What is Omega 3 Fatty Acid?
Omega-3 fatty acids are a form of polyunsaturated fats that the body derives from food. (Cholesterol, saturated fat, and monounsaturated fat are the others.) All polyunsaturated fats, including the omega-3s, are recognized as essential to human health (hence the alternative term ‘essential fatty acids’ or ‘EFA’s’).
Omega 3’s found in polyunsaturated fatty acids are good for you and are primarily found in cold water fish. Foods rich in saturated fats are associated with degenerative diseases, including heart disease and cancer.
Why essential? Omega 3’s are called ‘essential’ fatty acids (EFA’s) because they are critical for good health and because the body can’t make them on its own. Therefore, omega 3’s must be obtained from outside sources such as salmon, mackerel and tuna, thus making these fats “essential.”
Types of EFA’s
Key omega-3 fatty acids include eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexanoic acid (DHA). Aside from fresh seaweed, plant foods rarely contain EPA or DHA. A third omega-3, called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), is found in dark green leafy vegetables, flaxseed oils, and certain vegetable oils. Although ALA has different effects on the body than EPA and DHA do, the body has enzymes that can convert ALA to EPA. All three are essential to human health.
It is also important to balance omega 3 fatty acids and omega 6 fatty acids. Most western diets consist of more omega 6, found primarily in cereals, whole-grain bread, baked goods, fried foods, margarine, etc. A proper balance of omega 3 and 6 should be a 2:1 ratio. Omega 3’s benefits are vast as we will discuss below.
Omega 3 Fatty Acid Benefits
- Improve heart health Omega-3 fatty acids play a part in keeping cholesterol levels low, stabilizing irregular heart beat (arrhythmia), and reducing blood pressure. Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), (one of the omega-3s), is particularly beneficial for protecting against heart and vessel disease, and for lowering cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Omega 3 fatty acids are also natural blood thinners, protecting against stroke or blood clots. Excellent sources of ALA include flaxseed oil.
- Reduce hypertension
Studies show the more omega-3 fatty acids people consume, the lower their overall blood pressure level is. This was found with Greenland Eskimos who ate a lot of oily, cold-water fish and promoted findings of omega 3 health benefits.
- Improve rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Raynaud’s disease & other autoimmune diseases
Diets high in omega-3 fatty acids (such as fish oils) have been shown to increase survival in people with autoimmune diseases. Because omega-3s help the arteries–as well as many other parts of the body–stay inflammation free. The compounds responsible for this are EPA and DHA because they can be converted into natural anti-inflammatory substances. Both of these compounds help decrease inflammation and pain.
Studies have found patients with inflammatory disease to report ‘less joint stiffness, swelling, tenderness, and overall fatigue when taking omega-3s’. Omega-3 fatty acids are also successful at improving the condition of those with rheumatoid arthritis. For many, getting more omega-3 fatty acids enabled participants to reduce their use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
- Improve depression and symptoms of other mental health problems
Because the brain is largely fatty, (approximately 60%) it needs omega-3s to function properly. A link between mood disorders and low concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids in the body have been found, possibly due to omega-3s helping to regulate mental because they help keep the brain’s thoughts, reactions, and reflexes running smoothly and efficiently. As an interesting side note, in the film Lorenzo’s Oil, the oil was an omega 3 fatty acid aimed to help a child’s degenerative nerve disorder.
- Aid cancer prevention & support
Research suggests that omega-3 fatty acids may help maintain healthy breast tissue and prevent breast cancer. Also, studies show a possible link between omega 3 and reduced risk of colon cancer resulting in fewer cancerous toxins in the colon.
Don’t forget to reduce your consumption of omega-6-rich foods at the same time that you increase your intake of omega-3-rich foods.