Omega 3's and EFA's

Change your oil, improve your health! - Robert Lerman, M.D., PhD

What are these things we call Essential Fatty Acids (EFA) and Omega 3’s? Not all fats are bad, as fats are necessary for the preservation of life. Essential Fatty Acids are those fats that are not made by the body. We need to incorporate them into our diet through food and supplementation.

Omega 3 Index

Omega 3 status can be assessed by the Omega 3 index. This blood test determines the amount of Omega 3’s in the Red Blood Cell membrane. The desirable value is an Omega 3 index of > than 8%. The average Omega 3 index in the U.S. is 4%. Ways to improve your Omega 3 index include the increased consumption of fatty fish and the use of fish oil supplements. For most people, supplementation of 2-3 grams of fish oil each day is beneficial.

EFA’s are an important part of our cell membranes and are involved in cellular function. They regulate cholesterol transport and oxidation and help to regulate gene expression. In other words, they “talk to our genes.”

There are two types of EFA’s – Omega 3’s and Omega 6’s. The Omega 6’s are found in corn, sunflower and safflower oils. The Omega 3’s are found in flaxseed, canola, soybean and olive oils as well as in fatty fish – such as salmon. Most Americans have enough Omega 6 in their diet but are deficient in Omega 3’s.

Omegas 3’s are powerful anti-inflammatories and contribute to the following:

  • Decrease of insulin resistance leading to improved blood sugar control
  • Improvement of lipids
  • Reduction in Coronary Artery Disease
  • Reduction in cancer risks

Weight Loss
How are Omega 3’s involved in weight loss? Studies are showing that these important Omega 3’s lead to the suppression of lipogenesis (decrease in the production of fat) and increase leptin levels. Leptin is a hormone that is produced in the fat cell. It sends powerful messages to the brain to tell us that we are full and do not need to eat anymore. Thus, we take in less food and fewer calories. Omegas 3’s also are involved in Fatty Acid oxidation. This results in less body fat accumulation, especially the more worrisome visceral fat. Conversely, Omega 6’s can lead to increased fat mass, increase number of fat cells and increased body weight.

Kathleen Baskett, MD is the Medical Director of Weight Management at St. Vincent Healthcare. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and the author of “Moving Forward: The Weigh to a Healthier Weight”.