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The Importance of Fish Oils

By Jeffrey Aron, M.D.
April 2008

Fish oils regulate the ability of your body’s cells to respond to the stresses of their environment. All cells are defined by their membranes which form their external borders as well as their inner workings. All these structures are mainly composed of oils, along with some protein and carbohydrate. The oils are automatically taken up by the cells from the circulation, and directly reflect the oils consumed in the diet.

The major dietary oils come from the omega 3, 6, and 9 classes. This means that there is a special chemical bond called a double bond 3, 6, and 9 carbon atoms down from the end of the oil molecule. Omega 3 oils in the membranes of the cell produce anti-inflammatory chemical messengers when exposed to stresses, while omega 6 oils produce pro-inflammatory chemical messengers. Omega 9 oils have minor anti-inflammatory effects.

Most Western diets have a preponderance of omega 6 oils, and it is no accident that all of our diseases are a variation on the theme of ongoing inflammation. The ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 oils in the membranes of most of us is about 20 to 1. In Crete, where the longest lifespan of humans on earth are found the ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 is about 4 to 1. There, the diet is rich in fish, free range meats and fresh vegetables.

There is direct competition between all of the oils for space in our cell membranes, so the less omega 6’s and the more omega 3’s in our diet, the better. The main sources of omega 3’s in our diet come from plant and fish sources. Plant sources are flax, primrose and borage oils, and are 14-16 carbons in length. To get incorporated into our cell membranes, they must be lengthened to 22 and 25 carbons. Unfortunately, we humans can only convert about 5% of these oils into the lengths necessary to have an anti-inflammatory effect.

On the other hand, fish oils-EPA and DHA- are at the right length for direct incorporation into our cell membranes. The minimum dose of EPA is 1200mg daily, and DHA is 800mg daily. DHA appears to be somewhat more beneficial than EPA. One must consume these minimal amounts of fish oils for at least 3 months before any anti-inflammatory benefits are obtained.

The dietary sources of oily fish needed to reach these levels is five servings a week. One cannot overdose on omega 3’s so a daily supplement of 800mg DHA and 1200mg of EPA together with dietary sources is quite safe.

Almost all well-conducted studies using fish oil supplements at the above levels are positive. The benefits are many.

Quality producers of fish oils exclude mercury and PCB’s, so there is no hazard from these potential dangers lurking in our oceans.

When taking supplements, divide the milligrams of DHA and EPA in your capsule into 800 and 1200 respectively to arrive at your daily dosage. Always round up.

Although very helpful, fish oils by themselves must be a part of an every day life that provides peace, relaxation, exercise and attention to other dietary measures-low glycemic index carbohydrates, portion control and adequate fluid-to provide their maximum benefit

If you have questions about Fish Oils or Omega-3 Fatty Acids, please call [415-674-5200] or email me to make an appointment.


    Medline Plus: Omega-3, Fish Oil
    Mayo Clinic on Fish Oil


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