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Acupuncture Today
November, 2015, Vol. 16, Issue 11
 
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acupuncturetoday.com >> Vitamins / Supplements

Omega-3 Fish Oil: An Underappreciated Element of Men's Health

By Christopher Oswald, DC, CNS

As a clinician with many male patients — and as a man myself — I am all too aware of the fact that we like to convince ourselves that we are doing great, when that may be the farthest thing from the truth.

Men don't like to ask for help, and many times think that we don't need help. The unfortunate fact is that there is a definite increase in the average size of the "beer belly," that more and more couples are dealing with difficulties becoming pregnant, and that there's an increase in males with mental health challenges. Clinicians, therefore, need to understand some very simple interventions that even the most stubborn man will agree to try.

Omega-3 fish oils may be just what the doctor ordered. Some of the most important physiology in men can be supported with the proper application of omega-3 nutrition in the clinical setting. Compared to women, men have a much larger chance of developing something known as visceral adiposity. When this occurs, a cascade of problems generally end with the development of Type 2 diabetes, and all of the comorbidities that come as a package deal. When you dig into the underlying reason why this occurs, it becomes straightforward to understand effective ways to support men's health.

It really comes down to biochemical signaling. Think back to when you were a kid and played the "telephone game." The first person whispers a message into their friend's ear and they pass it down the line until the last person recites the message completely wrong and everyone laughs. Well, mixing up the message in the human body is no laughing matter, so it is very important to support healthy messages by keeping the underlying biochemistry as healthy as possible.

fish oil - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark One of the foundational concepts of maintaining healthy signaling is how cells respond to insulin. Insulin is one of the primary hormones responsible for driving glucose in the blood into cells throughout the body. One of the specific receptors which responds to insulin is called GLUT4. This receptor is found in both adipose and muscle tissue. The problem with poor signals is that if the body can't drive the glucose into the appropriate cells, it needs to figure out what needs to be done. Through a cascade of biochemistry — about which, unless you're a giant dork like me, you don't necessary want to know every last detail — de novo (new) adipose tissue is formed and deposited throughout the abdomen, resulting in an increase in visceral adiposity. The potential for de novo adipose formation is a major reason to support the appropriate signaling mechanisms. Fish oils, namely the omega-3s eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), provide the body with the precursor materials to create the proper eicosanoids and signaling molecules to maintain the healthy integrity of associated insulin signaling pathways.

Another huge concern for men is reproductive health, and the natural decline of testosterone with age. A powerful option in maintaining men's health is ensuring healthy hormone metabolism. The visceral adiposity we discussed earlier results in declines in testosterone. A big contributor to this decline is improper insulin signaling, which is associated with visceral adiposity, so it is very important to address this before problems happen and to maintain a healthy system. In men, adipose tissue is also responsible for the conversion of testosterone to estrogen, so heeding some of the earlier advice on maintaining the health of insulin and glucose signaling is very important.

Research has also shown that semen quality is related to the types of dietary fat that a man consumes, with those ingesting the highest levels of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids demonstrating the best quality. By maintaining healthy levels of omega-3 fats in the diet, and through supplementation, men can help preserve their hormonal health for as long as possible.

Maintaining a healthy mood is also a consistent challenge for men, and is complicated by societal pressures for us to be strong and steady, leading many men to keep quiet about their mental health and simply press forward silently. One better approach is to focus on supporting healthy mood and brain function before a problem starts. Omega-3 fish oil supplements are very effective in this regard and must not be underestimated. The use of DHA is generally associated with brain health, but each patient is unique and may require a balanced omega-3 EPA+DHA formula for the most appropriate support.

One of the biggest questions that I receive regards proper dosing. This can be a challenging question, as each person's needs are unique when it comes to essential fatty acid nutrition. A safe and general recommendation is a combined dose of EPA+DHA in the range of 1–2 grams. There are times at which more can easily be recommended, but the 1–2 gram recommendation is a great place to start. One powerful tool to utilize when you need to understand more specific patient needs is laboratory analysis. The Holman Omega-3 test is a very simple blood spot test which can be performed at home, or in the office, which is shipped directly to the lab for analysis. Fatty acid plasma analysis is another powerful diagnostic test which would yield information very similar to that of the blood spot test. Both tests are great, it is just a clinical preference as to which option to provide in practice. Once the results return for the chosen test it's very easy to see the balance of the fatty acids within the cell membranes, and to prescribe the appropriate variety and potency of omega-3s.

It is very easy to let the specific needs of men slip through the cracks, as many won't complain about problems until it's too late. Do your male patients a favor and help them understand the importance of adequate omega-3 nutrition. It is much easier to support a body that is already healthy than waiting until problems occur. Omega-3 fish oil supplements containing the important fats EPA and DHA are an easy, cost-effective recommendation, which will aid the maintenance of health in all patients, but the specific needs of men must not be underestimated. In the assessments that I have made in my practice, and what is seen globally, everyone could benefit from increasing their consumption of the omega-3s EPA and DHA.


Christopher Oswald, DC, CNS, is a chiropractor, certified nutrition specialist and a graduate of Northwestern Health Sciences University. He practices in Wisconsin focusing on whole body care for those suffering from head and neck pain. In practice, he utilizes the combination of functional movement assessment and functional medicine principles to identify the underlying causes, which guides his direction for the appropriate clinical care. He is an advisory board member of Nordic Naturals and the National Association of Nutrition Professionals. He can be reached at .

 

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