Omega-3s—Military Relevance, Rehabilitation and Overall Wellness

    Did you know that the deficiency in Omega-3 fatty acids is now considered widespread in the US and other developed countries, leading to a variety of poor health outcomes? A recent study released showed that if Americans simply consumed more of Omega-3 EPA/DHA, 84,000 lives would be saved per year! This number is probably a gross underestimation of the true impact on chronic disease reduction. Not to mention, it doesn’t capture the happier lives Americans would experience with eating more Omega-3 fatty acids! Omega-3s are critical to human health, for military performance, and might also be critical for recovering from any kind of injury or trauma (TBI, traumatic amputations).


    Not all Omega-3 fatty acids are the same in known health benefits, however. There are 3 main dietary Omega-3s called ALA, EPA, and DHA which are all polyunsaturated essential fatty acids. For your own health, it is wise to understand the differences in these three Omega-3 fatty acids because they are often marketed the same under the Omega-3 umbrella. You should also try to reduce the intake of your Omega-6s as it is the balance between these two groups that is so important.

    Omega-3 ALA 

    Omega-3 ALA comes from certain plants and seeds like flax, chia seeds, canola oils and almonds. Diets rich in Omega-3 ALA sources (like Mediterranean diets) appear to reduce your risk for heart disease and heart attacks and overall lead to a healthier life. If you are a biblical scholar, there is plenty of Biblical support for eating a diet rich in Omega-3 ALA such as Genesis 1:29.

    Omega-3 EPA/DHA (God’s gift through the Ocean)

    The other two Omega-3s are EPA and DHA and come from marine sources like fish and fish oil and have even more “direct” scientific evidence for widespread benefits that include additional organs such as the brain. I call EPA/DHA the "wellness molecules of life”, they are so powerful. 

    Life Giving Benefits of Omega-3 EPA/DHA

    Did you know the brain requires more Omega-3 EPA/DHA than any other organ? EPA seems to provide functional benefits (such as benefiting mood and inflammation and decreasing clotting tendency of the blood) and DHA plays more of the structural role in maintaining the cell wall fluidity and flexibility (helps sustain healthy brain development and prevent memory loss from aging cell walls). There is increasing evidence that they aid in healing and fighting infection and have been used to help treat brain injuries. To remember these Omega-3s, EPA/DHA, you can use the phrase, “E-and-D-Omega-3s-Eliminate-Disease.” If ALA is the helicopter flowing overhead cover for the troops, EPA and DHA are the soldiers directly involved in combat. 

    Summary of “Womb to Tomb” benefits of Omega-3 EPA/DHA 


    1) Pregnancy and breastfeeding—improves brain development, child’s IQ later in life, and post partum depression. 


    2) Childhood—Improves cognition and IQ, learning ability, reading and writing and muscular coordination, depression, ADHD, behavioral problems 


    3) Elderly—improves cognition and possibly memory problems such as dementia/Alzheimer’s 

    Summary of Condition Specific Benefits for Omega-3 EPA/DHA


    1) Reduces risk of heart attack by 20-40 percent, reduces risk of stroke 


    2) Reduces risk of sudden death from heart attacks and helps heartbeat stability 


    3) Lowers cholesterol and triglycerides (risk factor for heart disease) 


    4) Effective for depression, anxiety, memory, learning 


    There are drugs now based solely on Omega-3 EPA/DHA from fish oil for reducing your total cholesterol (by reducing your triglycerides) so there should be no guessing how good these are for your heart and body! DHA, a critical component of brain health, is also available by itself in algae based products (and in several infant formulas) but I would choose for both EPA and DHA found in fish and fish oil for maximal benefits. 


    So the combination of lots of fish or fish oil with a solid Mediterranean-type diet high in ALA (I get much of this from Chia seeds) will provide optimal vigor and health benefits. This is why I consider Omega-3 fatty acids part of my spectrum of nutritional armor. 

    John Kowalsky

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