Omega 3 fatty acids are essential fats that the human body needs, but does not naturally produce. As a result, they have to be consumed via food or supplements. There are three types of omega 3 fatty acids: a-linolenic (ALA) – found in plant oils; eicosapentaenoic (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic (DHA), which are both found in marine oils.
Omega 3s play a critical role in the way the brain functions which includes blocking inflammation pathways in the cell. The following article will outline the benefits of omega 3s, which include how they work to:
- Reduce the risk of heart disease;
- Lower blood pressure;
- Lower triglycerides.
The following will also outline the best sources of omega 3 fatty acids, and some general precautions.
Benefits of Omega 3 Fatty Acids
There are many documented benefits on the appropriate consumption of omega 3 fatty acids. Below are five of those benefits.
1. Heart Disease
There is well documented scientific evidence that omega 3 fatty acids benefit the heart of healthy people and those at risk for heart disease. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), research has shown that omega 3 fatty acids decrease the risk of abnormal heart rates known as arrhythmias. These fats appear to help the heart beat at a steady pace. The Harvard School of Public Health states that such arrhythmias are the cause for most of the cardiac deaths that occur each year, which is approximately 500,000
2. Rheumatoid Arthritis
There have been many clinical studies on the effects of omega 3 fatty acids on rheumatoid arthritis (RA). While omega 3 fatty acids do not slow the progression of rheumatoid arthritis, they have shown to reduce the symptoms of RA by helping reduce inflammation, and joint pain. Results have also shown that benefits may increase when taking omega 3 supplements with an anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen.
3. High Blood Pressure
The University of Maryland Medical Center notes that many clinical studies have suggested that omega 3 fatty acids lower blood pressure in those with hypertension. The results may depend on the proper dosage.
4. Hyperlipidemia (triglyceride lowering)
Triglycerides are a type of fat that the body uses for energy. However, high triglyceride levels may increase the risk of heart attack, and may indicate metabolic syndrome, which is a combination of high blood pressure and high blood sugar. There is strong scientific evidence that omega 3 fatty acids reduce triglyceride levels.
5. Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
ADHD is also responsible for lower levels of omega 3s. Some scientific research has shown that fish oil may increase levels of omega 3 fatty acids in those with ADHD. More research is in order, but studies found that a combination of the right amount of omega 3s with omega 6s is beneficial to those with ADHD.
Best Sources of Omega 3 Fatty Acids
There are various sources of natural omega-3 fatty acids from food such as fish, nuts and oils. These fats can also be taken as a supplement. Below are some excellent sources of omega-3s.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends eating fish at least twice a week. Cooked servings should be 3.5 ounces or ¾ cup of flaked fish. Fatty fish are an especially omega 3 rich food source. These fish include salmon, lake trout, sardines, and albacore tuna.
2. Nuts & Oils
When it comes to nuts, walnuts are the best source of omega 3s. Other good sources are flaxseeds, flaxseed oil, and chia seeds.
3. Green Vegetables
Although fatty fish are the best sources of omega 3 fatty acids, some green vegetables are also good sources. Vegetables like spinach, broccoli, brussel sprouts, and kale are good natural sources for omega 3 fatty acids.
Enriched eggs are another source of omega 3 fatty acids. The eggs are enriched when hens are flax fed; as noted above flaxseeds are a good source of omega 3 fatty acid. In addition, organic milk is source of omega 3 fatty acid because of a cow’s diet of grass and legumes that are rich in omega 3s.
While it is preferable to get omega 3s from natural food sources, supplements also have some value. Fish oil supplements are readily available.
A Word of Caution
For those that suffer with coronary artery disease, getting omega 3s through food sources may not be sufficient; therefore, the AHA recommends consulting with a physician regarding taking supplements. The AHA also advises that anyone taking more than 3 grams of omega 3 supplements should consult a physician as taking too much could cause excessive bleeding.
Pregnant women and children should avoid fish and seafood with high levels of mercury such as swordfish, tile fish, and mackerel. Instead, this demographic should opt for fish and seafood such as salmon, tuna, catfish and shrimp.
For those with chronic health conditions or take maintenance medications, it is always best to consult a physician before making major dietary changes or taking supplements.
There is no denying that omega 3 fatty acids provide important health benefits when consumed in adequate amounts. While the most extensive research conclusions have documented the benefits omega 3 fatty acids have on heart health, these essential fats provide several other benefits related to conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and hypertension.
The primary sources of omega 3s are found in fatty fish such as salmon, and albacore tuna. In addition, these fats can be found in certain nuts, oils, and green vegetables. For those that do not consume enough omega 3s through diet, supplements are available; however, please always remember to consult your physician. For more information on omega 3 fatty acids, please visit the American Heart Association.
Images taken from depositphotos.com.