Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for human beings and all three sources of omega-3 – ALA, EPA and DHA must be received from diet (as human body cannot synthesize them) .
Omega 3 has provides many health benefits to our body, one of the key benefits is concerning inflammation. Omega-3 benefits in inflammation in the blood vessels, joints and other parts. Omega-3 contains polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) with the most potent anti-inflammatory or immunomodulatory properties. Even in omega-3, it is fish oil that contains EPA and DHA that is stronger in fighting inflammation than ALA from plant sources.
What is Inflammation?
The reason for several chronic diseases such as heart attacks, arthritis, asthma, cancer and depression is inflammation and diet. This is influenced by eicosanoids a potentially healing compound that is manufactured from fat. Omega-6 based eicosanoids promote inflation while omega-3 eicosanoids smother inflammation. An increase in dietary intake of omega-6 fats leads to a parallel increase in such inflammatory diseases. Inflammation status in the body is determined by the dominating fat – omega-6 or omega-3.
Inflammation response of the body is what protects it from even a minor cut that could turn life threatening. This response ensures that when you cut yourself, blood clots are formed, bacteria are destroyed and the wound heals. This is the healing response. There is another low-grade inflammation response that results in promoting chronic diseases. Hence the healing blood clots that prevent a person from bleeding to death can even trigger a stroke or heart attack.
Health Benefits of Omega-3 in Inflammation
Omega 3 benefits in inflammation depend on the ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fats in your diet. This determines the type of fats that are retained in your cells, which in turn determines the type of eicosanoid that is created and the inflammation status of your body. Omega-6 and omega-3 fats with cyclo-oxygenase enzymes (COX) and lipoxygenase (LOX) enzymes help to make eicosanoids. The three groups of eicosanoids are mentioned here along with their benefits derived from omega-3 and harm caused by excessive consumption of omega-6 acids.
- Benefits – blood clotting, white blood cells and constriction of blood vessels
- Excess – heart disease, stroke, deadly blood clots, inflammation
- Benefits – brain, birth, kidney and GI function, preventing clots, infection, bone and lung health
- Excess – osteoporosis, cancer, pain, fever, Alzheimer’s, inflammation, migraine, arthritis, stroke.
- Benefits – brain and lung function, bone health and inflammation
- Excess – clogged arteries, asthma, cancer, lung diseases
Omega 3 as a COX and LOX Inhibitor : Omega 3 benefits in inflammation can be got when it works with anti-inflammatory drugs. When you have a headache you will often pop a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) like aspirin or ibuprofen. These drugs alone are not enough to combat the effect of omega-6 acids that cause the inflammation, pain, swelling, cramping or fever. Omega-3 works along with these NSAIDs to prevent omega-6 from manufacturing eicosanoids. The way this combination works is, by blocking COX enzymes. When the COX enzyme is blocked, the most potent omega-6 fat – arachidonic acid cannot be formed.
Another more dangerous omega-6 inflammatory compound is leukotrienes that the LOX enzyme converts. Regular NSAIDs like aspirin do not have any effect on the LOX enzyme. Omega-3 fats on the other hand can block the LOX enzyme and prevent the formation of the deadly leukotrienes by omega-6 fats.
Omega-3 Effect on Inflammation Genes : Apart from eicosanoids, inflammation genes must be turned off to allow the body to make proteins needed for immunity and protection from inflammation. DHA in omega-3 turns off inflammation causing genes. EPA hinders cytokines that wipe out bone cartilage. NSAIDs do manage diseases but can have deadly side effects when taken for long periods. Fish oil rich in omega-3 does not have any side effects but effects can be felt only 12 weeks after medication is started.
Omega-3 and Aspirin provide a powerful combination of healing compounds. The resolvins that EPA makes can prevent inflammatory bowel disease. As a topical medication it can stop gum and bone periodontitis. Neuroprotectins from DHA protect tired brain cells and therefore play a role in preventing Alzheimer’s.
Omega-3 and Hospitalization: A person who requires IV feeding is often given soybean oil that contains high omega-6 levels. Replace this by fish oil and omega 3 benefits in inflammation can immediately be seen. Infection rate is lowered, surgery complications are reduced, period of ICU admission can be reduced by almost half and there is reduced need for mechanical breathing aids.
Rheumatoid Arthritis: Those who consume high levels of omega-3 like indigenous Japanese and Greenland Eskimos have lower rheumatoid arthritis rates even though as a race they are susceptible to it. Studies have found a marked effect of omega-3 in reducing pain, lesser morning stiffness and reduced need for pain medication.
Respiratory Illnesses: Asthma affects millions of people worldwide and part of the reason is the high content of omega-6 fats in the diet. Omega-3 rich foods on the other hand reduced problems associated with asthma. Children given a fish-rich diet were less likely (one-third times) to succumb to asthma when compared to those who did not consume fish. Athletes and asthmatics who exercised vigorously also suffered from asthma symptoms. Fish oil supplements dramatically reduced narrowing of airways caused due to exercise. Inhaler use was reduced by 30% and researchers hope that continued use of omega-3 can reduce the need for asthma medication.
Chronic Pulmonary Disease (COPD): this chronic inflammatory lung disease is the cause of a fifth of fatalities worldwide. While no medication can stop the progress of COPD, patients on omega-3 supplements had less inflammation and improved exercise tolerance. This improved their survival rates too.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease: Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease are both chronic and incurable. Omega 3 benefits in inflammation helps such patients reduce medication and increase chances of remission.
Cancer Wounds: Elevated COX and LOX enzymes in cancer patients result in inflammation. COX inhibitors and Celebrex drugs helped to prevent or reduce colon and adenoma cancer respectively. However, both increased risk of heart disease. Omega-3 fats block cancers by inhibiting COX and LOX enzymes. The dietary ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 enhances or reduces the tumor creation.
Brain and Inflammation: An imbalance in omega-3 and omega-6 intake can result in depression. The brain responds to psychological stress by producing inflammatory compounds that lead to anxiety. When inflammatory eicosanoids increase, depression also increases.
Improves Bone Strength: Diets rich in omega-6 lead to lighter bones, greater bone loss, risk of fractures, prevent bone formation and other bone problems. Omega-3 fats that are COX inhibitors and NSAID’s lead to higher bone density reduced risk of fractures and help to maintain bone health.
Heart Disease: Inflammation is the main cause of heart disease. Patients suffering from inflammatory diseases like asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, allergy disorders and depression run a greater risk of contracting heart diseases. Omega-3 in diet helps to protect such inflammatory conditions and secure heart health.
Precautions while consuming Omega 3
Too much use of omega-3 supplements can cause excessive bleeding in those on anticoagulant drugs. Hence, a consultation with the doctor on both diet and supplements is needed by those with serious illnesses.
Omega 3 benefits in inflammation are amazing. It helps in various ways to help body fight inflammation. Thus, it is highly recommended to include Omega 3 rich food in your diet to avoid inflammatory diseases.