If there's a buzzword in the nutrition industry these days, it's probably omega-3 fatty acids. We hear about it everywhere.
The existence of omega-3s have been known to scientists for 70 years, but until a few short years ago most consumers had never heard of them. How things have changed! Let's look at what the commotion is all about; we'll start with what omega-3 fatty acids are.
Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids (the good kind) found in the tissues of fatty fish and in vegetable sources such as flaxseed, hemp seeds, walnuts, and canola oil. Also known as PUFAs (polyunsaturated fatty acids), omega-3s are essential.
Fatty acids are the major building blocks of fats, and as such they comprise an important source of energy for the human body. There are three major types of omega-3s:
- alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
- eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and
- docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
Fish and fish oil are the richest sources of omega-3 fatty acids, especially for EPA and DHA, both of which are obtained naturally by eating fish. The ALA form of omega-3 fatty acid mostly comes from seeds and oils.
It is important to maintain a dietary balance between omega-3 and omega-6, another essential fatty acid. This is because omega-3s help to offset some of the negative effects of omega-6s, which can affect overall health and wellness. Unfortunately, the typical American diet contains up to 25 times more omega-6s than omega-3s, and this is one reason sensible supplementation can be important.
- Omega-3 fatty acids are important for heart health.
- Supportive but not conclusive research shows that consumption of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of heart disease.
- Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death in the United States. Cardiovascular disease doesn't only affect the elderly. Many people who suffer from CVD are below the age of 65.
- Because the sources for Omega-3 fatty acids are limited, supplementation can be important, especially in this fast food age.
- Omega-3 fatty acids are good fats which help to balance the bad fats in your diet.
- Omega-3 fatty acids are some of the most important fatty acids you need for cellular health.
- Omega-3 fatty acids are important for the body's immune system.
- Omega-3's have a positive effect on the immune system by helping to regulate prostaglandins, thromboxanes and leukotrienes.
- Omega-3 fatty acids are some of the most important fatty acids you need for metabolic health.
- Omega-3 fatty acids support healthy circulation.
- Omega-3's can support bone health.
The health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids are numerous and significant.
Cardiovascular health: Studies indicate that a healthy blood pressure is important for heart and circulatory health. According to the Mayo Clinic, omega-3 fatty acids can support a healthy blood pressure level already within a normal range.
A proven way to support heart health is to eat less saturated fat and more monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, including omega-3 fatty acids. The evidence suggests that EPA and DHA help provide a multitude of benefits for the heart.
Circulation: Eating a diet of omega-3 fatty acids from fish helps blood flow smoothly through the arteries. Eating at least 2 servings of fatty fish per week can have a positive impact on blood flow.
Increased calcium and bone strength: Omega-3 fatty acids (such as EPA) help increase levels of calcium in the body. They also deposit calcium in the bones, and improve bone strength. In a study of women over 65 with osteoporosis, those who took EPA and GLA supplements saw a reduced rate of bone loss. In fact, many of the women experienced an increase in bone density. Fish oil also helps support joint health as it can positively impact joint comfort.
The best sources of omega-3 fatty acids depend on which form you want. The best sources for EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), and ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) are, respectively:
EPA / DHA
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