There are many facts about omega 3 fatty acids that have come to light as researchers have studied these beneficial fats. A polyunsaturated fat, omega 3 fatty acids are essential for your health. The body can’t manufacture omega 3 fatty acids, which means that without sufficient intake you can become deficient. Signs of an omega 3 fatty acid deficiency include fatigue, poor memory, dry skin, heart problems, mood swings, depression, and poor circulation. Since most Americans do not eat enough omega 3 fatty acids, deficiency is fairly common. Yet, omega 3 fatty acids are so widely researched and so much is known regarding the facts about omega 3 fatty acids that everyone should be getting adequate amounts of omega 3 fatty acids,
1. Balance is Key
One of the most important facts about omega 3 fatty acids is that they need to be in balance with omega 6 fatty acids. Unfortunately, the typical American diet has 14 to 25 times more omega 6 fatty acids than omega 3 fatty acids. Generally, it is recommended that the ratio between omega 6 fatty acids and omega 3 fatty acids be 3:1, with some experts recommending a 1:1 ratio. While this can be achieved by taking omega 3 supplements, the wiser route is to reduce omega 6 fatty acids. Omega 6 fatty acids are found in oils such as safflower, sunflower, corn, sesame, peanut, and soybean oil. Surprisingly, even walnuts are not helpful when it comes to balancing the ratio of omega fatty acids. Walnuts have 11.1 grams of omega 6 fatty acids and just 2.7 grams of omega 3 fatty acids, which is well off the proper ratio. Flaxseeds, chia seeds, and salmon all have ample amounts of omega 3 fatty acids, and are great for balancing your ratio of omega fatty acids.
2. Different Types
There are three different types of omega 3 fatty acids, with each having specific benefits. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) plays an important role in regulating the inflammatory system, as it manufactures prostaglandins that are anti-inflammatory. These prostaglandins are very different from the prostaglandins produced by omega 6 fatty acids, which are pro-inflammatory. Another omega 3 fatty acid is docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). DHA is incredibly important for proper function of the nervous system. In fact, it is so important that researchers have discovered that low levels of DHA lead to neurodegenerative diseases like MS. DHA is also crucial for brain function since it composes 15 to 20 percent of the brain. Both EPA and DHA can be found in fish, pasture raised land animals, and algae. They can also be manufactured in the body by the third omega three fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA); however, this conversion can be inefficient. ALA is a plant source of omega 3 fatty acid that is primarily use for energy production in the cells. Flaxseeds and chia seeds are both excellent sources of ALA.
3. Found in Fruits and Vegetables
I mentioned that flaxseeds and chia seeds are wonderful sources of ALA; however, they are not the only source. ALA is found in a variety of plant foods that might surprise you. Did you know that leafy green vegetables are a source of omega 3 fatty acids? Just one cup of romaine lettuce will supply you with 53.1 mg of ALA, and 1 cup of kale will provide you with 121 mg! What is really wonderful about these leafy green vegetables is they have more omega 3 fatty acids than omega 6 fatty acids, making them great for keeping your fatty acid ratio in balance. Broccoli is another vegetable with higher proportions of omega 3 fatty acids. However, if broccoli isn’t your thing, you can find a fair amount of omega 3 fatty acids in mangos.
4. Bone Building
An unexpected benefit of omega 3 fatty acids is their ability to improve bone strength. Consumption of omega 3 fatty acids has been shown to increase levels of calcium and build bones. One study found that consumption of EPA combined with the omega 6 fatty acid, gamma-linolenic acid, slowed bone loss in women over 65, and even increased bone density over a 3 year period. Another study found that flaxseed oil, which is high in ALA, increased the bone building protein osteocalcin. The results of both of these studies are quite remarkable, and certainly provide good reasons to consume more omega 3 fatty acids.
5. Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a painful autoimmune disease that causes joint inflammation and damage. Often, people with RA have to take anti-inflammatory medications that are very hard on the body to reduce the pain. However, by using fish oil supplements, people with RA have been able to reduce their prescription medications. Fish oil has been shown to decrease the symptoms of joint pain and morning stiffness. One study even found that walking pace and grip strength were improved through using fish oil. While fish oil will not stop the joint damage, it will go a long way in controlling symptoms in RA and is worth a try if you suffer from RA.
6. Skin Health
Normally, omega 3 fatty acids are not associated with healthy skin, however, they can improve the health and beauty of your skin. EPA is particularly helpful for hydrating skin and keeping skin youthful. It regulates oil production, keeps skin hydrated, and prevents the release of an enzyme that destroys collagen. Omega 3 fatty acids also act as antioxidants and prevent sun damage that occurs from UV radiation. If you have rosacea, psoriasis, or eczema, you should also know that omega 3 fatty acids help these conditions because of their anti-inflammatory actions.
As beneficial as omega 3 fatty acids are, there are some risks to taking omega 3 supplements. Omega 3 fatty acids thin the blood, which leads to an increased risk of bleeding or bruising. People who have a bleeding disorder or take blood thinners need to be very careful about supplementing with omega 3 fatty acids. Also, people with type 2 diabetes need to be aware that fish oil can increase levels of fasting blood sugar. While fish oil is a problem for diabetics, ALA supplements are a problem for men at risk for prostate cancer because they can increase chances of getting prostate cancer. In addition to being aware of these risks when taking omega 3 supplements, you also need to be aware that these supplements can go rancid and can be contaminated with heavy metals. If you do choose to take supplements, you need to be sure to get them from a reputable source.
Omega 3 fatty acids are extremely important for your health, as they have so many important roles in the body. I try to get plenty of omega 3 fatty acids in my diet to ensure I am getting all of the benefits of these essential fatty acids. I also try to limit my consumption of omega 6 fatty acids so that the ratios of these fatty acids are in balance. One of my favorite ways to get in my omega 3 fatty acids and keep everything in balance is to have a salad with romaine lettuce and a flaxseed oil dressing. What foods do you eat in order to get omega 3 fatty acids?