Hardly a day goes by without another article appearing in a prestigious medical journal highlighting the physiological benefits of
Omega-3 fatty acids
. These key
"essential fatty acids"
have been linked to reduction of the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, arthritis, and other disorders.
In fact, so much good news is appearing lately in the scientific and medical literature about the enormous health benefits of
Omega-3 fatty acids
, that another important story has been partially obscured. This story is of especially good news for athletes. Omega-3s, particularly EPA and DHA, may very well play an important role in
repairing injured cell membranes
reducing post-workout catabolism
shortening recovery time after intense exercise.
To understand how healthy fats can block catabolism and enhance potential mass gains, you first have to understand what Omega-3s are and how they function in your body. The two essential fatty acids are the Omega-3 (called
), and the Omega-6 (called
). Both are
unsaturated fatty acids
that are used for many of the body's metabolic and hormonal functions. Of the two,
Omega-3 is the most desired form for bodybuilders
due to its tissue and joint re-building properties. They are found in greatest abundance in fatty fish, certain nuts (the oil of walnuts for example) and of course in flaxseed. Omega-6s are found in corn, soy, canola, safflower and sunflower oil. Typically, Americans consume far too many Omega-6s and far too few Omega-3s.
Powerful blood-thinning, anti-inflammatory and anti-catabolic effects
Omega-3s can be further broken down into individual fatty acids, the two most beneficial of which are
EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid)
DHA (docosahexaenoic acid)
. EPA is known to induce an antithrombotic (clot-preventing) effect through its inhibition of platelet cyclooxygenase. This results in the platelets sticking to each other less, a state not unlike that achieved by taking a pain reliever. Fish oil, with its high content of EPA and DHA, may also protect against heart disease through an anti-inflammatory effect achieved via reduced cytokine production and/or increased nitric oxide production in the endothelium. Clinically EPA and DHA are used to modulate markers of inflammation in the body as well as to reduce triglycerides.
This last benefit is of special interest to bodybuilders. Because EPA and DHA have proven helpful in combating inflammation, they are therefore also valuable tools for reducing post-workout catabolism. By
supplementing with Omega-3 fatty acids
, weight trainers who inflict inflammation via intense exercise can help reduce the cytokines that, when elevated, result in catabolic muscle loss.
Cytokines are soluble proteins that are liberated from immune cells (mainly monocytes and macrophages) in response to
infection, injury, or foreign substances. They are also involved in signalling between the cells of the immune system and
play a role in modifying metabolism. The main pro-inflammatory cytokines are interleukin-1 (IL-1), interleukin-6 (IL-6),
and tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-a). Interestingly, although cortisol can suppress the pro-inflammatory cytokines
through negative feedback mechanisms, the pro-inflammatory cytokines increase the production of glucocorticoids (cortisol)
and catecholamines (epi and norepi) by stimulating the sympathetic nervous system and corticotropin releasing factor (CRF).
The combination of the catecholamines, cortisol, and cytokines enhance the metabolic adaptations that include gluconeogenesis
and glycogenolysis, and consequent muscle catabolism.
EPA and DHA can help break this highly destructive physiological cycle by greatly reducing the production of cytokines,
thereby shutting down muscle catabolism and facilitating the start-up of muscle recovery and repair.
Read PART 2 of Omega-3s: Heart-Healthy Super Nutrient Emerges as a Powerful Anti-Catabolic