Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Omega 3 and Chinese Medicine

Omega 3s get a lot of press these days, and for good reason. They are Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs), which means our bodies don't make them, we need to get them from our diet. The reason they are so important is because they do a lot for our bodies: they lower triglycerides; improve heart health and prevent stroke; improve mood and brain function for conditions like ADHD, depression, Alzheimer's and dementia; and most importantly they reduce inflammation which plays a part in many of the above conditions, as well as asthma, allergies, skin disorders, Rheumatoid and Osteoarthritis.

Omega 3s are abundant in many great foods, like salmon, sardines and other cold water fatty fish; flax seeds/oil; chia seeds; walnuts; and krill oil. Ideally they are consumed in organic form, or wild caught for the fish and krill to minimize contamination with pesticides or mercury.

From a Chinese Medicine perspective, Omega 3s seem to do the following things: Clear Heat, Leech out Dampness, Calm the Shen (Spirit),  Clear Phlegm/Open the Orifices and Moisten Dryness.

  • Most sources of these EFAs tend to be oils, so moistening makes sense. They lubricate to improve movement, like with arthritis, they keep the skin moist and supple, and they may also help with constipation by moistening the Intestines.
  • Inflammation is often seen as heat in Chinese Medicine. Signs of heat are when a body part feels hot to the touch or feels internally hot, there is redness (like with skin rashes or boils), fever, or when a condition gets worse with either the application of heat or in hot weather. Cooling the heat makes skin calmer (less red), allergic eyes less red and irritated and stops this type of pain with arthritis (Rheumatoid arthritis often has a heat element).
  • Inflammation can also have a damp quality to it. Damp signs usually have a "wetness" element to them, like joint swelling or skin eruptions with pus. You can also have Dampness in the head creating foggy or unclear thinking or systemic dampness which creates a fatigue where you feel really heavy and sluggish. It is also possible to have both Dampness and Heat.
  • The Shen is the Spirit in Chinese Medicine. It is connected both to the Heart and the Mind, being related to mood and emotions. Good Shen is seen as a "brightness" in the eyes where the person is clear and calm and content. Disturbed Shen can present with a person having a dull look in their eyes or wild "crazy" eyes, like with mania. By Calming the Spirit, you feel less agitated or anxious, less stressed, more relaxed. You feel internally "brighter" and more alive. 
  • When you feel foggy-headed or your brain is not functioning properly (like with dementia) it is almost like there is a veil or clouds blocking your brain from working correctly. In Chinese Medicine that is Phlegm, which is a thicker, stickier level of Dampness. By clearing Phlegm from the Orifices (in this case the Mind and the Eyes--where you see the Shen) you can think more clearly. It is like removing the veil or blowing away the clouds in your Mind. The Brain functions more clearly and appropriately.
The ideas of Dryness, Dampness and Phlegm are all pathologic concepts, not to be confused with normal and natural moisture. In a balanced system there are equal amounts of Heat, Cold, Moist and Dry. Problems arise when there is too much Heat to balance out the Cold, so rather than warming the body you have a radiator that is overheating. If there is too much Cold to balance out the Heat your body isn't cooling itself, it is freezing. When there is too much "Moistness" it becomes pathologic Dampness or in more severe forms, Phlegm. Dampness and Phlegm are no longer moistening the body, they are just clogging up the system.

It is important to have just enough of one to balance the other, as is with the priciples of Yin and Yang. It seems that Omega 3 Fatty Acids help you maintain that balance.


  1. As I read, I cannot evoid thinking of its rich Yin properties. The thing is, it is presented as an oil concentrated based product that damages obstructing liver. The problem is that it is highly concentrated oil product. I have patients undergoing constant acid reflux due to stomach being attacked by liver Yang fire.

    1. Omega 3 is oily if taken as an oil supplement (fish, flax), but if you get it in seed or nut form (like chia seeds, flax seeds, walnuts) it might be less stagnating for your patients. The seeds especially are lighter and less taxing on the Spleen. Even eating the whole fish might be better than using the fish oil supplement. Giving your acid reflux patients some licorice (DGL) will both support the Spleen and help with the reflux.