By Karen Eisenbraun, CHNC
Do you take an omega-3 fatty acid supplement? Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for good health, yet many American adults are not meeting the recommended daily intake of this important nutrient. If your diet is low in fish, you may benefit from taking a daily fish oil supplement or another form of omega-3.
Continue reading to learn why omega-3 fatty acids are so important and how to choose a good omega-3 supplement.
Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of fat that provides nutritional benefits. Specifically, omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids. These fatty acids have been widely studied and have been found to help reduce the risk of heart disease, improve cognitive function, reduce inflammation, improve the skin, and help manage weight, among other health benefits.
The primary source of omega-3 fatty acids in foods is fish. However, most people aren’t getting enough fish in their diet. Further complicating the issue, the standard American diet is high in inflammatory omega-6 acids, which are found in foods such as soybeans, corn, and vegetable oil. Soybean and other vegetable oils are widely used in processed foods, which has led to huge increases in omega-6 consumption, while omega-3 intake remains low.
Anthropological studies suggest that humans evolved on a diet with a ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids that was 1:1. Today, that ratio is around 16:1. This imbalance in essential fatty acids contributes to a wide variety of health problems that are common in America today.
The brain requires omega-3 fatty acids to function properly. A lack of omega-3s may contribute to mental health issues, including depression and anxiety. Studies suggest that people who get enough omega-3s are less likely to be depressed and that omega-3 supplements can help improve symptoms of depression. Another study found that omega-3s can help ease anxiety symptoms.
Heart disease kills more than 600,000 people every year, making it the leading cause of death in the United States. People who live in communities that consume more fish have been found to have lower rates of heart disease, which has been linked to higher omega-3 consumption.
Omega-3 fatty acids help improve numerous risk factors associated with heart disease. Studies have shown that regular consumption of omega-3s can help:
- Lower triglycerides
- Reduce blood pressure
- Increase “good” HDL cholesterol
- Prevent the formation of harmful blood clots
- Prevent the buildup of plaque that can harden the arteries
- Reduce inflammation
Omega-3 fatty acids are a structural component of the skin and are necessary for healthy cell membranes. Inadequate omega-3 intake can contribute to dry skin, wrinkles, acne, and small bumps on the skin.
Omega-3s also help protect your skin from sun damage. A type of omega-3 acid known as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) blocks substances that damage collagen after the skin is exposed to the sun.
Low levels of omega-3s have been linked to an increased risk of cognitive impairment, including dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. While there is no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, studies show that regular omega-3 consumption can help keep the brain healthy as long as possible. Omega-3 supplements may also help slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s disease if taken early when symptoms are mild.
There are three main types of omega-3 fatty acids: EPA, DHA, and ALA.
EPA and DHA, which are found in fatty fish and algae, seem to provide the most health benefits. ALA, which is found in nuts and seeds, such as walnuts, chia seeds, and flax seeds, is less bioavailable because the body must first convert it into EPA and then DHA to use it.
The best sources of EPA and DHA are fish, which obtain omega-3s by eating microalgae. The omega-3s accumulate in the fatty tissue of the fish, which is why it’s best to eat fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, and herring.
Try to eat fish at least twice a week. Wild-caught fish are higher in nutrients than factory-farmed fish. Some fish can be high in mercury and should be consumed in moderation, especially shark, swordfish, and king mackerel.
When choosing a fish oil supplement, look for one that contains both EPA and DHA. Make sure to check the amount of each type of omega-3 acids present; some fish oils contain mostly AHA and only small amounts of EPA and DHA.
Look for products that display the GOED standard for purity, verification from the International Fish Oil Standards, or other third-party seals that indicate they have been tested for product quality and purity. Always check the date because fish oil is prone to going rancid.
For best results, take the recommended dosage daily. It may take time for the anti-inflammatory properties to take effect throughout the body. Some people will notice an immediate improvement, while others may not see noticeable results for several weeks. To further balance your levels of omega-3 and omega-6 acids, avoid inflammatory foods such as sugar, processed meats, and vegetable oils.
Karen Eisenbraun is a Certified Holistic Nutrition Consultant. She holds an English degree from Knox College and has written extensively about topics related to holistic health, clinical nutrition, and weight management.