If you haven’t heard of Omega 3, or you are confused because the terms fatty acids and Omegas are often tossed around, then you aren’t alone, but Omega 3 fatty acids are essential to your health in about a million and one ways.
Omega 3s is a shortened version of Omega 3 fatty acids. They are the counterpart to Omega 6 fatty acids, both of which are within a family of essential fatty acids that play an important role in the many physiological processes our bodies must carry out. Our bodies cannot produce these fatty acids on their own, so we must get them from our diets. That is why they are called essential.
Omega 3 fatty acids form several double bonds within their chemical structure, which leads to them being called polyunsaturated fats. You may see this term—polyunsaturated—in articles discussing nutrition or even on packages of food at health and grocery stores.
The three most important Omega 3s are:
- Alpha Linoleic Acid (ALA) – This omega 3 is found in plants. Good sources are flaxseed perilla and walnut oils, along with the whole food. Chia seeds are also a good source. Alpha-linolenic acid is like the omega-3 fatty acids that are in fish oil, called eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Our bodies can change alpha-linolenic acid into EPA and DHA. However, it is suggested that less than 1% of ALA is converted to physiologically effective levels of EPA and DHA.
- Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA)– This omega 3 is found in cold water, fatty fish like salmon. It can also be found in some types of seaweed. DHA is known to support the healthy growth of an infant brain and the nervous system. It also supports an adult heart and brain.
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) – This omega 3 is also found in cold water, fatty fish and is vital to reducing inflammation, as well as supporting a healthy brain and decreasing the incidence of depression.
These 3 omega 3s are absolutely vital to human health, but research has shown that most Americans (or people who eat a diet similar to that of Americans) consume as much as 16 to 25 times the amount of Omega 6 fatty acids than they do Omega 3 fatty acids. But with proper Omega 3 to Omega 6 fatty acid ratios —which should be about 1:1, respectively—we gain a whole host of health benefits:
Many report the reduction of rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.
- - Depression almost vanishes.
- - The brain can think better. Memory is improved and cognitive skills are boosted
- - Heart disease is kept at bay as omega 3s reduce the frequency of blood clots.
- - ADHD symptoms are reduced.
- - Lupus sufferers report less joint pain and fatigue.
- - Many cases of colorectal cancer have been improved or cured with omega 3 intake.
- - Prostate cancer is decreased.
- - Omega 3 intake is associated with a substantial decrease in breast cancer.
- - These essential fatty acids can slow progression of vision loss.
- - They protect the skin.
- - Omega 3s reverses lung disease, including cancer.
- - They can treat non-alcoholic liver disease.
- - Omega 3s slow the aging process.
- - They act as an anti-inflammatory.
- - Omega 3s supports pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers.
So, how do you get more omega 3s? Simply check out this chart for dietary sources. It breaks down the omega 6 to omega 3 ratio so you can add more omega 3s and reduce the omega 6s if you are eating too many.
If you don’t get enough of these foods in your diet, you can also take an Omega 3 supplement to be sure you are supporting your body with the essential fatty acids it needs.