A Comprehensive Guide to Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Their Health Benefits

omega 3

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids that the human body needs to get from food. They are mainly sourced from the sea, like fish, seafood and certain types of algae. Omega-3s are critical to the body’s functions, and the Western diet is deficient in these essential nutrients.

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for the body’s functions and have numerous health benefits. Consuming a diet rich in omega-3s can help maintain overall health and reduce the risk of certain diseases.

Sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Foods high in Omega-3 are mainly sourced from the sea, like fish, seafood, and certain types of algae. Another source includes vegetable oils, nuts, flax seeds and leafy vegetables. There is also a certain amount of omega 3 in eggs if fed on a diet containing omega-3 sources, such as flaxseeds. [1]

Omega-6 vs. Omega-3

In Western diets, omega-6, another type of fatty acid, is very abundant. Omega-6 is found in vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds. The ratio between omega-6 to omega-3 is 15/1-16.7/1. Western diets are deficient in omega-3 fatty acids and have excessive amounts of omega-6 fatty acids compared with the nutrition on which we have evolved. The recommendation is to consume more omega-3s to lower this ratio.

Health Benefits of Omega-3

Omega-3 fatty acids play a crucial role in maintaining the health of cell membranes and regulating various processes in the body, including the nervous system, blood pressure, and inflammation. Additionally, Omega-3s are essential for supporting the eyes, immune system, and brain health.

Types of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

  • Polyunsaturated fatty acids make up Omega-3 fatty acids.
  • The three most researched Omega-3s are ALA, EPA, and DHA.
  • ALA is present in plant-based sources such as walnuts, edible seeds, clary sage seed oil, algal oil, flaxseed oil, and hemp oil.
  • EPA and DHA are found in animal sources like fish, fish oils, and eggs from chickens fed EPA and DHA.
  • Algae oils are a vegetarian source of DHA.
  • Certain algae species also contain EPA.

Conversion of Omega-3s

The body can convert some ALA into EPA and then to DHA, but only in small amounts. In addition, our ability to convert ALA may reduce with age.

Top Food Sources of ALA, EPA, and DHA for a Healthy Diet [1]

FoodGrams per serving
 ALADHAEPA
Flaxseed oil, 1 tbsp7.26  
Chia seeds, 1 ounce5.06  
English walnuts, 1 ounce2.57  
Flaxseed, whole, 1 tbsp2.35  
Salmon, Atlantic, farmed cooked, 3 ounces 1.240.59
Salmon, Atlantic, wild, cooked, 3 ounces 1.220.35
Herring, Atlantic, cooked, 3 ounces* 0.940.77
Canola oil, 1 tbsp1.28  
Sardines, canned in tomato sauce, drained, 3 ounces* 0.740.45
Mackerel, Atlantic, cooked, 3 ounces* 0.590.43
Salmon, pink, canned, drained, 3 ounces*0.040.630.28
Soybean oil, 1 tbsp0.92  
Trout, rainbow, wild, cooked, 3 ounces 0.440.40
Black walnuts, 1 ounce0.76  
Mayonnaise, 1 tbsp0.74  
Oysters, eastern, wild, cooked, 3 ounces0.140.230.30
Sea bass, cooked, 3 ounces* 0.470.18
Edamame, frozen, prepared, ½ cup0.28  
Shrimp, cooked, 3 ounces* 0.120.12
Refried beans, canned, vegetarian, ½ cup0.21  
Lobster, cooked, 3 ounces*0.040.070.10
Tuna, light, canned in water, drained, 3 ounces* 0.170.02
Tilapia, cooked, 3 ounces*0.040.11 
Scallops, cooked, 3 ounces* 0.090.06
Cod, Pacific, cooked, 3 ounces* 0.100.04
Tuna, yellowfin, cooked 3 ounces* 0.090.01
Kidney beans, canned ½ cup0.10  
Baked beans, canned, vegetarian, ½ cup0.07  
Ground beef, 85% lean, cooked, 3 ounces**0.04  
Bread, whole wheat, 1 slice0.04  
Egg, cooked, 1 egg 0.03 
Chicken, breast, roasted, 3 ounces 0.020.01
Milk, low-fat (1%), 1 cup0.01  

*Except as noted, the USDA database does not specify whether fish is farmed or wild-caught.
*The USDA database does not specify whether beef is grass-fed or grain-fed.

Fish rich in omega-3s are cold-water fatty fish, including salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, and sardines. These types of fish contain higher levels of omega-3s compared to fish with lower fat content, like bass and cod.

Supplements: Ensuring Quality and Benefits of Omega-3s

When it comes to omega-3 supplements, it is crucial to ensure that they undergo stringent testing procedures to guarantee that they are free from heavy metals. Methyl mercury, a toxic heavy metal, is removed during processing and purification to prevent any adverse effects on health. Thus, it is advisable to purchase supplements only from companies with a good reputation.

In terms of dosage, a typical supplement usually contains 1 gram of omega-3s. Consistently taking this dosage daily is equivalent to consuming three salmon meals per week, which is known to provide numerous health benefits. [5]

Who Can Benefit from Omega-3 Supplements or Increased Intake of Omega-3 Foods?

Omega-3 fatty acids offer a wide range of health benefits that can impact various aspects of the body. The following are some examples of who can benefit from taking omega-3 supplements or increasing omega-3 foods in their diet:

Chronic inflammation 

The inflammation process can be shifted towards less inflammatory activity by consuming omega-3 fatty acids with higher concentrations of EPA and DHA than arachidonic acid (omega-6). This property makes omega-3s relevant in various diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, psoriasis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, and migraine headaches. [3,9]

Heart and blood vessels

Omega-3 fatty acids may decrease triglycerides, lower blood pressure, reduce blood clotting, decrease stroke and heart failure risk, and reduce irregular heartbeats. [3,4,6]

Anxiety & depression

Omega-3s can readily pass through the brain cell membrane and interact with mood-related molecules inside the brain. They also have anti-inflammatory actions that may help relieve depression. [5]

ADHD

Omega-3s are essential nutrients necessary for proper brain function and development. Studies found that ADHD patients have lower levels of omega-3 in their blood, and omega-3 supplements could have beneficial effects on ADHD. Omega-3s may enhance dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter that ADHD medications work to increase. [7]

Brain Health

Omega-3 fatty acids are vital for the maintenance of normal brain function throughout life.

Pregnant and Breastfeeding Women

A pure, high-quality omega-3 fish oil is recommended during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Eye Health

DHA is the primary structural fatty acid of the grey matter of the brain and the retina. DHA may help to slow macular degeneration of the retina.

PMS

Omega-3 fatty acids may reduce PMS symptoms, including depression, nervousness, anxiety, and lack of concentration. They may also reduce bloating, headache, and breast tenderness. A more prolonged duration of treatment increases these effects.

Osteoporosis

Animal studies have shown that a higher dietary omega-3/omega-6 fatty acids ratio is associated with beneficial effects on bone health.

How Much Should You Eat?

To maintain a healthy intake of Omega-3 fatty acids, it is recommended to consume two servings of fish per week, with at least one being an oily fish variety. For vegans and vegetarians, incorporating plant-based sources of Omega-3s like flaxseeds, chia, and walnuts into the diet, along with taking an Algae oil supplement can be beneficial. Additionally, in some cases, a deficiency in Omega-3 fatty acids may require the use of supplements. [8]

In conclusion

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential nutrients that the human body needs to obtain from food. They have numerous health benefits and are critical to the body’s functions. The Western diet is deficient in Omega-3s, and therefore, it is essential to consume a diet rich in these essential nutrients. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in foods sourced mainly from the sea, like fish, seafood, and certain types of algae. Omega-3 supplements can provide a convenient way to increase Omega-3 intake, but it is crucial to ensure that they are of high quality and free from heavy metals. People with chronic inflammation, heart and blood vessel issues, anxiety, depression, ADHD, brain health, pregnancy and breastfeeding, eye health, PMS, and osteoporosis can benefit from increased Omega-3 intake. It is advisable to eat two portions of fish per week, one of which should be oily fish, and for vegans and vegetarians, consider plant-based sources of Omega-3 or take an Algae oil supplement. As always, it is essential to consult a healthcare professional before making any significant dietary changes.

sources
  1. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Omega3FattyAcids-HealthProfessional/

  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12442909

  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6357022/

  4. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/fats-and-cholesterol/types-of-fat/omega-3-fats/

  5. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/omega-3-fatty-acids-for-mood-disorders-2018080314414

  6. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-disease/in-depth/omega-3/art-20045614 

  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4968854/ 

  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5598028/

  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12480795 


Disclaimer: The information provided is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.


 




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