This is our latest post in our Get to Know Your Nutrients series. Each month, we’re sharing some basic information on a different nutrient. Check out our other posts on this topic.
What Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids?
Omega-3s are unsaturated fatty acids that play a variety of roles in the body and are associated with multiple health benefits. Our bodies do not produce them on its own, therefore they must be consumed through foods or supplements.
There are three different categories Omgea-3s: ALA, EPA and DHA. The first type is found in plants, the last two are typically found in animal products and algae. EPA and DHA omega-3s and are the most useful types. Typically, adults need to consume about 250-500 mg of EPA and DHA fatty acids to stay healthy.
What Do Omega-3s Do?
Omega-3 fatty acids are vital for your brain and retina functions and have an anti-inflammatory benefit as well. They have many positive effects on your heart, including lowering blood pressure, reducing triglycerides, a fat similar to cholesterol that can clog your arteries or cause a heart attack or a stroke. Omega-3s also lower the likelihood of atypical heart rhythm and decelerate the growth of plaque in the arteries.
It appears that EPA and DHA also play important roles in helping babies brains maturing. In fact, numerous studies have connected pregnant women’s fish intake or fish oil use with their children’s higher scores on intelligence tests and brain function in early childhood. Research suggests that people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or mild declines in brain function may benefit from taking Omega 3 supplements.
For patients suffering from depression, some studies suggest fish oil supplements containing larger amounts of EPA may improve symptoms, with the greatest effects on patients who are already taking antidepressant medications, though, omega-3 supplements may not help every patient.
Where to Find Omega-3s
Fatty cold-water fish such as salmon, mackerel, oysters, herring, etc. are rich in omega-3s. If you don’t eat fish, many nuts and seeds contain Omega 3s including chia seeds, flax seeds, and walnuts. Algal oil supplements are also available for plant-based diets.
Additionally, fish oil supplements are available both over the counter and can also be prescribed to people with heart disease. Please note, however, that taking more than 5 grams of fish oil per day can have side-effects, so talk with your doctor before taking supplements to get the correct doses for you.