With February being Heart Health Month, it's time to explore why Omega-3's are imperative for women as they age. Let's unwrap all the benefits of these powerful little fats found in cold water fish, grass-fed beef, marine algae, and chia seeds.
As women reach menopause, estrogen production by the ovaries declines substantially, and along with it goes the heart-protective benefits of having higher estrogen during child-bearing years. Age also brings increased inflammation, higher levels of cholesterol, insulin-resistance, and other metabolic changes that shift our risk for cardiovascular events even higher.
What are Omega-3 Fatty Acids?
Omega-3s are found in both marine and plant sources. The most beneficial Omega-3's are EPA and DHA which are found in fish like salmon, herring, tuna and sardines. EPA is known for supporting cardiovascular health and is know to help lower high cholesterol levels. DHA is particular important for visual health and cognition, and our need for it increases to protect our brains from cognitive decline.
Flaxseeds, chia seeds and walnuts contain the precursor to EPA and DHA, known as Alpha linolenic acid (ALA). The body can make EPA and DHA from ALA but many times the conversion is inefficient, so it is important to get all forms of Omega'3. This is especially important for people with a genetic mutation in the FADS1 gene, who will have an impaired ability to convert.
Want a quick visual run down? Check out this 2 minute video.
What are the benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids?
Omega-3's are very important in regulating inflammation in the body. High cholesterol is most dangerous when it is accompanied by inflammation - the 2 are a recipe for cardiovascular disaster. Omega-3's help protect the endothelial lining of blood vessels by reducing inflammation so that cholesterol cannot be deposited in the artery walls and cause calcification. They are also an essential component of every cell wall, making the cell healthy and viable. Cells with weak walls are more likely to be susceptible to viruses and nutrient deficiencies. Lastly Omega-3's are essential for jump starting the healing process in the body. If you have been suffering from chronic injuries that won't heal, the body will not switch on it's healing process until there is sufficient amounts of Omega-3's to turn on that switch.
The Problem with the Standard American Diet (SAD 😒)
The SAD is laced with Omega-6 fatty acids, which are found in processed grains, cooking oils (safflower, sunflower, sesame, soybean, corn, vegetable, canola), commercially raised animal products, and some other nuts and seeds. While not all Omega-6's are bad, it's the ratio that's important because they compete for space in your cell walls. The average ratio of O-6 to O3 for American's is around 20:1, whereas a healthy ration should be less that 4:1. Omega-6's have the potential to be converted into inflammatory eicosanoids which increase inflammation in the body, weaken cell walls, and prevent the healing switch from turning on.
Cool Tools for Determining Your Ratio
There are several tests now on the market that enable you to measure your Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratios to ensure that you are in the healthy range (of course we offer those tests!). It also will show you insight into your body's ability to covert ALA into EPA and DHA. You can read more about this Omega Index here. In addition, understanding your genetics through a test specifically tailored to uncovering nutritional needs, helps you to understand if you have genetic mutations impairing your ability to effectively convert Omega-3's into their active forms. You can order this test here.
Dosing and Brands
The American Heart Association recommends that healthy adults eat a variety of oily fish, at least two servings per week, for ~500 mg/day of combined EPA and DHA. Of course, this is the bare minimum and much more is needed for any type of inflammatory state in the body. In my practice, I usually recommend a minimum of 1000mg of mixed Omega-3's daily, and up to 4,000mg daily for those with inflammatory issues, or higher cardiovascular risk.
My favorite Omega-3 is made by Biotics Research and is called Biomega. It's the most cost effective product on the market, but is also rigorously tested for purity (many contain heavy metals!).
If you find that you avoid fish oil pills because they cause you to burp it up later, consider taking with meals and digestive enzymes to minimize this effect. There is also a new product by Douglas Labs called Opti-EPA which is enteric-coated to prevent any digestive discomfort.
Want to learn more? Schedule an appointment for us to work together.