You’ve probably heard that omega-3s are good for you—I tell my friends all the time!—but do you know how important they really are?
Here’s the deal: Omega-3 fatty acids are an umbrella term used to describe a type of oil that’s rich in polyunsaturated fats (one of the healthy fats) and linked to reduced risk of chronic disease.
There are three types of omega-3s: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). DHA and EPA come predominantly from algae and, therefore, the fish and seafood that eats the algae. Meanwhile alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is found in plants and plant-based oils, like flaxseed, canola, and soybean.
Higher levels of DHA and EPA are linked to a reduced risk of chronic disease—including heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers—as well as anxiety and depression (especially in women), and may also help alleviate joint pain and stiffness associated with arthritis. Since omega-3 fatty acids play various roles in cell function and immunity, they contribute in a huge way to virtually all organ systems in your body. The top three benefits include:
Omega-3 fatty acids may help reduce inflammation by increasing cell membrane fluidity, which helps to inhibit proinflammatory pathways that ultimately damage cells, leading to increased chronic disease risk over time.
Research shows that having adequate daily amounts (250mg) of EPA and DHA can be particularly beneficial for those who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, as they can help with stiffness and pain.
During pregnancy, women have a higher conversion rate of ALA, EPA, and DHA to meet the demands of fetal brain development. EPA and DHA are crucial for proper development and function, especially for neurological and immune systems as well as the development of fetal retina. They can also help reduce your risk of post-partum depression and depression throughout your lifespan.
Meanwhile, DHA is a major structural component of the central nervous system and the retina.
Recent research found that overweight men and women who were assigned a diet including omega-3 rich salmon twice per week had lower serum cholesterol, which is a key indicator for lowered cardiovascular disease risk.
But while adequate intake of EPA and DHA is shown to help with specific biomarkers linked to heart disease, keep in mind that one piece of salmon won’t “cancel out” heart disease risk if your diet is otherwise filled with loads of sugary beverages, deep-fried and fast-foods, processed meats, sugary cereals, pastries, ice cream…you get the point.
The National Academy of Medicine recommends a Dietary Reference Intake for ALA of 1.1g per day for women, while the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that the general population consume a combined 250mg of EPA and DHA per day.
Your body converts small amounts of ALA to DHA and EPA, but it’s not enough to actually raise blood levels of these fatty acids if you’re not also consuming them in some other form (i.e. via food or supplement).
In fact, a 2018 study found that 100% of the American population aren’t meeting the recommended servings of seafood per week (8-12 oz), while 95% of women between the ages of 15 and 44) don’t meet the recommended 250mg requirement.
That’s why it’s so important to add these crucial nutrients to your diet ASAP. Since your body needs about three weeks to build up a supply of DHA and EPA, adding more food sources and considering supplementation can help you to meet your needs sooner, putting you on the right track to better health.Read More