budget. EPA and DHA content vary considerably in different fish oil preparations, so it is necessary to read the label to determine the EPA and DHA content of a particular supplement. Eating clean, cold water fish such as salmon two to three times per week is certainly a recommended way to go. But for most people who find that impossible to achieve, taking a high quality fish oil supplement on a daily basis is essential to get these remarkable fish oil benefits.
How do you get adequate amounts of the super nutrient omega 3 fats?
Share your own experience of how you assure adequate levels of these super nutrients. Is it by diet? If so, what kind of fish do you eat and how often? Is it by supplement? What is your maintenance dosage or your therapeutic dosage if you’re trying to douse the fire of inflammation in some condition you currently have? Help other readers in the process. Place your thoughts in the Comments Section below.