One of the most important benefits of omega-3 fatty acids is their anti-inflammatory effects. Inflammation is an underlying feature of most, if not all, chronic disease. But what is inflammation? Most people think of pain, swelling, and redness when they think of inflammation. These are the hallmark features of acute inflammation, like when you cut yourself. But the inflammation that leads to chronic disease is a chronic, low-grade inflammation often referred to as silent inflammation because you can’t feel it.
The omega-3s that come from fish oil—EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid)—are particularly good at reducing this silent inflammation. One way in which they reduce inflammation is by balancing out the inflammatory effects of the omega-6 fats found in high amounts in the Standard American Diet (SAD). The ideal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats in the diet is anywhere from 1:1 to 4:1. But the SAD diet’s ratio is more like 10:1 to 25:1. That’s way more omega-6 than we should be eating.
Improving this omega-6 to omega-3 ratio by consuming more omega-3s is a great way to balance inflammatory response. A recent study published in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity found that omega-3 fish oil supplements lower inflammation in healthy, yet overweight, adults. Participants took either 1.25 grams (1,250 mg) or 2.5 grams (2,500 mg) daily of an omega-3 supplement, or a placebo pill filled with fats typically found in the Standard American Diet for four months.
The low dose group saw a ten percent decrease in blood levels of the inflammatory cytokine interleukin-6 (IL-6), while the high dose group saw a decrease of 12 percent. Those taking the placebo saw a 36 percent increase. Levels of another marker of inflammation, tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha) were also modestly lowered in the omega-3 group compared to placebo.
Co-author Ron Glaser stated, “You need this good inflammation for an initial response, but if it stays up, and inflammation becomes chronic, then you’ve got a problem. Our research and studies done by others have shown that these two cytokines are clearly related to overall health—and when they’re elevated in the blood that is not good for overall health. So the more ways we can find to lower them, the better.”
If you tend to carry a few extra pounds, yet don’t have any other markers of heart disease or diabetes, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or high blood sugar, it’s important that you realize you may still have silent inflammation. Inflammation can come from a number of sources, belly fat being just one. The gut is another important source. Get to the bottom of your inflammation, and quell it with omega-3s and healthy digestion.