Omega 3 fatty acids have some health benefits that are quite surprising!
Omega 3s are ‘essential’ fatty acids, meaning that they are essential for health but are not produced by the body – they must be obtained from food. They are also polyunsaturated fats because they are made up of many double bonds.
There are three types of omega 3 fatty acids and they are all important:
- EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) – from certain fish sources: salmon, mackerel, sardines, artic char, anchovies, sturgeon, lake trout, tuna, herring, bluefish and krill oil.
- DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) – from certain fish sources: salmon, mackerel, sardines, anchovies, sturgeon, lake trout, tuna, herring, bluefish and krill oil. DHA is also found in algae oil.
- ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) – found in plants, such as nuts and seeds particularly walnuts, flaxseed (ground is best), flaxseed oil, rapeseed (canola), hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, dark leafy green vegetables, broccoli and edamame (soybeans in the pod). The body has a limited ability to change some ALA into DHA and EPA.
12 surprising health benefits: EPA and DHA seem to have the strongest health benefits:
- Lowering triglycerides or blood fat: Fish oil supplements can lower blood fat levels, which reduce the risk for heart disease. DHA has been shown to lower triglycerides on its own. Three other healthy lifestyle changes can lower triglycerides and can be used effectively in combination with fish oil: drastically reducing dietary intake of refined (junk) foods, getting more exercise and reducing alcohol consumption.
- Reducing inflammation: Omega 3s reduce inflammation everywhere in the body. Inflammation is thought to be the underlying cause of many chronic illnesses including heart issues, digestive issues, and even cancer. Chronic inflammation could also be related to oxidative stress in the body caused by free radical damage to the cells.
- Heart and circulatory system benefits: Reduction of inflammation in the blood vessels is particularly beneficial for the heart and circulatory system. Omega 3 fatty acids can also slow down the buildup of plaque inside artery walls, as well as help lower blood pressure.
- Stabilization of heart rhythm: Omega 3s seems to have a stabilizing effect on heart rhythm and could possibly prevent abnormal heart rhythms.
- Arthritis help: EPA and DHA together can reduce joint stiffness and pain. Omega 3 supplements have also been shown to increase the effectiveness of anti-inflammatory drugs.
- Bone health: Omega 3 fatty acids are important for building healthy cells, including bone cells. Omega 3 fatty acids together with vitamin D, magnesium and calcium can help strengthen bones.
- Mental health benefits: Research has shown that omega 3s can help lower levels of depression and possibly help to increase the effectiveness of anti-depressant medication.
- Baby health benefits: The omega 3 fatty acid DHA has been found to be important for eye, brain and neurological development in babies.
- Help with asthma: Consuming a high amount of omega 3 fatty acids can lower inflammation, which is a key component of asthma.
- Brain health: Omega 3 fatty acids are important for brain development, mental acuity and neurological functioning. According to Dr. Mercola – “EPA and DHA keep the dopamine levels in your brain high, increase neuronal growth in the frontal cortex of your brain and increase cerebral circulation.”
- Help with ADHD: Recent studies have indicated that omega 3 fatty acids can reduce the symptoms of ADHD in some children. Omega 3s could possibly improve a child’s capacity for remembering, improve their thinking skills and their learning.
- Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia: Research is ongoing to determine if omega 3 fatty acids have a positive effect on age related memory loss, Alzheimer’s and dementia. Early indications of this research are positive.
About the sources of omega 3 fatty acids
The EPA and DHA form of omega 3 fatty acids are generally found in fish: salmon, mackerel, sardines, arctic char, anchovies, sturgeon, lake trout, tuna, herring, bluefish, and krill oil. Interesting to note that wild salmon contains more omega 3 fatty acids than farmed salmon.
Toxins can be an issue, so be careful of such toxins as mercury and PCBs, which have been found in shark, wild swordfish, mackerel and tilefish. Farmed fish also contains higher levels of contaminants, particularly farmed salmon, which contains a chemical to make the fish the ‘right’ color. According to Dr. Mercola, krill are a safer source for EPA and DHA omega 3 fatty acids.
Beware of marketing hype. Some packaged products state that they contain added omega 3 fatty acids, which is marketing hype for the purpose of insinuating that the product is a very healthy choice. The actual amount of ‘added omega 3s’ could be quite minimal, and may not be enough to be a good source of omega 3 fatty acids. The best and most reliable source of omega 3 fatty acids is fish.
What are the possible side effects of consuming fish oils?
Indigestion and gas are the main side effects. High amounts of DHA and EPA could possibly make bleeding more likely, so use caution if you have a bleeding condition or take medications such as Coumadin, Plavix, Effient, Brilinta and some non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS).
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