Omega-3 fatty acids are some of the most thoroughly researched of all nutrients, and for good reason. After all, they’re not called essential fatty acids (EFAs) for nothing.
Despite the great deal we know about the importance of omega-3’s, though, many Americans don’t get nearly enough of them. The Standard American Diet tends to be very high in omega-6’s and low in omega-3’s. Health experts recommend an ideal dietary ratio of 1:1 when it comes to balancing omega-6 and omega-3 consumption. Studies demonstrate that a ratio as high as 2.5:1 can still be beneficial—but the average American consumes a ratio of anywhere from 10:1 to 25:1.
Those who aren’t consuming an optimal ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 (or supplementing with omega-3s) are missing out on all sorts of health benefits. Here’s a sampling of what researchers have uncovered (this is just the tip of the iceberg).
Bone and joint health. Research demonstrates that omega-3s strengthen bones and reduce the risk of osteoporosis by increasing the quantity of calcium in bones. They also ease the joint pain and lack of mobility associated with arthritis by cooling inflammation.
Sleep quality. Low levels of omega-3 fatty acids are associated with sleep issues in children and obstructive sleep apnea in adults (which lowers the quality of sleep through oxygen deprivation). Thus, supplementing with omega-3s (and eating omega-3-rich foods) can improve overall sleep quality and ward off the diseases linked with poor sleep, such as obesity, diabetes, and depression.
Heart health. A wealth of studies have demonstrated that optimal omega-3 levels improve many of the risk factors for heart attack and stroke, the leading causes of death in the United States (and around the world). Researchers have observed that omega-3s reduce triglycerides and blood pressure, prevent blood clots and plaque buildup, raise HDL cholesterol levels (the “good” cholesterol), and reduce systemic inflammation.
Mood balance. Omega-3s can even work wonders for your mood, particularly if you struggle with depression or anxiety. Studies demonstrate that individuals with optimal levels of omega-3s are significantly less likely to be depressed or anxious, and even that these conditions can be improved with omega-3 supplementation.
Liver health. Studies have shown that omega-3s play an important role in protecting the liver, and even that they can reduce liver fat and inflammation. We’ll unpack this benefit further, as new research has shown that supplementation with DHA (one form of omega-3 fatty acid) can works wonders for individuals with liver disease, even if the condition has progressed to life-threatening stages.
DHA supplementation offers hope to liver disease patients
Proper lifestyle is hands-down the best way to prevent or reverse many health conditions, but let’s face it: it’s not an easy task. Many people struggle with the major lifestyle modifications necessary for healing—and sometimes the seriousness of their condition doesn’t leave any breathing room for slow changes.
This is where pharmaceuticals and other conventional medical interventions can be immensely helpful. They certainly have many drawbacks, but they can address a life-threatening issue for long enough to allow people to find more complete healing through lifestyle changes.
Liver disease, however, is one condition for which no such pill exists. The only real fix is to overhaul one’s diet and lose weight, but this is easier said than done for many obese people. Meanwhile, the progression of liver disease can be a deadly one if not addressed.
This predicament is more common than you might think: nearly 13 million children and 80 million adults in America are obese, and 30% of them suffer from non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (which is expected to be the leading cause of liver transplants by 2020). Most of these people are told by their doctors that their only choice is to transform their lifestyle as quickly as possible, or face the inevitability of a liver transplant (along with all the other dangerous possible outcomes of liver disease).
Luckily, researchers at Oregon State University found that supplementing with the omega-3 fatty acid DHA can be highly beneficial for liver health. In their words, proper omega-3 supplementation can “stop the deadly march toward cirrhosis and liver cancer.” They even report that it could prevent the need for liver transplants.
This study focused on determining whether these benefits would still be conferred even in the absence of a healthy diet. Even when researchers fed mice lots of sugar, fat, and cholesterol (the Standard American Diet), the accompanying DHA regimen still successfully protected the liver.
This finding shouldn’t be taken as a license to eschew a healthy diet with proper fatty acid ratios. While switching to an optimal diet and lifestyle should always be the ultimate goal, DHA supplementation can offer a second chance to those stuck in the spiral of liver disease—it allows people to make lifestyle changes at a sustainable pace, without experiencing a further decline in liver health.