8 Health Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
When it comes to eating healthy, there really is no "magic" food. And while it may raise great questions to highlight the importance of a commonly feared fat, omega-3 fatty acids may just be as close as you can come to a health elixir. But what really is omega-3, where can it be found, and how may you benefit from its intake?
What Is Omega-3?
Although omega-3 fatty acids are spoken of as a single entity, they are actually a subdivision of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), a type of unsaturated fat. Health experts continually imply swapping out saturated and trans fats with unsaturated fats (like PUFAs) has positive associations to health in various fashions. But when it comes to the actions of omega-3s, the benefits are consistently correlated to its potent antioxidant properties, mostly working to reduce inflammation in the body.
The division of polyunsaturated fats does not stop at omega-3s, as they are further broken down into eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Both EPA and DHA are primarily found in fatty fish, including anchovy, tuna, herring, rainbow trout, and halibut. ALA is primarily found in plant products such as flaxseeds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds and their associated oils, also including olive oil. In addition to food sources, fish oil supplements are also significant sources of omega-3s, particularly EPA and DHA. Although supplements are generally considered safe, you should consult with a primary care provider to discuss potential side effects or medication interactions. Further caution is related to mercury levels in fish, suggesting pregnant women and children stay alert of its intake, with health experts proposing wild-caught is safer over farm-raised fish.
8 Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
1. Contributes to Normal Fetal Development
The importance of omega-3 starts at a very young age, even leading up to birth! DHA, specifically, is critical for fetal and infant growth and development of the central nervous system. Considering the warning of omega-3 intake in pregnant women, vegetable oils, two low-mercury fish servings per week, and supplements (fish oil or algae-based DHA) is suggested for best safety.
2. Supports Heart Health
Omega-3s are most recognized for their renowned benefits for heart health. Constant research exploits omega-3s as means to reduce triglyceride levels (or blood fat), subsequently lessening the risk of heart disease, including heart attack and stroke.
3. Eases Joint Pain
Mostly explored in individuals living with rheumatoid arthritis, the anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3's may ease joint pain and reduce stiffness. In addition to their own mechanism of pain relief, omega-3 supplements may even boost the effectiveness of anti-inflammatory drugs prescribed.
4. Combats Against Asthma
Also pointing to their anti-inflammatory properties, omega-3's may also reduce asthma-associated inflammation and additionally touted to assist in the reduction of allergy symptoms. Considering asthma is the leading cause of death in children, the implications are significantly esteemed for the lives of our youngest generation.
5. Promotes Mental Health
Omega-3s may even treat and manage various mental disorders, including bipolar disorder and depression. Researchers have found cultures that eat foods with high levels of omega-3s also have lower levels of depression.
6. Protects the Brain
In addition to mental health promotion, omega-3s may protect the brain against Alzheimer's disease and dementia, mostly by protecting the brain cells against harmful damage. Brain cells with heightened levels of omega-3s are suggested to communicate more efficiently and improve and maintain learning and memory in adults.
7. Fights Against Aging
Along with their promotion to keep brain function young and sharp, omega-3 fatty acids have been linked to healthy skin. Omega-3 FA's help cell membranes act as a barrier to harmful substances, an entrance for nutrients, and a reservoir to hydrating water which may contribute to moister and softer skin.
8. Reduces IBD Symptoms
Formally known as inflammatory bowel disease, IBD is an intestinal disorder causing pain in the belly, gas, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation. Little is known about the cause and there is no available cure at the time. Treatment is based on various modalities, with omega-3 fatty acids suggested to reduce inflammation of the bowel, therefore reducing unpleasant IBS symptoms.