Omega-3 Fatty Acids: An Essential Contribution
The human body can make most of the types of fats it needs from other fats or raw materials. That is not the case for omega-3 fatty acids (also called omega-3 fats and n-3 fats). These are essential fats—the body cannot make them from scratch but must get them from food. Foods high in Omega-3 include fish, vegetable oils, nuts (especially walnuts), flax seeds, flaxseed oil, and leafy vegetables.
- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), the most common omega-3 fatty acid in most Western diets, found mainly in vegetable oils and nuts (especially walnuts), flax seeds and flaxseed oil, leafy vegetables, and some animal fat, especially in grass-fed animals. The human body generally uses ALA for energy, and conversion into EPA and DHA is very limited.
- The strongest evidence for a beneficial effect of omega-3 fats has to do with heart disease. These fats appear to help the heart beat at a steady clip and not veer into a dangerous or potentially fatal erratic rhythm. Such arrhythmias cause most of the 500,000-plus cardiac deaths that occur each year in the United States. Omega-3 fats also lower blood pressure and heart rate, improve blood vessel function, and, at higher doses, lower triglycerides and may ease inflammation, which plays a role in the development of atherosclerosis.
How do omega-3 Fatty Acids help improve my health?
- Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Reduced risk of death if you have cardiovascular disease.
- Reduced risk of sudden cardiac death caused by an abnormal heart rhythm.
- Reduced risk of blood clots because omega-3 fatty acids help prevent blood platelets from clumping together.
- Keeping the lining of the arteries smooth and free of damage that can lead to thick, hard arteries. This helps keep plaque from forming in the arteries.
- Lowering triglyceride levels by slowing the rate, they form in the liver. High levels of triglycerides in the blood increase the risk of heart disease.
- Less inflammation. Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) is thought to involve your body’s inflammatory response. Omega-3 fatty acids slow production of substances that are released during the inflammatory response.
Omega-3 fatty acids may also:
- Raise levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL/“good” cholesterol).
- Lower blood pressure. People who eat fish tend to have lower blood pressure than those who don’t.
- Health Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
- Blood fat (triglycerides). Fish oil can lower elevated triglyceride levels. Having high levels of this blood fat puts you at risk for heart disease and stroke.
- Rheumatoid arthritis. Fish oil supplements (EPA+DHA) may curb stiffness and joint pain. Omega-3 supplements also seem to boost the effectiveness of anti-inflammatory drugs.
- Depression. Some researchers have found that cultures that eat foods with high levels of omega-3s have lower levels of depression. The effects of fish oil supplements on depression has been mixed. More research is needed to see if it can make a difference.
- Baby development. DHA appears to be important for visual and neurological development in infants.
- Mental disorders have become increasingly important public health issues because they are one of the leading causes of disability worldwide and account for approximately one-fifth of years lived with disability. Because of their high prevalence, mental disorders are a significant health, social, and economic burden. Good nutrition is a mainstay of physical health, and its importance in mental health is gaining increasing recognition. A growing body of evidence suggests that there is a significant relationship between diet quality and mental disorders, and diet appears to be a potentially modifiable factor that influences the onset and outcomes of mental disorders.
- Dietary factors may modulate mental health not only at the individual level but also at the population level. The association that an unhealthy diet shares with impaired brain development, neuronal function, and mental health suggests that dietary improvement may have the potential to assist in the prevention and management of common psychiatric disorders.
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