In our last segment, we went over the basics of omega chain fatty acids. We learned about how most people are vastly above the omega 6:3 ratio that is best for the body. We also learned about the consequences of this, including inflammation, heart disease and autoimmune disorders.
Let’s go deeper into the different omega 3 fatty acids.
The Omega 3 Pathway
Omega 3 fatty acids are constantly touted by the news as good fats. In relation to the modern diet, omega 3 levels are what are severely lacking in most people. Where the ratio should be 1:1 for 3 and 6, it can be upwards of 1:30 in some people. However, there are some important differences in the types of omega 3s and how they interact in the body
DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid) is the big daddy of omega 3 fatty acids. Within the body, it the primary structural component of some of the most important tissues for survival. These include the the brain, cerebral cortex, retina, and skin. Also for the fellas, it is a critical structural component of the testicles.
DHA can be found in nature through eating cold water fish or by drinking breast milk. The benefits of fish oil supplements are based in large part around their DHA content. However for those of you who have been weaned and have no access to cold water fish, there are alternate pathways.
EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid) is the next step up from DHA. The body is able to convert EPA to DHA, however at a less efficient rate than obtaining it directly from food. Interestingly, women are more effective at conversion, which makes sense considering the need to bear children. Like DHA, EPA is found in fish, although they need not be cold water. The fat from fish like salmon, herring and cod is an abundant source.
EPA itself can be synthesized from another Omega 3 fatty acid if it is not available. Again, conversion rates are much less efficient than direct consumption. The fatty acid we need in this situation is ALA (alpha lipoic acid). This is the form of Omega 3 most abundant in plant sources such as flaxseed oil, chia seeds and to a lesser extent soy.
Conversion and sources
So to summarize, what we are looking for and need for our bodies is DHA. DHA can be converted from EPA, which in turn can be converted from ALA. This forms a distinct hierarchy in what we should be shooting for with dietary sources of Omega 3.
As with anything else, there is a lot
of hype surrounding Omega 3 supplements. While
on paper they all qualify as omega 3, the farther away we get from DHA, the more we lose in converting it.
For example, taking 1000mg of pure DHA would render the same amount of usable DHA as 10000mg of EPA, or 33000 grams of ALA, given a 10% conversion rate for EPA and a 3% conversion rate of ALA suggested by studies. The difference can be tremendous!
Stay tuned to our next segment where we will show you how to use this knowledge to optimize your omega 3 to omega 6 ratio with the right survival foods.