5 Key Takeaways From the Experts on Omega-3's
Two of my favorite podcasts are “The Huberman Lab” by Dr. Andrew Huberman, a neuroscientist out of Stanford, and “Found My Fitness” by Dr. Rhonda Patrick, a biomedical scientist researching micronutrients. These two recently joined forces on an episode of The Huberman Lab titled “Nutrients and Brain Health” and let me tell you… you need to start eating more wild seafood.
If you want to nerd out and listen to the podcast in its entirety, I highly recommend it, 10/10. If not, here are my 5 key takeaways on the Omega-3 portion of the episode.
Salmon in the wild are naturally eating a diet rich in the precursors to EPA and DHA. The salmon then convert those fatty acids and store them, which we can then eat and utilize in our own body without having to convert it ourselves. It is the most efficient way to get high dose omega-3 fatty acids, and has numerous other health benefits. Dr. Patrick (Rhonda) warns against farmed salmon due to the feed being grain and corn, and the use of astaxanthin to fake the naturally red flesh of the wild salmon. Other food sources include salmon roe and caviar, and other wild fish like sardines and anchovies.
2. Plant sources of omega-3s are inefficient.
Many talk about getting omega-3s from plant sources such as walnuts, flaxseeds and micro algae. This form of omega-3 fatty acid is called ALA. ALA needs to be converted into EPA and DHA, a process that can be very inefficient and very dependent on genetics. Some people can do it much better, and others are getting as low as 5% conversion. Estrogen levels also play a role in that conversion. Relying on ALA as your primary source of EPA and DHA will make it difficult to reach an omega-3 level high enough to have the significant effects shown in the research. Not impossible, just harder.
3. Aim for a minimum of 2 grams per day, try for 4 grams or more if you can.
Two grams (that's 2000 mg) of omega-3 fatty acids per day in the EPA and DHA forms seems to be the magic number reflected in a variety of research studies done thus far. While many papers recommend 4 grams, Dr. Bill Harris (Bill), an OG in the Omega-3 research community, notes that 4 grams is not an upper limit, it was just about the max dose they could get people to take for cost and compliance. Rhonda aims for 4 grams of Omega-3s per day and Dr. Huberman (Andrew) gets 2 grams, but noted he was going to increase to 4 grams per day after this episode. In a side note about Krill Oil, Rhonda says the amount of omega-3 in Krill oil makes it really tough to get up to 2 grams and the krill oil supplements are notoriously rancid.
4. Measure your progress.
Dr. Bill Harris (mentioned above) has over 300 scientific papers on fatty acids and health and developed a blood test called the Omega-3 Index which measures the long term levels (about 120 days) of omega-3s in our red blood cells. This test is used by researchers and doctors around the country to accurately measure omega-3 levels in the blood and look how individual's levels may affect their health and longevity. One of the most powerful points noted was a study that showed people with an Omega-3 Index of 4% or lower had a 5 year decreased life expectancy compared to people with an 8% Omega-3 Index. When looking at smokers, smokers with low omega-3 levels had a terrible outcome, but smokers with 8% or higher had the same life expectancy as those non-smokers with a 4% Omega-3 Index or lower. Yikes. Rhonda’s current Omega-3 Index is at 16%, but she’s trying to catch the level of dolphins at 19%. Seriously.
5. It’s about the inflammation.
Rhonda puts it best. “Omega-3s are resolving inflammation, blunting inflammation and they affect so many different parts of the inflammatory pathway. I think it plays a huge role in the way we age, the way our brain ages, the way we feel, our mood, our joints, all that. It's amazing.” HOW it works gets more detailed: Omega-3s are powerful regulators of the inflammatory process…SPM’s (specialized pro-resolving mediators) resolve inflammation, they are involved in platelet aggregation, they are able to help blunt inflammation in the brain which helps serotonin release, DHA makes up structural cell membranes which helps support these neurotransmitters and receptors in the brain… and that’s just a few mechanisms.
From the experts:
Andrew says his mood is better, his joints feel better and he just feels better when he has a higher daily omega-3 intake. He even says “I’d like to think my platelets are slippery-er, they’re cruising through any little obstructions in my veins and arteries…”
Rhonda says “It's one of the powerful anti-inflammatory dietary lifestyle things that is going to powerfully modulate the way you think, feel and age.”
Get to it!
Dan, im very intrested in the studies you suggest. What studies are you refering to?
Im very curious how Huberman and Patrick respond to the fact that the most recent randomized studies have found NO cardiovascular benefits or mood benefits. The former data was getting much notoriety when the Reduce It trial found omega 3 to have substantial benefits. Then, suddenly, it was found the placebo used in that study was was flawed and, once corrected for, found no benefits. It seems these scientists owe the public an explanation that is at least as prominent as their previous promotions of EPA and DHA…