These days there is an increasing trend of using Omega-3 fatty acids in our diet– like eating oily fish–because it might have health benefits. Today, especially, there are more people consuming omega-3’s for their own health. So, what is omega-3? What are the health benefits of omega 3? In this article we are going to talk about the science behind omega-3 and how it is beneficial, and if there are any side effects to taking omega-3 supplements.
Why do we need fats in our diet?
Let’s start by addressing why we even need fats in our diet. Fats are an essential component of a healthy diet. They’re involved in everything from providing a major source of energy to communication between the cells in our body. They also contribute to the flavor and texture of many foods. Some examples are:
- and more!
Eating certain types of fats may actually help reduce your blood cholesterol levels and lower your risk for cardiovascular disease. There are two major types of fats we eat:
- and unsaturated.
Although some foods are only associated with one type of fat, any food with fat usually contains a blend of saturated and unsaturated fats.
Saturated fats are more solid at room temperature than unsaturated fats. They are found primarily in animal products like meat and dairy, as well as hydrogenated vegetable oils and tropical oils like palm oil or coconut oil.
Unsaturated fats are more liquid at room temperature than saturated fats. They can be found in vegetable or plant-derived oils and animal products like meat, dairy, and fish. Types of unsaturated fats include omega-3, omega-6, and omega-9.
What are omega-3’s?
Technically speaking, Omega-3’s are polyunsaturated fatty acids.They are often found from animal sources like seafood, or olive oil and many other vegetables. Since they are essential fatty acids, it means that we do not produce them in our bodies and we must obtain them from our diet or from supplements.
The thing about omega 3’s that most consumers, and some health practitioners, don’t understand is that it isn’t just one single nutrient. There are 3 main types of omega-3’s:
- ALA omega-3
- EPA omega-3
- and DHA omega-3.
The plant form of omega-3’s is called ALA.
How essential are omega-3’s to our body?
Our bodies do not make omega 3’s, even though we rely on them for proper brain, eye, and heart function. The American Heart Association recommends the consumption of oily fatty fish at least 2 times a week in order to obtain the sufficient amounts of DHA and EPA. This means that oily fish like salmon, herring, sardines, trout, and tuna contain the richest sources of DHA and EPA.
Fish oil supplements are derived mainly from the same oily fish sources, but the only reason to even consider taking these supplements is if you cannot get it in your diet, or you simply do not like eating fish. While it is always best to obtain your nutrients from your foods, supplements and alternatives can help you maintain and balance a healthy lifestyle if your diet is not sufficient.
For those of you who are vegetarians, you can consider flax seed, chia seeds, walnuts, and soybeans. Even though these types of foods do not provide DHA and EPA specifically, they do provide ALA (remember, this is the plant form of omega-3). Our bodies actually can make some DHA and EPA out of ALA, but only a small amount, so eating the fish is actually the more ideal route.
What are the benefits of omega-3’s?
Let’s go into some of the research-based benefits of omega-3’s.
Lowers Triglyceride Cholesterol
First of all, omega-3’s can lower your triglyceride level. In fact, the American Heart Association just released a new advisory stating that omega-3 fatty acids can help lower very high triglycerides by twenty to thirty percent and can be safely used with statins.
While these studies do require incredibly high levels of dosing, they were not found to be harmful in any of the trials. The studies showed that 4,000mg of prescription omega-3 fatty acids daily were effective at reducing triglyceride levels. They also note that they do not recommend over the counter formulations because they are not FDA-regulated. In addition to these benefits, they can also modestly increase HDL, which is considered the ‘good’ cholesterol.
Improve Blood Pressure
Large studies have shown that daily doses of fish oil reduce systolic blood pressure and diastolic blood pressure. These effects seem to be greater in those with untreated high blood pressure, reducing their blood pressures by significant amounts. This is an important risk factor for the development of heart disease. By raising the HDL cholesterol in our blood, it can help to keep blood platelets from clumping together. This also helps to prevent the formation of harmful blood clots.
They can help to prevent the build up of plaque in your arteries that can constrict and harden your arteries and lead to atherosclerosis. Omega-3’s also help to control inflammation which is good for blood vessels and your heart.
Heart & Blood Vessels
Many studies have shown that eating fatty fish and other types of seafood as part of a healthy eating pattern helps to keep our heart healthy and helps to protect you from diseases like myocardial infarction, atherosclerosis and stroke. Fish oil supplements help to lower any heightened triglyceride levels. Having high levels of this blood fat puts you at increased risk for heart disease and stroke.
Omega-3 fatty acids are an essential building block for the brain cell structures and membranes. As a result, they are vital for optimal brain functions. Further, omega-3 acids are also necessary for adequate performance of the nerve cells. It has been shown that in certain conditions, fish oil can help in the improvement of memory as well.
Omega-3’s can easily travel through your brain’s cell membranes and interact with mood related molecules inside the brain. They also have anti-inflammatory actions and they can relieve depression (not completely, of course). Omega-3 fatty acids have been studied in various mood disorders, such as postpartum depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, obsessive compulsive disorders, and attention deficit disorders.
The bottom line on omega-3’s and mental health is that omega-3 fatty acids are promising natural treatment for mood disorders, but we need more research on how they work, how effective they are, and long-term strategies.
The number and activity of the disease fighting cells of the body, known as B-cells and T-cells, goes up with regular consumption of omega-3 fatty acids. This, along with its anti-inflammatory properties, helps in building stronger immunity. Omega-3 fatty acids are important for both adaptive and innate immunity. They improve the activity of macrophages, which are large immune cells that eat up bacteria and other pathogens. They are also important for neutrophils and other types of cells in our immune system.
Omega-3’s help in preventing and controlling auto-immune diseases. That is when our immunity causes damage to our own cells and tissues. These fatty acids control inflammation, which can occur as a result of immune reactivity. Getting enough omega-3’s during the first year of life are linked to a reduced risk of many autoimmune diseases like type-1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis.
Skin & Hair
Omega-3’s may protect against the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays. Studies have shown that supplementing with a combination of DHA and EPA can reduce the skin sensitivity to UV rays. Omega-3’s help moisturize the skin and fight red, dry, and itchy skins caused by skin disorders. This is because omega-3’s improve your skin’s barrier functions, sealing in the moisture and keeping out the irritants. Omega-3’s also help with accelerated wound healing, as they are required by the new growing cell to synthesize their cell membranes. Omega-3’s are also good for hair as they help to prevent hair loss and promote hair regrowth.
How Can I Receive Omega-3’s?
There is a major difference in taking in omega-3’s through your diet versus through taking supplements of fish oil. Although you can get the recommended amount of omega fatty acids from supplementation easily, the dietary guidelines from various health authorities say that nutritional needs should be met primarily through our diet.
But for some people, supplements may be a useful way to get nutrients that they otherwise lack. Supplements are not intended to replace foods. They cannot replicate all of the nutrients and benefits of whole foods like fish, nuts, fruits and vegetables.
Try to include these foods in your regular diet as these foods are also rich in other essential fatty acids and vital nutrients like selenium, magnesium, manganese, biotin, protein and fiber, which are all essential nutrients that our body requires.
Feeling Healthy and Happy
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