Article: Pros and Cons Omega-3 Fatty Acids

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[. . .] Mediterranean diets are also different from the standard American diet in that they have fewer foods high in omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-6 fatty acids are also essential but they tend to promote rather than reduce inflammation. "The typical American diet tends to contain 14-25 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids, which many nutritionally oriented physicians consider to be way too high on the omega-6 side. The Mediterranean diet, on the other hand, has a healthier balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids" (Ehrlich 2011). Foods high in omega-6 include vegetable oils such as corn, soy, and sunflower oil as well as most nuts. Many highly processed foods contain these types of oils.

It should be noted that the key is having the right balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids: one type is not 'good' while the other type is not 'bad.' Another problem with the idea that omega-3s are better than omega-6s is that people may overdose on omega-3 supplements, which can cause problems on its own. For example, "people who eat more than 3 grams of omega-3 fatty acids per day (equivalent to 3 servings of fish per day) may have higher risk for hemorrhagic stroke, a potentially fatal type of stroke in which an artery in the brain leaks or ruptures" (Ehrlich 2011). And "a study by scientists at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle linked eating a lot of oily fish or taking potent fish oil supplements to a 43% increased risk for prostate cancer overall, and a 71% increased risk for aggressive prostate cancer" (LeWine 2013). High doses of omega-3s may inhibit blood clotting, so people who bruise or bleed easily should use high-dose supplements with extreme caution and only under physician supervision. Patients on blood-thinning medications like warfarin (Coumadin) and aspiring should also be very cautious about dramatically increasing omega-3s in their diet (Ehrlich 2011).

For most of us, the best way to ensure that we are getting enough omega-3s and the right balance of omega-6s with omega-3s is to increase the amount of fatty fish we eat in our diets and to minimize our consumption of processed foods which contain vegetable oils. Just like during the fat free craze, food marketing companies are now jumping on the omega-3 bandwagon and many are supplementing their breakfast cereals and peanut butters with fish oil and other sources of omega-3. Supplements and fortified products, though, do not seem to provide the same benefits as natural sources and for some consumers may pose risks because of the potential for overdoses. As with everything, the key to incorporating omega-3s into your life is balance.

References

Ehrlich, S. (2011). Omega-3 fatty acids. University of Maryland Medical Center. Retrieved http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/omega3-fatty-acids

LeWine, F. (2013). Fish oil: Friend of foe? Harvard Medical School. Retrieved from:

http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/fish-oil-friend-or-foe-201307126467 [END OF PREVIEW]

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