The good news about omega-3 fats keeps mounting. Doctors in a hospital in Portugal treated patients suffering from sepsis, a runaway infection of the blood, with fish oils and found that they recovered more quickly than patients given soy oil. Sepsis causes inflammation of vital organs and can lead to death; seemingly, fish oils can reduce inflammation.
There is further good news about fish oils and aging. As we get older more and more newly formed cells die after the normal process of cell division. This has to do with a shortening of telomers, strings of repeating DNA sequences that protect the ends of chromosomes during cell division. With each division they shorten a little and when they shorten too much, the cell dies. That sounds complicated, and it is. But here is something that isn’t complicated. In a study of over 600 people with heart disease, five years of supplementation with fish oils resulted in substantially less shortening of telomers. Such a reduction in telomere shortening should lead to better health. It will be interesting to see how these heart patients fare eventually.
Although not all the evidence on omega-3 fats is in, many people are trying to increase their intake. The best way to do this is to eat fish, but that often isn’t convenient for various reasons. Supplements are available as are a variety of omega-3 fat supplemented foods. But with these foods you have to be careful, many do not have a meaningful amount of omega-3 fats and may not even have the right kind of omega-3. Virtually all the evidence for the benefits of omega-3 fats comes from fish oil consumption. The specific fats here, abbreviated as DHA and EPA, are different from ALA, the omega-3 found in vegetable products such as flaxseed. The term omega-3 refers to the fact that there is a carbon-carbon double bond on the third carbon from the end of the molecule, but different omega-3s can contain different numbers of carbons in their structure. And that makes a big difference. DHA and EPA have respectively twenty-two and twenty carbons while ALA has eighteen. We can throw in some perspective here by looking at the heavily advertised omega-3 eggs. All eggs contain some omega-3 fats from the chickens’ natural feed, roughly 25 mgs each of DHA and ALA. Given that the studies about omega-3 benefits suggest the consumption of 500 to 1000 mg DHA and EPA combined, the amount in eggs is inconsequential. To increase the content the chickens are fed flaxseed. But flaxseed contains only ALA, not DHA, although in the chicken’s body some ALA is converted to DHA. No matter how much flax the chickens are fed, their eggs contain in the ballpark of 100 mg DHA. This can be boosted to about 150 mg by feeding the chickens algae, which after all is where fish get their omega-3 from. But to be realistic here, you can get that amount of omega-3 in a couple of bites of salmon. Still, if you eat an egg a day, over a week you can get an amount of omega-3 equivalent to a single fish meal.