Omega-3 fatty acids are the ALPHA when it comes to healthy fats By Olivia Cook for Prevention
Omega fatty acids are a family of unsaturated fats (omega-3s, omega-6s and omega-9s) that each confer different health benefits. But when it comes to healthy fats, there is one type you don’t want to cut back on: omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3s are considered essential fatty acids because our bodies lack the enzymes needed to create them. The only way we can get these fatty acids is through our diet.
The three forms of omega-3s found in our food are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Both EPA and DHA are sometimes called marine omega-3s because they come mainly from fish. ALA is found in vegetable oils and nuts (especially walnuts), flax seeds and flaxseed oil, leafy vegetables and some animal fats (especially in grass-fed animals).
Foods that are high in omega-3
Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in a plethora of foods. Many mainstream health organizations recommend a minimum of 250-500 milligrams of omega-3s per day for healthy adults.
The popular commercial marine-based sources of beneficial omega fatty acids include mackerel, salmon, herring, oysters, sardines, anchovies and caviar.
Persistent organic pollutants in our marine waters, in addition to unsustainable overfishing and increase of sea-surface temperatures acidification, have drawn considerable international attention as they pose serious threats to food quality, human health and well-being.
For those who worry about toxic contamination in seafood or those who follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, the ahiflower is an excellent plant-based alternative source of omega-3 fatty acid. Being plant-derived, it has no fishy taste, no fishy smell and no fishy after effects. (Related: Ahiflower: Unrivaled as the richest plant source of omega fatty acids.)
Vegans and vegetarians can also eat a diet rich in flaxseed and flaxseed oil, chia seeds, walnuts and green veggies, such as Brussel sprouts, kale, spinach and salad greens.
Health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids backed by science
Studies found that omega-3 essential fatty acids can do the following:
Support heart health
According to the European Review for Medical and Pharmacological Sciences, omega-3 fatty acids possess anti-inflammatory, antiarrhythmic and antithrombotic properties that significantly reduce the risk for sudden death caused by cardiac arrhythmias and all-cause mortality in patients with known coronary heart disease. Omega-3 fatty acids are also used to treat hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol) and hypertension (high blood pressure).
The American Heart Association recommends the consumption of two servings of omega-3 fatty acid-rich fish per week for persons with no history of coronary disease and at least one serving of omega-3 fatty acid-rich fish daily for those with known coronary heart disease. (Related: Omega-3 fatty acids linked to improved cardiovascular health.)
Support brain health
In a study published in Nutrients, researchers have found that the brain needs omega-3 fatty acids to properly develop and function. Omega-3s help our brains and nervous system by preserving cell membrane health; facilitating communication between neurons; assisting in the synthesis and function of neurotransmitters; supporting brain blood flow; aiding in the growth of brain tissue; supporting cognition (including memory); and preventing neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders, including depression and anxiety.
DHA and EPA play a key role in brain structure, communication and protection. These two crucial omega-3s are essential for proper brain development in fetuses, babies and toddlers and impact brain function throughout adolescence and adulthood. They also protect against cognitive decline and dementia in later life.
A study published in the Netherlands-based journal Pharma Nutrition endorses the incorporation of omega-3 fatty acids into treatment algorithms in psychiatric practice. Supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids has been shown to reduce symptoms severity in different psychiatric disorders and “augment the therapeutic efficacy of antidepressants, mood stabilizers and second-generation antipsychotic medications, and may additionally mitigate adverse cardiometabolic side-effects.”
Researchers led by Dr. John M. Davis from the University of Illinois-Chicago also have confirmed that two critical omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) available from certain food or nutritional supplements exhibit powerful antidepressants and brain-boosting benefits. The team found that taking omega-3 with either EPA alone or a combination of EPA and DHA is effective in improving mood and may potentially eliminate the need for many people to take antidepressant drugs. (Related: Treat depression with omega-3 fatty acids.)
Support a healthy immune system
According to the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, omega-3 fatty acids regulate the production and secretion of cytokines (proteins that affect the growth of all blood cells and other cells that help the body’s immune and inflammation responses) and chemokines (proteins that stimulate the migration of white blood cells).
Leukocytes (also called white blood cells or B cells) defend the body against infection and disease by ingesting foreign materials and cellular debris; destroying infectious agents and cancer cells; or producing antibodies. A study published in the Journal of Leukocyte Biology suggests that instead of suppressing the immune system by reducing inflammation, consumption of DHA- and EPA-rich fish oil actually enhances the function of immune B cells.
Support a healthy endocrine system
A study published in Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology reported that based on current evidence, increased omega-3 intake seems like the most straightforward comprehensive approach for managing PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) – a multi-organ disease common in women with abnormal menstrual cycles, affecting most endocrine organs, including ovaries, adrenals, pituitary, fat cells and endocrine pancreas. (Related: Beat PCOS naturally with omega-3 fatty acids.)
Support musculoskeletal health
According to a study published in Progress in Lipid Research, omega-3s can improve bone strength by boosting the amount of calcium in your bones, which should lead to a reduced risk of osteoporosis.
Support skin health
A study published in Experimental Dermatology has shown omega-3 fatty acids as photoprotective macronutrients. Evidence from the study suggests that omega-3s, particularly EPA, offer protection against immunosuppression, photocarcinogenesis, photoaging (premature aging caused by repeated exposure to ultraviolet radiation) and photosensitivity (sensitivity to UV rays from sunlight and other light sources) disorders.
Promote sensible weight management goals
A study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition correlated omega-3 fatty acids with the prevention of obesity and subsequent development of chronic disease sequelae (after-effects of a disease, condition or injury).
It is important to realize that consumption of omega-3s alone will not suffice when it comes to keeping your fat metabolic rate and reducing excess body fat. Add those omega-3s to your diet, get some sort of physical activity and exercise every day as opposed to a highly sedimentary lifestyle, get some fresh air and avoid eating excessive amounts of junk food.