The importance of omega-3 in competitive sports
The article “Omega-3 Fatty Acids – Levels up in Competitive Sports!” by Prof. Dr. Clemens von Schacky, which appeared in the Sportärztezeitung, is about the positive effect of omega-3 fatty acids in competitive sports. We have summarized the content of the article for you below.
Positive effects of Omega-3 for muscles, heart and joints
In both Germany and the USA, particularly low levels of omega-3 fatty acids can be found in competitive athletes. The HS-Omega-3 Index® method was used to analyze the levels of the important marine omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in red blood cells. The range of 8-11%, which is considered optimal, is on average far below in athletes.
The probability of developing major depression is increased in competitive athletes compared to the average population. The higher the omega-3 level in red blood cells, the lower the likelihood of majore depression. Several meta-analyses confirm that administration of EPA and DHA alone, as well as in combination with conventional psychiatric therapy, proves effective in preventing and treating majore depression. High levels of the fatty acid EPA further enhance the effect, highlighting the anti-inflammatory aspects in efficacy. For this reason, guidelines are now beginning to recommend omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA in the therapeutic treatment of major depression.
Cognitive functions and brain damage in athletes
Traumatic brain damage occurs more frequently in sports such as soccer or American soccer. These mostly entail structural brain damage, which can reduce brain performance. It is known that complex brain functions and aspects of brain structure such as memory are related to the amount of EPA and DHA in red blood cells. For example, a four-week study of female soccer players in the Spanish first division showed that efficiency, accuracy and reaction time improved when they took 3.5 g of EPA and DHA per day compared to the placebo group.
The results of intervention studies on cognitive functions such as memory, abstract reasoning and similarly complex brain functions were also positive at doses above 800 mg DHA per day. Thus, it can be concluded that the cognitive functions of athletes in sports involving recurrent traumatic brain injury benefit from high levels of EPA and DHA.
Effect of omega-3 on muscles
Various intervention studies have investigated the effect of taking omega-3 fatty acids before physical exertion capable of causing muscle soreness. It was found that omega-3 minimizes or even prevents muscle soreness. It was found that not only the swelling of the muscle was absent, but also the loss of strength typically associated with muscle soreness.
Similar effects have also been demonstrated after exercise has already occurred by taking a single dose of omega-3. This is shown by data from British soccer players. A high level of omega-3 fatty acids in the body has also been shown to help reduce “age-related” muscle loss.
Effect of omega-3 on the heart
Compared to the average population, competitive athletes are at increased risk of sudden cardiac death. Low levels of the marine omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA are 10 times more likely to cause sudden cardiac death than high levels of omega-3.
An intervention study of patients with cardiovascular disease demonstrated that omega-3 intake reduces sudden cardiac death in patients with coronary heart disease.
Effect of omega-3 on joints
The anti-inflammatory effects of EPA and DHA are also likely responsible for the significant relief of pain and other symptoms in patients with rheumatoid arthritis documented in meta-analyses. A richer body of studies can be found on arthritic and osteoarthritic conditions in cats and dogs. In both species, mobility and pain can be improved by administration of the two marine omega-3 fatty acids.
In humans, high levels of EPA and DHA also seem to accelerate the healing process (for example, after knee surgery). However, this has not yet been systematically investigated.
Sources and dosage of EPA and DHA
Mackerel, salmon, tuna and other cold-water fish are particularly rich in the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. However, it should be noted that long-lived predatory fish such as tuna are at the bottom of the food chain and thus absorb a large number of heavy metals and toxins during your lifetime. Frequent consumption of these fish species is therefore discouraged.
While farmed fish contain increasingly less omega-3 as the feed used becomes lower in omega-3, wild caught fish move more and thus contain less fat overall. If one wants to take a certain dose of EPA and DHA per day, the only remaining option is supplementation with fish oil preparations with guaranteed omega-3 content or a vegetable algae oil as a vegan alternative. With high-quality manufacturers, a thorough cleaning of toxins and other impurities takes place as part of the manufacturing process.
To ensure optimal absorption and processing of omega-3 fatty acids in the body, omega-3 supplements should always be taken together with a main meal or a high-fat meal. This approach activates fat digestion and maximizes bioavailability. To raise the omega-3 index into the target range of 8-11%, a maximum of 5 g of omega-3 (EPA and DHA) per day is usually required.
The average omega-3 index in athletes is well below the target range of 8-11%. This not only results in a reduced life expectancy – also due to the increased likelihood of sudden cardiac death – but also in a reduced function of the muscles, the cardiovascular system, the brain and other organs that are under particular strain in competitive sports.
Prof. Dr. Clemens von Schacky was chief physician of cardiology at the “Medical Park Sankt Hubertus” and is head of preventive cardiology at the University of Munich LMU. He is an expert in the field of cardiology and is directly associated with the field of omega-3 fatty acids in professional circles.
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