Chronic inflammation is often at play in many devastating diseases – from coronary artery disease and diabetes to cancer and Alzheimer’s. So checking for signs of chronic inflammation in your body is a key way you can safeguard your health.
But there’s something else you can do, too: make sure you’re getting enough omega-3 fatty acids from your diet.
Here’s why: researchers have discovered that omega-3, a fatty acid found in oily fish like salmon and sardines, can actually reduce inflammation.
Researchers have discovered that omega-3, a fatty acid found in oily fish like salmon and sardines, can actually reduce inflammation.
You’ll discover more about omega-3’s connection with inflammation here, but – before we get to that – let’s quickly explore what inflammation even is.
Have you ever stubbed your toe? If so, your toe might have swollen and turned red. Swelling and redness are both signs of short-term, or acute, inflammation – which can occur when something injures or infects the body. Inflammation is a sign that the immune system is actively trying to protect the body.
So inflammation is a good thing, then, right?
Well, not always – because if inflammation is chronic (it lasts for a long time), your body’s health can suffer. Chronic inflammation can show up when your immune system fails to beat back an invasion of germs (or toxic chemicals). It can also occur if your immune system malfunctions and mistakes parts of your body as a threat (and thus launches a ruthless attack on many of your body’s tissues).
If inflammation is chronic (it lasts for a long time), your body’s health can suffer.
Over time, chronic inflammation can steadily erode your health – and ultimately cause dangerous diseases. And, as if that wasn’t disturbing enough, chronic inflammation is also incredibly sneaky: it often goes undetected, silently wreaking havoc on the body without producing any physically obvious signs of its presence. (Easy-to-use blood tests, however, can alert you to inflammation in your body.)
On the bright side, though, remember that a particular fatty acid – called omega-3 – can reduce inflammation in the body.
Omega-3 fatty acids come in three main forms: ALA, EPA, and DHA. ALA – or alpha-linolenic acid – is frequently found in plant oils (think flaxseed and canola oil). EPA and DHA, on the other hand, are usually found in oily fish like mackerel, tuna, and herring.
The EPA and DHA forms of omega-3 can curb chronic inflammation by forming compounds in the body known as “resolvins.” Resolvins shut down the production of signaling molecules that promote inflammation. In this way, resolvins (as their name implies) can help the body resolve chronic inflammation.
So perhaps it doesn’t come as too much of a surprise that omega-3 – in the EPA and DHA forms – can ease the symptoms of diseases tied to inflammation. Studies on omega-3 supplementation, for example, show that omega-3 can diminish morning stiffness and other symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis (a disorder where one’s joints are often painful and swollen due to chronic inflammation).
Studies on omega-3 supplementation show that omega-3 can diminish morning stiffness and other symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
Also, omega-3 can put the brakes on atherosclerosis (a disease in which inflammation plays a key role), slowing down its harmful effects on the body. And, what’s more, omega-3 can decrease the risk of death from cardiovascular diseases (many of which involve chronic inflammation).
The best way to boost your EPA and DHA omega-3 levels is to eat oily fish at least twice a week. (Oily fish include fish like salmon, tuna, and herring – to name a few.)
If you don’t eat fish – because you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, for example – you can still get the omega-3 your body needs. Some types of algae produce high amounts of EPA and DHA, so supplementing with the right algae oil can be a simple – but effective – alternative to eating fish. And if you’re wondering if your omega-3 levels are too low, consider taking an easy-to-use test to check your body’s omega-3 status.
Chronic inflammation can put your well-being in harm’s way – especially since you might not know it’s affecting you until it has seriously damaged your health. (That’s why EverlyWell’s Vitamin D and Inflammation Test can be a powerful wellness tool: it unmasks inflammation in your body by checking your levels of hs-CRP, a key molecular marker of inflammation.)
However, two types of omega-3 (EPA and DHA) can help reduce chronic inflammation – and even minimize symptoms of diseases linked to inflammation. So, one way you can make the most out of omega-3’s wellness-enhancing effects? Make it a point to optimize your body’s omega-3 levels.