Omega-3 fatty acids are a group of polyunsaturated fatty acids which are important for a number of functions in the body. Some Omega-3 fatty acids are found in foods such as fatty fish and shellfish. Another type of Omega-3 is found in a few vegetable oils. Omega-3s are also available in dietary supplements.
The American Heart Association recommends eating oily fish and Omega-3 to promote heart health.
Types of Omega-3 fatty acids:
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, these two nutrients play very important roles in brain function, growth, development, metabolism, and in restraint of inflammation. Now, since the human body cannot manufacture these fatty acids, so we must consume them externally.
The third type of Omega-3 fatty acid – ALA
Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines are rich in both DHA and EPA. There’s a third Omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), found in walnuts, canola oil, flaxseeds, chia seeds and pumpkin seeds. Human bodies can convert ALA to DHA and EPA.
What are Omega-3 fatty acids?
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA): This omega-3 fatty acid is present in the whole body, and especially in the brain, the eyes (the retina), the heart, and in human sperm. DHA is one of the most critical elements for the brain, as it helps in building brain cells and boosting the abilities of that incredible organ. That is the main reason why so much stress is put on DHA being present in children’s nutrition.
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA): EPA helps the body produce chemicals involved in blood clotting and controlling inflammation. In adults, it has been shown that EPA keeps depression at bay and promotes mental health. In addition, EPA is required during the early growth years as it has tremendous positive effects on controlling allergies, dry skin conditions, and so on. Fish actually secure EPA from the algae that they eat.
Health Benefits of Fish Oil
- Postpartum Depression
During pregnancy, consumption of fish oil is shown to reduce the risk of postpartum depression.
- Mental Health
An 8-week pilot study suggested that fish oils may help adults with behavioral problems and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
- Heart Benefits
Omega-3 Fatty acids reduce risk of heart attack, stroke and cardiovascular disease.
- Protection against Vision Loss
Having adequate amount of DHA protects from vision loss.
- Protection against Alzheimer’s
It was found that diets high in fish, Omega-3 oils, fruits, and vegetables, reduced the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Fish is high in concentrations of Omega-3 oils in their liver. Oily fish that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids include herring, sardines, salmon, and trout.
Other sources of these vital fatty acids are eggs which are high in Omega-3.
Vegetable-based alternatives are:
- Perilla oil
- Chia seeds
- Radish seeds
- Fresh basil
- Leafy dark green vegetables
Are there any risks in taking Omega-3 supplements?
FDA does not regulate the quality of supplements. Buy these from a reputable source and if possible take it from a natural source.
Among natural sources, the AHA (American Health Association) suggests catfish, shrimp, salmon, and pollock as being low in mercury. They advise avoiding shark, swordfish, and tilefish due to high mercury levels.
Anyone who is considering supplements should first check with a healthcare provider.
However, there is no doubt as to the world of benefits that these Omega-3 Fatty Acids have for our body. Go for foods that are naturally enriched with Omega-3, and where possible, supplement with fortified foods as well. That will ensure not just your shining eyes, glowing skin and your immunity, but a healthy heart, a smart brain, and an overall healthy body!
Author credits – Monika Sharma