By Bonnie Jenkins, Advanced Natural Wellness
You know I’m a big fan of omega-3 fatty acids. After all, this healthy type of fat promotes brain and heart health, regulates mood, reduces inflammation, boosts your energy levels and may even help to prevent certain types of cancer. It’s no wonder I sound like a broken record when I tell you to eat more fish and take supplemental omega-3s.
But, as well versed as I am in omega-3s benefits, I wasn’t prepared for the headline that landed on my desk recently:
Omege-3 deficiency causes 96,000 U.S. deaths per year.
I knew that omega-3s were critical to optimum health but—really?
And this wasn’t some fly-by-night study. It was conducted by Harvard University.
The Harvard team looked at 12 dietary, lifestyle and metabolic risk factors such as smoking and high blood pressure, and used a mathematical model to figure out how many deaths could have been prevented if people just adopted healthier lifestyle habits.
The upshot? While smoking, obesity and high blood pressure all claimed large numbers of people, between 72,000 and 96,000 deaths could be linked directly to an omega-3 deficiency each year!
What it boils down to is this: Omega-3 deficiency is the sixth biggest killer of Americans and more deadly than excess trans fat intake. Personally, I think that is totally unacceptable. But it does underscore the fact that it isn’t just what you don’t eat, but what you do eat, that can impact health and longevity. And when it comes to omega-3s, this study shows that routinely consuming the two forms—EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid)—is more than just part of a healthy diet . . . it’s a matter of life and death.
How can you start getting more omega-3s? The easiest way is with a high-quality omega-3 fish oil supplement. But it’s important to add omega-3 rich foods to your diet as well. Salmon, flax seeds and walnuts are all excellent food sources of these healthy fats. So is lake trout, sardines, halibut, tuna and soy. Why must you do both? Because research suggests that omega-3s may be better absorbed from food than supplements, yet most of us don’t routinely include these foods in our diets.
Here’s a good example: Norwegian researchers compared 71 volunteers’ absorption of omega-3s from salmon or cod liver oil. Cooked salmon provided 1.2 grams of omega-3s daily, while cod liver oil provided more than twice as much: 3 grams of omega-3s per day. But, despite the fact that the salmon group got less than half the amount of omega-3s as the cod liver oil group, the blood levels of omega-3s increased quite a bit more in those eating the salmon than those taking cod liver oil. After eight weeks, EPA levels had risen 129 percent and DHA rose 45 percent in those eating cooked salmon compared to 106 percent and 25 percent, respectively, in those taking cod liver oil.
Make sure you are getting optimal amounts of omega-3s by eating fish two to three times per week, sprinkling flaxseed on your morning cereal and snacking on an ounce of walnuts several times a week. In addition, most experts recommend taking at least 3 grams of a purified marine lipid fish oil supplement every day with meals.
Oh, and in case you were wondering how the other threats to your life shook out, here’s what the Harvard team found: Tobacco smoking ranked as the highest risk factor of premature death with 436,000 to 500,000 attributed preventable deaths, followed by high blood pressure (372,000 to 414,000), obesity (188,000 to 237,000), physical inactivity (164,000 to 222,000), high blood glucose (163,000 to 217,000), high LDL cholesterol (94,000 to 124,000) and high salt intake (97,000 to 107,000). The other risk factors were alcohol use; low polyunsaturated fatty acids; low fruits and vegetables intake and alcohol use.
These are all risk factors we can do something about. So let’s start with the easiest of all and boost those omega-3 levels starting today.
Elvevoll EO. Enhanced incorporation of n-3 fatty acids from fish compared with fish oils. Lipids. 2006;41:1109-1114.
Goodarz D. The preventable causes of death in the United States: Comparative Risk, Assessment of Dietary, Lifestyle, and Metabolic Risk Factors. Public Library of Science Medical Journal. 2009;6: e1000058