About 50% of all Americans suffer from some form of inflammatory disease. In addition, 64% of all Americans are now considered obese which contributes to more inflammation as fat cells create inflammatory messengers such as interleukin-6 and the better known C-reactive protein.
The research into the fish oil-omega-3 phenomenon apparently started in 1973 when it was reported that Eskimos consuming a high fat diet from the sea were much less likely to develop heart disease than people eating land based sources of fat. Further research demonstrated that a diet rich in fat from marine sources provided the benefit of half the incidence of cardiovascular related deaths compared to typical modern diets.
A relatively unknown fact is that omega-3s can be divided into three types Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA) which comes from plant sources such as flaxseed, Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA), found in coldwater fish and Docosahexanoic Acid (DHA) which come from cold water fish and some algae.
The omega-3s in flaxseed are well known to be inferior in nutritional benefit compared to those from seafood because of the lesser effect in reversing inflammation. The fatty acids of flaxseeds are not readily converted to healthy EPA and DHA and have a much lesser anti-inflammatory effect. Omega-3s block inflammatory messengers.
Additional beneficial effects of omega-3s on the body have been determined to be the lowering of triglycerides, which are major risk factor in heart disease and a mild blood thinning (or preventing "sticky blood") and blood pressure lowering effect. In addition, these healthy fatty acids are known to block the spread of cancer cells.
Fish oil can be rapidly converted by the body into anti inflammatory prostaglandins, however,omega-3s are more effective for chronic inflammation rather than acute inflammation, as it takes the body time to process the fish oil into anti-inflammatory compounds.
Currently there are over 15,000 articles, many from scientific journals, that explain the nutritional benefits of omega-3s, with 10% of that amount coming from medical journals every year.
The Omega-3/Omega-6 connection
It has been estimated that 99% of the Americans are deficient in omega-3s while it has been widely reported, especially on many internet sites, that omega-6s promote inflammatory compounds. A well known omega-6 linked to inflammation is linoleic acid which is found in oils made from corn, sunflower and peanuts.
While many processed and fast foods are very high in the potentially inflammatory producing omega-6 fatty acids, this is only part of the story. Omega-6s are a necessary component in our metabolism. It is not that some Omega-6s cannot be healthy for the body but rather it is the imbalance of omega-6/omega-3s that causes the problem. The body's resources are over-expended on omega-6 metabolism and there is an imbalance in utilization of omega-3s for normal cell membrane composition.
Nutritionists recommend a ratio of 4:1 of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids to reduce inflammation.
Regrettably, modern diets are closer to 20:1, thus explaining, at least in part, the rampant problem of inflammation in modern diets. While omega-3s promote anti-inflammatory compounds and omega-6s the reverse, both types of these compounds produced in the body are known as prostaglandins.
Fish with High Omega-3s in the Diet is the Key
Nutrition is being understood to be paramount in disease prevention. More importantly, the right diet can help cure chronic illness. Seafood is now more recognized as being a healthy choice with the omega-3s it contains being observed in reducing inflammation. The amount of fish eaten by Americans has increased by 6% from 2014 to 2015 and now stands at 15.5 lbs per capita.
Fish grown in colder waters have higher omega-3 and lower omega-6s than warm water fish. Wild salmon ingest more algae (inadvertently by consuming prey items) than the farmed variety which results in more omega-3s. In addition to this, farmed salmon are known to have higher quantities of the potential inflammatory omega-6 fatty acid known as Arachidonic Acid (AA) (also found in meats, eggs and dairy) which is a heavily consumed, highly unsaturated fatty acid linked to creating inflammatory messengers.
Aquaculture products grown with corn and soy would have reduced amounts of omega-3s (typically 65% less) compared to wild aquatic animals or animals that have a omega-3 rich diet from fish meal and fish oil. Animals we eat cannot make omega-3s and must consume them from the environment or feed. Yet surprisingly, cultured rainbow trout have been reported to have more omega-3s and less AA than their wild cousins, possibly related to a different diet.
The same can be found in land animals, with free range chickens and cows having higher omega-3s (about 3x), than their grain fed counterparts. Not surprisingly, grain fed animals also have about 7 times the fat of more natural "grass fed" animals. In the year 1900, people consumed about 10 lbs of meat from land sources per year, as of 2012 this amount has increased to an average of 175 lbs in the US and Europe, in contrast to the 15.5 lbs of fish consumed per year as previously mentioned.
It is obvious that a natural way to decrease inflammation is to consume more fish to promote a better omega-3/omega-6 ratio. Recommendations are 2-5 servings of omega-3 rich fish per week. As an example, each 12 ounce portion of wild salmon provides 500 mg of omega-3s. Alternatively, fish oil can be consumed at 3-6 grams per day for arthritis and neurological disorders and 1-2 g/day for prevention and other illness. If you want to be more precise in omega-3 nutrition, there is a test available can actually measure the omega-3/6 balance within your body.