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Omega 3s! OMG!

What are Omega 3s?

There are 3 different types of omega 3 fatty acids that are crucial for many bodily functions. Like the essential amino acids discussed in last week’s blog, these essential fats must be obtained through food, as the body can’t make them on its own. The first two omega 3’s, found in fatty fish, are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Fatty fish like salmon, tuna, herring and mackerel are great sources of EPA and DHA (aim for wild caught if possible, as they have higher levels of omega 3’s than farm raised). The third form of omega-3s, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), is found in plant sources. Chia seeds, flax seeds, flaxseed oil, walnuts, and algae are great sources of ALAs.

Many studies have been done on the role of omega 3’s for heart and brain health but recent studies have also looked at their benefit in improving recovery, athletic performance, and concussion outcomes in athletes.

Benefits of Omega 3’s?

It is well known that omega 3's are beneficial in promoting brain and cardiovascular health. This is why bottles of fish oil pills are always exclusively labeled “for brain and heart health.” Seeing as the brain is 60% fat with 15% of that fat being DHA, it makes sense that omega 3’s have shown to play such a prominent role in brain health and cognitive function. Additionally, research has shown the anti-inflammatory effects of omega 3’s to be successful in treating inflammatory diseases like irritable bowel disease (IBD), asthma, and arthritis.

If omega 3’s are effective in treating the aforementioned inflammatory diseases, could they have a role in treating exercise or acute injury induced inflammation? Recent studies have looked at the role of omega 3’s in promoting muscle growth, decreasing inflammation, and speeding up recovery in athletes. What have the studies found?

  • Soreness and Recovery

  • One study looked at the effect of fish oil supplementation on inflammatory responses experienced after performing eccentric bicep curls. Swelling (measured by arm circumference) and soreness ratings were measured in the research participants. 15% less soreness and no increase in arm circumference in the group who supplemented with fish oil (Farioli-Vecchioli et. al 2018).

  • Muscle Growth

  • Omega 3’s have also been looked at for their role in muscle protein synthesis. One study by researchers at the University of Washington found that 8 week supplementation of omega 3’s “increased the subjects’ muscle-building response to insulin and amino acids, both of which are released in the body during exercise '' (Omegaquant 2018). From this study, it appears that the availability of omega 3’s in muscles made the muscles more equipped for growth, thus allowing participants to build and maintain muscle more readily than the placebo group.

  • Concussions

  • Studies have also looked at the potential role of fish oil supplementation in concussion recovery outcomes. Researchers conducting animal studies found that “DHA levels decrease after injury. Animals who were "deplete" (~70%) in DHA had more protein breakdown, cell death, slower motor control recovery, more anxiety, and cognitive deficits than the animals "replete" in DHA” (Heisig 2021). Thus, athletes who participate in high contact sports like football, rugby, soccer, lacrosse, and basketball may benefit from the regular supplementation of fish oil.

Omega 3 Supplementation

Are you eating fish 2 times per week? Studies show that only 1 in 10 Americans are eating fish at least twice per week. If you’re not eating 2 servings of fish per week, you may not be getting adequate amounts of omega 3 fats through your diet alone. While we always strive to get our nutrients from whole foods first, fish oil supplementation could be useful in instances where fish isn’t being eaten at least twice a week.

When it comes to supplementation, most fish oil supplements contain around 1000 mg of omega 3 fatty acids with varying proportions of DHA and EPA. Like any nutrient, the amount of omega 3’s needed varies from person to person, but Dr. Jaeger Phd reports that 3000-4000 mg per day is recommended to reap the optimal benefits. Many sources note 250-500 mg as the recommended daily allowance, but this is the minimum amount needed for health, not the amount necessary to maximize omega 3’s usage in the body.

What do Omega 3’s have to do with my P.T.?

Here at Prime, we always strive to find modalities beyond our 1 hour PT session that can promote injury recovery and performance. While acute inflammation (think swelling, redness, warmth, and pain in response to injury) is normal and assists in the initial healing process, problems can arise when this inflammation becomes chronic. We always encourage our patients to dial into their nutrition, and omega 3’s are one of the major components we like to emphasize.

Whether it is supplementing fish oil to ease inflammation in the early stages of injury, decrease soreness and inflammation post-workout, or mitigate the side effects of a concussion, we see omega 3’s as crucial for overall health, recovery, and performance. Looking to maximize your recovery? Interested in how nutrition and physical therapy coincide? Reach out to today to set up an initial consultation.

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