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Omega-3 Fatty Acids: The Health Benefits & Other Points To Consider

Omega-3 Fatty Acids: The Health Benefits & Other Points To Consider

Foods containing omega-3 fatty acids have health benefits, some -- like oils and nuts -- can be high in calories.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3-rich foods: Fish and vegetarian sources. Shutterstock Images

Omega-3 fatty acids overview

Omega-3 fatty acids should be in your diet routinely because they are in every cell of your body. They also help with making your immune system stronger, they work on lungs, blood vessels, and help with hormone production.

There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids:

  1. Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) – EPAs main functions are to provide anti-inflammatory substances, and to prevent blood clotting.
  2. Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA) – ALAs protect the brain from neurodegeneration and from strokes, and they help with neuroplasticity.
  3. Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) – DHAs help with brain development and their deficiency is associated with several diseases, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, cystic fibrosis, and phenylketonuria.

Your body isn’t able to make omega 3s. Therefore, they must come from your diet (the foods and beverages consumed routinely).

Benefits of Omega-3s

Heart Health

EPA+DHA supplementation helps with preventing blood coagulation, they also help the heart keep a steadier rhythm, for patients with atrial fibrillation (irregular heartbeat). They also help lower triglyceride levels, and being that triglycerides are part of total cholesterol, it helps with total cholesterol management.

In a study with 2033 men with a two-year follow-up, there was a 32% decrease in fatal myocardial reinfarction.

Alzheimer’s Prevention

The membranes of our neurons have significant amounts of DHA, which helps control the nervous system function.

Many studies have found that the blood of people affected by Alzheimer’s have lower levels of DHA, and intake reports confirm that people who develop this disease tend to consume less of these fatty acids than the people who don’t develop it.

Other studies corroborate that people who consume more omega-3s routinely have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s.

Weight Loss

Supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids may help obese and overweight individuals feel satiety sooner during their meals and afterward, according to a study.

Blood sugar control: a study supported the evidence that supplementation with fish oils helped control glucose levels on individuals with pre-diabetes.

Other benefits

Some studies suggest that these essential fatty acids have a role in the treatment and prevention of gastrointestinal, rheumatological, and respiratory issues. They may decrease the risk of prostate, breast and lung cancer.

Children who are supplemented with them (usually in infant formulas), or whose mothers consume them in the diet, while pregnant, are found to have better cognition and vision.

What are the foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids?

  • Fish contain higher levels of DHA and EPA (especially salmon, herring, sardines, mackerel, tuna, anchovies, trout)
  • Nuts and seeds (mustard, flaxseed, walnuts, some nut butters, and chia seeds) – mostly ALA
  • Plant oils: flaxseed oil, soybean oil, and canola oil (cold-pressed oils are preferred) – mostly ALA
  • Other vegetable sources such as spirulina, spinach, red lentils, navy beans
  • Some types of eggs, dairy, infant formulas, and soy products that are fortified with omega-3s

How much Omega-3 fatty acids is needed per day?

The American Heart Association recommends that people without history of heart disease consume 2 servings of fish high in omega-3 per week (like the fish mentioned above). Each serving of fish should be between 3-4 oz. minimum, for individuals at an average weight. This amount usually corresponds to a fish filet the size of a checkbook.

For some individuals with a history of heart disease, your health care professional may advise you to take a fish oil supplement – a minimum of 1,000 mg per day. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, you could have flaxseed oil in capsule form, also rich in omega 3s.

If you take anticoagulant medications, such as low-dosage aspirin, or Coumadin (or other medications that prevent blood clotting), make it clear to your healthcare professional the medications you take so that you avoid having an anticoagulant medication and fish or flaxseed oil, since that will make your blood too thin.

If you have any questions, you may ask your healthcare professional. You may also contact the author, by writing to [email protected].

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References

1) Blondeau, N. e. (2015). Alpha-Linolenic Acid: An Omega-3 Fatty Acid with Neuroprotective Properties—Ready for Use in the Stroke Clinic? BioMed Research International, 519830.
2) Fotuhi M., M. P. (2009). Fish consumption, long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and risk of cognitive decline or Alzheimer disease: a complex association. Nature Clinical Practice Neurology, 140-152.
3) Gu Y., N. J. (2010). Food Combination and Alzheimer Disease Risk: A Protective Diet. Archives of Neurology, 699-706.
4) Horrocks, L. Y. (1999). Health benefits of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Pharmacological Research, 211-225.
5) Napoli C., S. W. (2007). Nutrition and Cardiovascular Disease: Putting a Pathogenic Framework into Focus. Cardiovascular Research, 253-256.
6) National Institutes of Health. (2018, November 21). Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Retrieved from Health Information: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Omega3FattyAcids-Consumer. Accessed on August 22, 2019.
7) Parra D., R. A. (2008). A diet rich in long chain omega-3 fatty acids modulates satiety in overweight and obese volunteers during weight loss. Appetite, 676-680.
8) Sartorelli, D. e. (2009). Dietary ω-3 fatty acid and ω-3: ω-6 fatty acid ratio predict improvement in glucose disturbances in Japanese Brazilians. Nutrition, 184-191.
Author
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Girlene Coughlin, RD, LD, CPT

Girlene Coughlin is a registered dietitian nutritionist who has experience in clinical, retail, community and private practice dietetic...

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