Omega-3 fatty acids include a-linolenic acid (ALA) which is found in plant oils, and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexanoic acid (DHA) which are found in marine oils. ALA is converted to EPA & DHA. EPA helps the body synthesize chemicals involved in blood clotting and inflammation. Fish get EPA from algae in their diet. DHA is important for sperm, breast milk, the brain, the eyes, and the heart.
In modern society, people eat a lot of omega-6 fatty acids and not enough omega-3s. This imbalanced ratio of omega-6s and omega-3s can cause us to become sick. Our bodies don’t produce omegas, so we must get them from our diet. These fats aren’t just used for energy, but they play important roles in bodily processes like blood clotting, inflammation, and metabolism.
Omega-6s are pro-inflamamatory while omega-3s are anti-inflammatory. Inflammation is necessary for protecting the body from infection and injury, but when it’s excessive or chronic, it can be harmful. Chronic inflammation contributes to modern diseases like heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and metabolic syndrome.
Why does the modern western diet cause us to eat more omega-6s? Because we eat a lot of processed seed and vegetable oils which are high in omega-6s. These include sunflower oil, corn oil, soybean oil, and cottonseed oil. Worst of all, corn, soybeans, and cotton are mostly genetically modified (GMO) in the United States. The crops are then highly processed in order to extract oil. In nature, you couldn’t get much oil from corn or soybeans. These processed oils are often found in junk food, labeled as “hydrogenated vegetable oils”. Healthier fats include olive oil and coconut oil. In nature, oils could easily be squeezed out of these plants.
Since we now know that we’re have too much omega-6, we can take action to increase our omega-3 consumption through foods and possibly supplements. Here are some scientifically-proven benefits of omega-3 fatty acids.
- lower risk of breast cancer
- improves appetite, weight, and quality of life for people with advanced cancer
- Cardiovascular Disease
- protective against cardiac death, sudden death, and myocardial infarction in people with a history of cardiovascular disease
- protects heart during times of mental stress
- decreases risk of stroke
- lowers blood pressure
- stimulates blood circulation & breakdown of fibrin (protein involved in blood clotting & scar formation), which may help with varicose veins and circulatory problems
- reduces blood triglyceride levels
- stabilizes atherosclerotic lesions
- lowers blood markers of inflammation such as C-reactive protein, interleukin 6, and TNF alpha
- For rheumatoid arthritis, omega-3 oils may reduce joint swelling, pain, and duration of morning stiffness.
- may prevent early or preterm delivery
- may boost fetal cognitive, motor, and sensory development if taken during last 3 months of pregnancy
- Mental Health
- may reduce symptoms of depression
- prevents or delays transition to psychosis
- improves symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- Brain & Visual Functions
- Brain function & vision rely on DHA to support cell membranes
- improves working memory in healthy young adults
- protects people from age-related vision loss
- may help people with epilepsy have fewer seizures
Food Sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
- Oily Fish: salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies, menhaden, and sardines provide EPA & DHA. Larger fish higher up on the food chain may be high in mercury, which can be dangerous.
- Krill: krill oil also contains EPA & DHA
- Plant Sources of ALA: chia seed, flaxseed, hempseed, hazelnuts, pecans, radish seeds, basil, dark green leafy vegetables, spirulina, walnuts, perilla oil
- Eggs: eggs from pasture-raised hens contain more omega-3 fatty acids than conventional hens. Pasture-raised hens walk around on grass, eating greens and insects. Conventional hens are crowded in a factory. They are fed genetically modified corn or soybeans.
- Meat: omega-3 fatty acids are found in grass-fed animals, ones that walk around on the grass grazing, not the ones crowded in a factory feedlot eating GMO grains.
- Seal oil: has EPA, DPA, and DHA
- Omega-3 supplements can interfere with drugs that target blood-clotting conditions
- Possible side effects: belching, indigestion, diarrhea
- Overdose of fish liver oils can cause poisoning from excess levels of vitamin A & D
- People with shellfish or fish allergies should avoid fish oil supplements
- Consumption of high levels of oily fish may increase chance of poisoning from pollutants in the ocean