Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Don't be cheap, take your Omega 3's!

Get your Omega 3's!  How many times have you heard me say that.  Fish oil, fish oil, fish oil... it is the one supplement that I will recommend over any other to everyone.  While it's great that most people trust me enough to start popping fish oil pills like candy, I thought you might want a little science behind this magical 2:1 ratio of Omega 6's to Omega 3's that I want you working towards to keep you healthy and strong.

The increase of Omega 3 awareness is staggering.  I think we have always known that it was something that was healthy, but only recently has it been a popular topic in the nutrition world.  While digging up a little dirt on these fatty acids, I discovered there's even an International Omega-3 Awareness Day coming up in 2011!  Not to mention the new prescription drug, LOVAZA, that hit the markets in 2008 that is prescribed to patients to safely lower their triglycerides.  The ONLY active ingredient in LOVAZA is... you guessed it, Omega 3 fatty acids.  Fish Oil people... Costco and has a high-potency fish oil that is also an ethyl ester form of Omega 3's.  People are paying over $3000 for Lovaza on an annual basis for the recommended dosage (called a drug only because it's FDA approved and the FDA does not regulate supplements).   I'll spare you the math but when all the calculations have been done, the same dosage of 3360 mg EPA + DHA per day will cost you the following on a yearly basis:

Lovaza: $3,360
CostCo brand fish oil: $150/year

This post could take a significant turn towards drugs, marketing and healthcare practices right now... but I'll save my hearty opinions on these fun topics for a later post.

Now for the science lesson:

Inflammation has two forms: Classic inflammation which is an acute and intense inflammation causing localized pain.  The second form, termed "silent inflammation", is a chronic low level of inflammation that is below our pain threshold and can go undiagnosed and untreated for years.  Prolonged high levels of SI will eventually cause chronic disease conditions to appear including Alzheimer's, arthritis, Parkinson's, cancer, and for the purpose of this post, obesity and type 2 diabetes. Chronic silent inflammation is now accepted as a warning that something is drastically out of balance in a person's overall health.  But why so much recent hype?

CrossFit prides our program on measurable results.  It's hard to talk about how good something is, unless you can measure it to document marked improvements.  Unless you get stronger, faster, lose weight or increase your Fran time, how do you know all your hard work is paying off?  Much like this mentality of wanting to measure our results for our fitness,  it would only make sense that we need some clinical markers for our inflammation health as well.

These two tests for inflammation have emerged recently in the medical community:
- A high sensitivity-C-Reactive protein test can be one good marker - these protein levels will elevate when our immune system if fighting an infection or virus.  If no infection is present and these proteins are high, high inflammation is most likely the primary culprit.
- A better indicator and less selective marker is the ratio of the two key fatty acids in the blood, Omega 6 to Omega 3's.
Omega 6's, or arachidonic acid (AA), are precursors to pro-inflammatory eicosanoids.  Omega 3's, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), generate anti-inflammatory eicosanoids.  Higher levels of AA/EPA ratio in the blood translate to higher levels of silent inflammation in our bodies. Eicosanoids are signaling molecules that regulate inflammation.

There are a few things that are leading our society down the path of high inflammation and declining health including:
- Higher consumption of high-glycemic carbohydrates that produce elevated levels of insulin
- Higher consumption of refined vegetable oils rich in Omega-6 fatty acids
- Decreased consumption of Omega-3 rich foods including salmon and grass-fed meats. 
These trends in the Standard American Diet (SAD)... how appropriate, make sense given that the first two are cheaper and more convenient.  Modern conveniences and penny pinching are now dictating our health, and not in a good way.

Jen's skinny: We need Omega 3's and lots of them.  High ratios of Omega 6 to Omega 3's in our blood are strongly associated with virtually every chronic disease condition including obesity and diabetes.  Higher consumption of Omega 3's is absolutely vital for optimal health to prevent silent inflammation and eventual disease.  While a test is optimal to test your risk and monitor your progress, the first step should be running to your local health store to pick up a supplement or adding some fatty fishes to your weekly diet.  Optimal levels will require an intentional effort and a few extra bucks, but it beats being labeled cheap and convenient.


  1. So when purchasing fish oil, do you want to avoid fish oils that have both Omega 6 AND Omega 3 and only buy Omega 3? Or can the combined Omega 6 and 3 work just as efficiently? It sounds to me like most people's ratio of 6 to 3 is a little top heavy, in that people need more Omega 3. Should I avoid eating anything with Omega 6?


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