Understanding Omega-3 Fatty Acids

 Photo by: Bigstockphoto

Photo by: Bigstockphoto

To maintain healthy organs, we need friendly fats to assist in various body processes. These fats maintain normal development and growth. Of all friendly fats derived from the food we eat, omega-3 fatty acids are the most beneficial to the health. The body cannot produce these nutrients on its own. We get our essential fatty acids from the food we eat.

Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids. It’s composed of three classifications: EPA or eicosapentaenoic acid, DHA or docosahexaenoic acid and ALA or alpha-linolenic acid.

Sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Wild salmon, herring, and sardines are the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Cold-water fish like cod and mackerel are rich in essential fatty acids too. Green leafy vegetables, poultry, and beef are also high in omega-3 fatty acids. Some nuts – especially walnuts – are high in beneficial fats.

Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

All three types of omega-3 fatty acids are extremely beneficial to the health. EPA obtained from fish oils keeps the heart healthy. DHA -also derived from fish liver – helps boost brain, nerve and eye health. ALA – derived from plants – keeps the brain, heart and arteries healthy too. EPA and DHA play a significant role in normal digestion, muscle contraction and blood clotting. These essential fatty acids keep the arterial walls flexible. It also eliminates inflammation.

Clinical studies show that omega-3 fatty acids are instrumental in lowering blood pressure, improving blood vessel functions – and even lowering triglycerides levels in the body.

Some research suggests that essential fatty acids could cut the risk of many types of inflammatory diseases. These diseases range from asthma and psoriasis to Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Omega-3 fatty acids also cut the risk of cancer. Although the results of these studies are promising, more research is needed to determine the role that omega-3 fatty acids play to improve health.

Side Effects of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Although omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial to the health, it’s not exactly free from side effects. Excessive consumption of fish oils could cause an upset stomach and indigestion. It could also lead to bloating or heartburn. High level of omega-3 fatty acids could disrupt certain medications. These medications include blood thinners or hypertension drugs. So before taking fish oil supplements, consult your doctor first.

According to the American Heart Association or AHA, an average person with heart disease should consume a gram of EPA+DHA each day. Children should not be given fish oil supplements unless recommended by a doctor. Also, there is no standard dose for omega-3 fatty acids so always check the label for the recommended dosage.

Consequently, you want to cut back on foods high in omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-6 fatty acids are derived from vegetable oils. To maximize the health benefits of essential fatty acids, there should be a balanced ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. An imbalance of essential fatty acids in the body could cause a myriad of diseases. Ideally, you want to shoot for the ratio 3:1 or 4:1.