We’ve all heard the debates about how omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, sourced from fish help provide cardiovascular health, preservation of brain health, and reduced potential for cancer, with modest benefits identified in all these areas. For these reasons, a generous intake of omega-3 fatty acids is one of the core strategies in my programs in which we aim for the ideal daily intake of 3600 mg of EPA + DHA per day, divided in two, a level of intake that yields a RBC omega-3 index (a measure of how much of a red blood cell’s plasma membrane is occupied by omega-3 fatty acids) of 10% or greater, the level associated with maximum benefit.
But there are some other benefits of omega-3 fatty acids that you may not have heard about that may be as important, perhaps more important, than the benefits cited above, or account for the documented benefits. Let’s therefore discuss some of the less well-known health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. Among them are:
- Reduction in metabolic endotoxemia–Omega-3 fatty acids, unlike omega-6 fatty acids such as that found in corn oil, dramatically reduce the entry of inflammatory bacterial breakdown products, such as lipopolysaccharide, into the bloodstream. This yields a huge advantage in reducing body-wide inflammation. Recall that metabolic endotoxemia is a major issue in people with small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, SIBO, that is now present at epidemic levels in the U.S.
- Increased Akkermansia muciniphila and increased intestinal butyrate production—Both of which lead to beneficial effects such as reduced insulin resistance, reduced blood sugar and reduced blood pressure.
- Reduction in postprandial (after-meal) lipoproteins—After a meal, various lipoproteins (chylomicrons, VLDL) flood the bloodstream. VLDL particles, in particular, are known to contribute to coronary heart disease both directly (i.e., entry into the arterial wall) and indirectly (via interactions with LDL and HDL particles). Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to accelerate the clearance of these particles from the bloodstream.
- Reduction in postprandial artery constriction—The tendency for arteries to constrict after meals (“endothelial dysfunction”) is much reduced by omega-3 fatty acids. This an important advantage, as many instances of sudden cardiac death occur after a big meal, likely due in part to the abnormal constriction of coronary arteries.
- Partial relief from rheumatoid arthritis—With reduced joint swelling and pain with omega-3 supplementation.
- Reduced depression—Despite what we would regard as relatively low-doses of omega-3s, several studies have documented improvement in depressive symptoms.
I am especially excited about the first item, the idea that omega-3s play a crucial role in reducing metabolic endotoxemia, as this process plays a role in so many modern health conditions such as insulin resistance, hypertension, persistent small LDL particles even after dietary changes have been made, and neurodegenerative disorders. Metabolic endotoxemia will be an issue I shall be discussing frequently in future posts.
Note that these benefits are unique to the EPA + DHA of fish oil, not the linolenic acid form of omega-3 in chia, flaxseed, or walnuts. Linolenic acid has its own panel of benefits, but they do not overlap with the benefits of EPA and DHA.