The dietary mantra “fat makes you fat” continues to unravel as science shows how good fats can actually help prevent disease, with an extra boost from an over-the-counter drug.
For years, loading up on low-fat foods was thought to be the winning formula for staying healthy. But fat is an important nutrient, helping to regulate hormones and metabolism, and to nourish our skin and hair.
New research published this week in the Cell Press journal Chemistry & Biology shows how the combination of omega-3 fatty acids and aspirin can put up a powerful fight against inflammatory conditions like heart disease and arthritis.
How Aspirin and Omega-3 Collaborate
The scientists discovered that aspirin triggers the production of molecules called resolvins, which help shut off, or “resolve,” the inflammation that can cause chronic disease.
“We found that one resolvin, termed resolvin D3 from the omega-3 fatty acid DHA, persists longer at sites of inflammation,” said senior author Dr. Charles Serhan of Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School. “This finding suggests that this late resolution phase resolvin D3 might display unique properties in fighting uncontrolled inflammation.”
Researchers confirmed that aspirin treatment triggered the production of a longer acting form of resolvin D3 through a different pathway.
“Aspirin is able to modify an inflammatory enzyme to stop forming molecules that propagate inflammation and instead produce molecules from omega-3 fatty acids, like resolvin D3, that help inflammation to end," said coauthor Dr. Nicos Petasis of the University of Southern California.
Resolvins are naturally produced by the body from omega-3 fatty acids, but the researchers found that aspirin magnifies their anti-inflammatory effects.
“I regard low-dose aspirin as a tonic and preventive that everyone should consider, particularly those who are at risk for cardiovascular disease,” said University of Arizona professor Dr. Andrew Weil in a statement.
How Much Aspirin and Omega-3 Do I Need?
Weil says you can get the maximum health benefit from as little as 81 milligrams of aspirin per day, about one-quarter the amount in a standard tablet, but he warns that those with a history of gastrointestinal bleeding should be cautious about taking aspirin, even in low doses.
Fats continue to be a source of confusion in the nutrition world, but according to Dr. David Servan-Schreiber, author of AntiCancer, Americans tend to have 10 to 15 times more omega-6 fats in their bodies than omega-3s.
While we need both types of fat, Western diets tend to include more omega-6 fats found in many processed junk foods.
A 2010 study by French researchers suggested that if we switched to a healthier balance of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, we would be leaner and healthier.
You can eat more omega-3 fatty acids to help restore your personal fat balance. Foods like flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, leafy greens, and wild fish like salmon, sardines, herring, and trout are all great sources of omega-3s. You could also try an over-the-counter omega-3 dietary supplement.