By: Dr. Anthony Gustin. Dr. Gustin holds a Doctorate in Chiropractic and Master’s in Exercise and Sports Science, runs a sports rehabilitation and chiropractic practice in San Francisco and regularly posts health and wellness resources on his blog, The Paleo Fix. This blog was originally published on The Paleo Fix in September 2014.
Most people should be taking three supplements to enhance recovery, maximize performance and be the most optimal human being possible. In previous articles we have highlighted why you should supplement with vitamin D and why you’re missing out by not supplementing with magnesium. Read them. This article covers the third essential supplement for humans – fish oil.
Unless you’re eating properly sourced wild fatty fish on a daily basis, low amounts of inflammatory foods, never eating out and consuming large quantities of vegetables, you probably need to supplement with a high quality fish oil.
Why fish oil? Here are just some of the ways fish oil helps you be a better human being:
LOW FAT EQUALS POOR RECOVERY
Thankfully the days of low fat diet recommendations are fading away. Researchers have done the right studies and are no longer ignoring biochemistry – a high fat diet is a healthy diet.
A key reason for opting for a high fat diet is to have the best cell formation possible. Think of an ideal cell like a beach ball. The outer layer is made of phospholipid bilayer – or fat. In that layer, there are many different lock and key mechanisms that decide what that cell does, or what it tells other cells to do. When you eat a low fat, or even low quality fat diet, that beach ball ends up looking like a crumpled up piece of paper. When your cells are crumpled up, those all important receptor sites are hidden in huge crevices. This means that cells don’t get the messages to do what they need to do. This is not good. It means hormones are excreted and recovery doesn’t happen.
TIP: Make sure your fish oil comes from small, wild fish (anchovies & sardines) to prevent any heavy metal accumulation.
When you exercise, you are breaking down cells to make new cells. This is the whole point. I could highlight articles for days about why the magic is in the recovery, but we’ll save that for later. You need to make new cells after a hard workout. If the signaling to make new cells and the quality of those new cells are both subpar, your recovery will suffer and you’re going to be a very subpar athlete. Take your fish oil and blow up that beach ball.
FATTY BALANCE AND INFLAMMATION
One of the most important aspects of fat-related nutrition is the balance between consumption of omega-6 fats and omega-3 fats. Omega-6 fats are necessary in the body, but we have far too many of them in comparison to omega-3's. To achieve a non-inflammatory setting in your tissues, you want to have a ratio that is as close to 1:1 as possible omega 6:3. In most average Americans, this number skyrockets to about 30:1. While both types are necessary for signaling at the cellular level, omega-6 fats create inflammation during the process while omega-3's reduce inflammation. It’s very likely that you’re getting more omega-6 than you realize. It sneaks into a lot of restaurant foods and is one of the main reasons we recommend not eating grain-fed meats. If you’re a mountain man and eating your own wild caught fatty fish regularly, then I would say you’re good. For everyone else, supplementing with fish oil is helpful in balancing out your omega-6:omega-3 ratio to reduce inflammation.
TIP: Keep your fish oil in the refrigerator to prevent oxidation.
How does this ratio affect inflammation? Remember the lining of the beach ball? The omega-6 fatty acids are responsible for causing tears and crumpling in the lining. The fatty acid composition of your cell membranes are directly related to the ratio fatty acid intake in your diet. Keep the ratio as close to 1:1 as possible and you’ll keep inflammation down and recovery much faster.
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are the main fatty acid constituents to look for when choosing a fish oil. The quantity of EPA and DHA are far higher in higher quality fish oils. EPA and DHA are the main fatty acids that the brain uses for cognitive development, learning, neurogenesis, synaptogenesis and more. Higher concentrations of these fatty acids in the brain delay the onset of dementia in the elderly. EPA and DHA are also imperative for babies and developing fetuses for their role in neural formation.
TIP: If your fish oil has been open more than a month, take it with vitamin E to mitigate some of the damaging oxidation.
If your goal is to move better as a human being, which it should be, an extremely high neurological plasticity needs to occur. Think of your body as the hardware and your nervous system as the software. Quality fish oil helps your software become much more efficient by supplying it with the fatty acids it needs to repair, grow and build new connections.
WHY FISH OIL? ODDS AND ENDS
If enhanced recovery, reduced inflammation and increased cognitive and nervous system functioning isn’t enough for you, here are some more reasons you should be taking fish oil:
Supplementing with omega 3 has been shown to significantly reduce symptoms of depression.
Fish oil has antithrombotic (lowered blood clots), antihypertensive (lowered blood pressure) and cardioprotective mechanisms. Very heart healthy.
Fish oil can help treat cystic fibrosis.
Prostate cancer can be stalled or prevented with omega-3 supplementation.
Fish oil can prevent dementia.
Omega-3 supplementation reduces symptoms of ADHD.
I could go on all day, but that would be unnecessary. Fish oil (and the beneficial omega-3 fatty acids it is composed of) seem to be some sort of magic juice that helps with a myriad of health conditions. Another reason you should probably be taking it.