alive logo
foodfamilylifestylebeautysustainabilityhealthimmunity

Omega-3s

Share

Hardly a day goes by without a newly discovered benefit of omega-3 fatty acids. The potential health benefits from increasing the amount of omega-3 fats in our diet are getting longer all the time.

Hardly a day goes by without a newly discovered benefit of omega-3 fatty acids. The potential health benefits from increasing the amount of omega-3 fats in our diet are getting longer all the time.

The potential health benefits from increasing the amount of omega-3 fats in our diet is getting longer all the time. Omega-3 fats are now credited with preventing heart attacks and strokes, reducing symptoms of arthritis, alleviating depression, improving prenatal nutrition, and helping some cancers. Other less substantiated claims include weight loss and improved skin disorders.

What are Essential Fatty Acids?

Essential polyunsaturated fatty acids are components of all cell walls and are required for healthy skin, hair, nails, thyroid and adrenal glands, nervous system, reproductive function, growth and vitality, oxygen transport, and a healthy cholesterol level. A healthy body can make EPA (eicosapenataenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) from linolenic acid and absorb it directly from oily fish such as salmon, trout, tuna, sardines, mackerel, and herring. These fatty acids regulate diverse physiological functions, including the constriction and dilation of blood vessels, platelet aggregation, pain transmission, inflammation, and immunity.

Two essential fatty acids must be supplied in the diet. One is linoleic acid (omega-6 family), found primarily in seeds, nuts, and cooking oils (corn, safflower, and sunflower). The other is alpha linolenic acid or simply linolenic acid (omega-3 family), found chiefly in flax seed and flax-seed oil, with small amounts in soybean, olive oil, walnut, and leafy green vegetables. Both are polyunsaturated and they appear as a liquid at room temperature.

Why Use Omega-3s?

Most people consume plenty of omega-6s but not enough omega-3s. Population studies show that those who eat a diet high in omega-3s, such as a traditional Mediterranean diet, have very low risk of heart disease. Since Arctic explorers discovered that Greenland Inuit have a high intake of EPA and DHA and are virtually free of cardiovascular disease, intensive research has been conducted on the effect of omega-3 fatty acids on human health.

American researchers report that men who consume fish once or more every week have a 50-percent lower risk of dying from a sudden cardiac event than men who eat fish less than once per month. German researchers found that EPA and DHA (fish oil) supplementation for two years resulted in regression of artery plaque. Clinical trials with arthritis sufferers demonstrate that fish oil can reduce the number of tender joints, increase the time before fatigue sets in, and enable patients to discontinue or sharply reduce arthritis drugs. Studies have also shown blood levels high in omega-3 fatty acids and low in omega-6s reduce the risk of breast cancer.

Choosing More Omega-3s

Eating less saturated fat (fatty meat, butter, and whole-milk products) and trans fats (fried foods, most margarines, and processed foods that contain partially hydrogenated oils), while increasing intake of flax seed and olive oils, will improve your ratio of omega-3s to omega-6s. Include an omega-3 food such as green leafy salads, ground flax seeds, walnuts, tofu, oily fish, or omega-3–enriched eggs every day. Eat fish at least once or twice a week, since some people may not convert enough linolenic acid into EPA and DHA. If this is not practical, take fish oil supplements. Vegetarians who do not consume fish can find DHA supplements derived from algae.

The Bottom Line

Thousands of studies suggest that balancing our intake of essential fatty acids through diet or supplements may be one of the most important keys to long-term well-being.

Ad
Advertisement
Advertisement

READ THIS NEXT

Wisdom of the Heart

Wisdom of the Heart

The faces and facets of EQ

Deena Kara Shaffer

Deena Kara Shaffer

10 Reasons to Eat More Cranberries

10 Reasons to Eat More Cranberries

This small fruit comes packed with big benefits

Laura Newton

Laura Newton