What's Special about Omega-3 Fatty Acids?
In populations with high rates of heart disease, especially in the United States, medical researchers look to dietary supplements to mitigate the chances of cardiovascular complications. Since the 19th century, products like cod-liver oil have been used to provide vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids in diets which lack foods that come from the sea. It has long been thought that these acids are essential to a healthy cardiovascular system and a cancer-free body.
What Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids?
Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids that are essential to a normal metabolism. Fatty acids cannot be made by the body – they must enter the human body through food consumption. They are vital to cell membranes throughout our entire bodies and influence the receptors attached to those cell membranes.
When the body metabolizes fatty acids, it yields high volumes of adenosine triphosphate, or ATP. ATP takes chemical energy to the cells in our body so we can walk, talk, jump, run, blink, and eat.
There are a total of 11 omega-3 fatty acids, but only 2-3 are consumable via foods and dietary supplements like fish, plant, and nut oils. These 3 main omega-3 fatty acids are:
· • Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) from fish and algae oils
· • Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) from fish and algae oils
· • Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) from plant oils and animal fat
Balanced levels of omega-3 fatty acids can have positive benefits on appetite, weight, and the general feeling of health.
Where Can I Get Omega-3 Fatty Acids?
Sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Dietary and food sources of omega-3 fatty acids include:
· • Seafood – different types of fish and sea creatures provide omega-3 fatty acids naturally in their meat. Fresh tuna, trout, salmon, herring, sardines, mackerel, and halibut are great sources. You can also supplement your omega-3 fatty acids with oysters.
· • Dairy – not all dairy contains these essential acids, but you'll find them in eggs, margarine, milk, soy milk, and yogurt. Sometimes, the oil from eggs or margarine is extracted to create low-calorie nutritional supplements.
· • Nuts and grains – some of these foods naturally possess fatty acids, and some are enriched with them. Add bread, cereal, oatmeal, flaxseed, or pasta to your diet to up your omega-3 intake. Walnuts and peanut butter also have a healthy amount of fatty acids.
· • Vegetables – fresh produce such as Brussels sprouts, kale, spinach, watercress, and herbs such as parsley and mint contain a fair amount of omega-3 fatty acids. Add them to nuts, grains, dairy, or seafood to really boost nutritional value.
· • Oils – most oils with omega-3 fatty acids are derived from the foods on this list. They include canola, cod-liver, flaxseed, mustard, soybean, and walnut oil.
Several supplements are enriched with omega-3 fatty acids. Protein powder mixes and shakes often contain omega-3 fatty acids to aid in the metabolic process to maximize the efficiency of muscle building. However, whole foods are almost always preferable to supplements.
How Do Omega-3 Fatty Acids Affect Health?
Exploration of the health benefits associated with dietary omega-3 fatty acid consumption is still in a heavy research phase. Though physicians and health experts have touted them for hundreds of years, technology has only recently caught up enough to claim to be capable of supporting sound conclusions about the effect and potential benefits of omega-3 fatty acids on the human body.
Some of the most well-supported effects and benefits of omega-3 fatty acids include:
Lower blood fat – high levels of triglycerides, fats in the blood that transform into energy, can put you at risk of serious heart disease that may become lethal. Fatty acids help to reduce the ratio of blood fat in the bloodstream.
Control of inflammation – In patients with chronic inflammation or inflammatory diseases, especially asthma, omega-3s reduce inflammation, which helps reduce the occurrence of painful symptoms.
Rheumatoid arthritis – Fatty acids found in fish oil help reduce the feelings of stiffness and pain in the joints associated with arthritis. They may also make anti-inflammatory drugs more effective.
Infant development – Healthy growth of an infant's brain and eyesight has been linked to the presence of DHA, which is available in baby foods as well as supplements.
Depression and ADHD – Not only do researchers say that omega-3s accelerate the effects of antidepressants, but they may also be able to dilute the intense feelings of depression by increasing mental capacity. Increases in thinking and problem-solving are also helpful for those struggling with attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD).
Alzheimer's disease and dementia – Improved cognitive function helps patients with Alzheimer's and dementia get more mental exercise which can slow the symptoms of neurological breakdown.
In clinical trials, a limited scope of efficacy has been observed when the effects of omega-3 supplements over time were tested against a placebo. Participants who received omega-3 fatty acid nutritional supplements had a lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease and a lower rate of actual stroke and heart attack.
However, the influence of omega-3 fatty acids on mental functions and cancer risk mitigation is still heavily disputed. Though most studies so far are largely inconclusive as to the direct benefits of omega-3 fatty acids on health conditions, the foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids still have additional health benefits and should be a large part of any serious diet.