Science in Action: Omega-3 (what the results mean)

How do I interpret the results so far of my omega-3 self-experimentation? I’m going to skip the obvious implications (I should do more experiments, I should take omega-3, . . . ) and jump to the less obvious ones:

1. Omega-6 may make things worse. The difference between flaxseed oil and olive oil was larger than the difference between flaxseed oil and nothing, implying that olive oil is worse than nothing. Perhaps this is because olive oil is relatively high in omega-6, which displaces omega-3. The Israeli Paradox points in the same anti-omega-6 direction as do lab experiments that suggest omega-6 fats are pro-inflammatory.

2. I should study other fats. My experiments don’t just imply that omega-3 fats have a big effect on brain function, they imply that fats in general have big effects — and that these effects can be easily measured (which is the interesting part).

3. Health providers should pay far more attention to brain function — to “brain health.” Improvements in balance led me to treatments that improved my performance on memory tests. Not surprising, since the whole brain is made of the same stuff (neurons, glial cells, etc.), but it implies that with easy to administer tests you could catch a wide range of brain problems long before they cause serious difficulties, such as dementia, Alzheimer’s, and injury-causing falls. Note that no doctor ever orders tests similar to those I have used. Yet my tests eventually revealed that I was suffering from what might be called omega-3 deficiency. One well-accepted test of mental function is the Mini-Mental State Exam. It consists of such questions as “What month of the year is this?”. By the standards of experimental psychology, it is incredibly crude. Experimental psychologists have a lot to teach the health community about how to measure brain function.

4 Responses to “Science in Action: Omega-3 (what the results mean)”

  1. accuracy-police Says:

    > “olive oil is high in omega-6”

    Wait a minute–flaxseed oil has about 20% Omega-6, but olive oil contains LESS, only about 12% Omega-6.

    Flaxseed oil does have a much higher percentage of Omega-3, but olive oil is predominantly Omega-9. Neither is a great source of Omega-6.

    Changing from flaxseed to olive could change your ratio of Omega-3/Omega-6 (depending on other dietary intake), but it should LOWER the amount of Omega-6 you ingest, ceteris paribus.

  2. jeff Says:

    seth –

    re: olive vs. flaxseed oil

    Is your comparison only referring to the brain benefits between the two oils? Aren’t there a number of studies that demonstrate olive oil’s cardiovascular benefits? I’m unsure if research shows the same for flaxseed oil.

    On a more personal note, I am currently taking 2 TBS of flaxseed oil before bed and 1 TBS of fish oil & 1 TBS of olive oil in the AM. Does your research suggest that even 1 TBS of olive oil would counteract the effect of the high dose of omega 3s in the fish and flaxseed oil?

  3. seth Says:

    Accuracy Police, thanks for the correction. I should have said “relatively high in omega-6”. And I should be more open to the possibility that it is the omega-9 in olive oil that caused it to be worse than nothing.

    Jeff, When I compared olive oil and flaxseed oil, I only measured my balance — a measure of brain function.

    I don’t know of any studies that show olive oil is better for the cardiovascular system than flaxseed oil. I don’t think they have been compared. The whole interest in omega-3 fats started because Eskimos had very low rates of heart disease; the eventual explanation was that they were eating lots of high omega-3 foods. If it turned out that olive oil is better for the cardiovascular system than flaxseed oil (comparing equal amounts of each), I would be very surprised.

    If “counteract” means “reduce the effect of”, yes, my results suggest — just barely — that olive oil counteracts the effects of flaxseed and fish oils on balance and other measures of brain function. This is something I would like to test.

  4. Tim Lundeen Says:

    My understanding is that the polyphenols in olive oil help reduce inflamation, so are a primary reason that olive oil improves heart health. See
    http://search.lef.org/cgi-src-bin/MsmGo.exe?grab_id=0&page_id=1451&query=olive%20oil%20polyphenols&hiword=OLIVA%20OLIVER%20OLIVES%20OLIVI%20OLIVO%20POLYPHENOL%20POLYPHENOLE%20POLYPHENOLIC%20oil%20olive%20polyphenols%20

    Also, the body needs both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, you don’t want to get all your polyunsaturated fats from omega-3’s. A 1:1 to 1:2 ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 is recommended by Enig at the Weston A Price site. So my guess is that both this ratio and the absolute amount of omega-3 is what controls the effects of omega-3 on brain function.