We truly are what we eat. Every carb, fat, and protein that goes into you — whether they are of the healthy or not-so-healthy varieties — is what your body uses to build new cells. And the vitamins, plant nutrients, minerals, and other nutrients in your food have a big say in how your cells live, work, rejuvenate themselves (or don’t), and die.
What you eat also plays a role in training the immune cells in your digestive tract, and your diet even interacts with your DNA’s genetic programming, updating it based upon what you experience in your life. For more on this topic, check out these previous postings on Immunity + Methylation, here and here.
The above adage is especially true for immune cells, because most of us create about a million new ones every 10 seconds. (That’s about 9 billion new immune cells every day, for the average human.) Our nutrition and living experiences give these new recruits their on-the-job training.
Omega-3s for building and balancing
So what are you feeding your 9 billion or so new bodyguards today? (Not to mention the zillions of older ones!)
Omega-3 fats have a special relationship with your immune cells in at least two vitally important ways. (Omega-3s include EPA, DHA, DPA, ALA, and GLA, which stand for eicosapentaenoic acid, docosahexaenoic acid, docosapentaenoic acid, alpha-linolenic acid, and gamma-linolenic acid.)
- First of all, when you get enough of them, omega-3s help your immune system keep better balance between immune offense and defense. This essential balance keeps you protected from infections and toxins, helps coordinate your recovery from injuries, and also limits your chances of developing allergies and chronic inflammation.
- Second, immune cells are equipped with specialized enzymes that transform EPA, DHA, and DPA into substances called pro-resolving mediators (PRMs). Any time teams of your immune cells are called into action, these PRMs help them clean up after the immune response, which can get messy at times!
- That’s not all, though. DHA actually gets built right into your eyes, brain, and nerves, and both EPA and DHA are considered to help the body manage life’s stresses.
- There’s still more. Medical science indicates that, for people with a higher percentage of body fat, especially in the tummy area, getting enough EPA and DHA is extra important. Why? Because to the immune system, extra body fat looks and feels like an irritant that it can’t get rid of. Over time, this reaction can lead to immune imbalance in the form of inflammation.
- PS: Babies, children, teens, and pregnant and nursing women also have greater need for omega-3s. Just imagine all the brain-growing and immune training going on in those bodies!
- And besides that, omega-3s are incorporated into the membranes of virtually every cell in your body, including all the ones whizzing around in your bloodstream. There, omega-3s contribute to cells’ ability to flex through tiny blood capillaries and to allow chemical messages to be transmitted effectively among cells. It’s cellular networking at its best!
So omega-3s build cells, train immunity towards balance, and keep communications flowing throughout your body. The founder of Big Bold Health, biochemist and educator Dr. Jeffrey Bland, feels that healthy adults should receive about 2 grams of omega-3s each day for maintaining health, and large stacks of scientific articles indicate that individuals with chronic health conditions may need even more. Check with your healthcare practitioner for specific recommendations, and see this previous post on getting enough omega-3s.
Where to find those omegas
For reference, foods containing appreciable amounts of omega-3 fats include salmon, sardines, anchovies, salmon roe, caviar, cod and cod liver oil, mackerel, herring, oysters, most types of tree nuts (like walnuts, cashews, or pistachios, but not peanuts, which are ground nuts), most kinds of edible seeds (especially flax, chia, and hemp seed), flaxseed oil, soy oil, canola oil, and dietary supplements that provide the EPA, DHA, DPA, ALA, and GLA.