Your nervous system and brain are the most important structures in your body. They function as the CEO of your body. Delegating tasks to other parts of your body allows your nervous system to run an efficient yet complex system. Incredibly, our nervous system controls every action in our body. Many substances help your nervous system function, but some are more important than others. In previous posts, I explained why fat, exercise, and water are important for nervous system health. A crucial piece, essential fatty acids are vital for health and wellbeing. Let’s go through what essential fatty acids are to better grasp why we need them.
What are Essential Fatty Acids (EFA)
We must consume essential fatty acids because the body requires them for good health. Furthermore, we cannot make them ourselves. It’s been found that only two fatty acids are known to be essential for humans: alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3) and linoleic acid (omega-6). Depending on the structure of the fatty acid, its properties change hence the change in nomenclature. Two popular omega-3 supplements in your local health food store are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which are found in algae and fish. Shorter chained are omega-3 fatty acids are ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) which are found in plants. It’s estimated that 70% of Americans have insufficient levels of omega-3. (2) Needless to say, it’s a widespread issue that needs to be addressed. Omega-3 deficiency has been linked to more than 50 diseases and contributes to around 100,000 preventable deaths per year. (3, 4) The evidence has been mounting for years on why it’s important to have a proper intake of essential fatty acids.
Okay, So Why Do I Need These…
Knowledge is power, but without action, that knowledge is useless. Don’t take my word on how important omega-3s are for your health; let’s just look at the research. Studies have been published with omega-3s and lowering triglyceride levels, rheumatoid arthritis, depression, nervous system development, asthma, dementia, heart disease, etc. Personally, I love items in my life that have been proven to be the most effective and efficient. One study found 800 elderly subjects that eat fish at least once a week were much less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. In another study of over 2,000, ages 70 to 74, those who ate more fish performed better on cognitive tests. Among 1,300 men, those who ate fish (herring, mackerel, salmon) had a much lower risk of developing prostate cancer. A study following post-menopausal women found that those eating two or more servings of fish a week had healthier arteries. DHA also supports optimal levels of neurotransmitters, including dopamine, serotonin, GABA, and acetylcholine. (9) Low levels of omega-3 have been linked to anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder. (10) Medical students exhibited a 20% reduction in anxiety when taking omega-3 supplements. (11) A review of studies in people with mood disorders found that omega-3s have significant antidepressant properties. (12) Eight weeks of EPA supplementation was shown to be as effective as Prozac. (16) A systematic review of 52 studies on children with ADHD found that fish oil supplementation and elimination diets are the most promising dietary interventions for ADHD. (19) One study found that students given omega-3 supplements did better in reading and spelling, were better behaved, and showed a reduction in overall ADHD symptoms. (20)When new mothers struggling with postpartum depression were given omega-3 supplements, they showed at least a 50% reduction in symptoms according to two standard depression scales. (25)Omega-3s are crucial for brain and nervous system development in infants and children. (26, 27) Numerous studies support that seniors with higher levels of omega-3s, specifically DHA, have a significantly lower risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s. (35, 36, 37, 38) major depressive disorder, suicidal behavior, bipolar disorder, psychosis, schizophrenia, and borderline personality disorder. (41, 42, 43, 44, 45) Chronic inflammation contributes to most major diseases, including allergies, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, osteoporosis, autoimmune diseases, cancer, diabetes, digestive diseases, and Alzheimer’s disease. (47, 48, 49)
What On Earth Do I Eat
Now, we know how undeniably important essential fatty acids (EFA) are for our health and wellbeing. So let’s tackle what we can eat to incorporate them into our diet. Here is a small list of foods high in EFA:
anchovies, bluefish, herring, mackerel, salmon (wild has more omega-3s than farmed), sardines, lake trout, tuna, nuts, walnuts, flaxseed. How much EFA do we need? How much is actually enough? Women should consume 1.1 grams, and men need 1.6 grams of omega-3 fatty acids daily. Personally, I think that value should be a lot higher. Why? The ratio for Omega-3s to Omega-6s should be 1:1, but the average American diet is at a ratio of 1:16 or 1:20. This is unbelievably unhealthy and is why it’s estimated that 70% of Americans have insufficient levels of omega-3.
How Can I make it EASIER on Myself
Supplements have their name for a reason; they supplement our diets because it is difficult to eat properly all of the time. Usually, it is easier for our bodies to absorb nutrients that come directly from food as opposed to supplements. Hence, I suggest, first and foremost, a well-balanced diet. Next, an important term to understand is the bioavailability of nutrients. This term describes how well we absorb and assimilate these nutrients into our bodies. There are many different forms of EFA’s on the market, usually in pill form, most of them with a very high bioavailability ranging from 70-90%. If you want more information, visit this link. Overall, I advocate for supplements similar to the food you put in your body—high quality, organic, and from a reputable company. In most cases, a little research behind every company can go a long way into better understanding the sustainability and quality of their products.
How to Implement
Knowing the correct way to live and eat is much different than acting on that knowledge. Adding sustainable fish that have high levels of essential fatty acids into your diet CAN improve your health. It is important to know that certain fish may have higher levels of toxins. This is why I try to stick with wild-caught fish. Usually, wild-caught fish have more nutrients and fewer toxins. The research shows that EFA can improve your quality of life. Knowledge is power, but acting on that knowledge is even more important!