There are actually three types of fatty acids that are collectively referred to as omega-3′s: ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), EPA (eicosapentaenoic), and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). Omega-3′s are essential fatty acids, because they are necessary for health and must be included in your diet because the human body cannot manufacture them on its own.
Extensive research indicates that omega-3 fats reduce inflammation, helping to prevent inflammatory diseases like heart disease and arthritis. In addition to warding off inflammation, omega-3’s are also essential to the brain, impacting behavior and cognitive function, and are especially necessary during fetal development. A list of other health benefits are;
1. Improve artery health by helping to reduce plaque buildup and blood clots in arteries that lead to the brain.
2. Improve cholesterol by lowering triglycerides and elevating HDL (good cholesterol) levels. These benefits come primarily from DHA and EPA.
3. Improve joint health by reducing joint tenderness and stiffness associated with arthritis and osteoarthritis.
4. Improve bone health by positively impacting the body’s calcium levels, reducing the incidence of bone loss.
5. Improve mental by helping to insulate nerve cells in the brain, allowing these nerve cells to better communicate with one another. People who are deficient in omega-3’s may suffer from depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, eating disorders, and ADHD.
6. Improve skin health by helping to alleviate symptoms related to skin disorders like acne and psoriasis.
7. Improve bowel health by reducing inflammation of the bowels, helping alleviate symptoms of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
8. Improve lung health by reducing inflammation in diseases like asthma.
9. Improve menstrual health by reducing the pain associated with PMS and menstruation.
10. Help prevent cancer. Colon, breast, and prostate cancers have all been correlated with low intakes of omega-3′s.
The three different types of omega-3’s are found in specific types of foods. ALA is found in foods of plant origin. The richest source of ALA is flaxseed, but it is also found in hempseed, canola oil, soybeans, soybean oil, pumpkin seeds, pumpkin seed oil, linseed, walnuts, and walnut oil. Once ingested, the body converts ALA into EPA and DHA, allowing it to be more readily used by the body. This conversion isn’t very efficient. That’s why experts recommend including EPA and DHA sources in your diet as well.
DHA is found in seafood, algae, and cold-water fish such as salmon, sardines and albacore tuna. Many fish oil supplements have been certified to be free of heavymetal contaminants like mercury. Opting for these are the safest bet, especially if you intend to ingest higher doses.
EPA is found in many of the same foods as DHA, including cold-water fish such as salmon, and sardines, as well as cod liver, herring, mackerel, and halibut. Once again, if you are getting both DHA, and EPA from fish oil supplements, it is wise to check whether they are certified to be free of heavy metal contaminants. Solving one deficiency while creating a whole new problem is not the successful approach to good health.
Enriched eggs that contain all three types of omega-3 fatty acids are readily available these days. These eggs are enriched by adding flaxseed or algae to the hens’ diets so that they produce eggs that are rich in healthy fats. Two or threes servings of cold water fish per week will also provide the necessary essential fatty acids that our body needs. For those that want to experience some of the more fitness related benefits, well that’s another post for another day.