Omega 3s Please! A Guide to Maintain Your Health and Lose Weight
You have probably seen various food labels about omega 3 fatty acids. If not, someone might have brought it up while talking about health and wellness. Either way, omega 3 fats is a buzzword today, and one of the sought after dietary supplements. What you may not know, however, is omega 3s benefits besides boosting up your heart health. In fact, over the last few years or so, health-conscious individuals have started promoting this important group of fatty acids. So, it's just about time for us to take a closer look at some information about omega 3 fatty acids and how they can possibly maintain our health and help us lose some weight.
As you probably know by now, omega 3 is a fatty acid, and not all fatty acids are bad. (Yes, we are way past the age when we believe that all fats are bad for the health". In fact, several medical professionals and some respected scientific communities have shared a lot of information telling us why we should add omega 3s in our diet. Also, a steady stream of posts tells us fatty fish as a good source. So far, we all seem to be aware of that. But, what else do we know about this fascinating fatty acid?
What are omega 3 fatty acids?
What is omega 3, really? From eggs, biscuits, and milk, and cheese to yogurt, we find ourselves seeing one label after another food group saying they are "good sources" and "enriched" with omega 3 fats. Not to mention a huge business to those who sell them, omega 3s are everywhere. Yes, they are on almost every food and drink label in the market. But, not only that, because they are also quite popular in the medical community. In fact, studies and scientific research have demonstrated the major roles of omega 3 in maintaining and building human health. So far, here's what most people know about them:
"They are "essential" fatty acids."
However, knowing that Omega 3 as an "essential" fatty acid is not enough. If truth be told, the term essential here does not only mean it is "necessary" for our bodies. Continue reading below the basics of omega 3s.
Omega 3 Basics
The National Center for Biotechnology Information, in one of their academic journals available online (The Essentials of the Essential Fatty Acids), describes what it means by "essential." They say that fatty acids are essential fats because our bodies do not make them, and thus, we must consume them and add them to our diet. Basically, we must have these important fats through food and, if not, through nutritional supplements.
For informational purposes here, let us dig a bit deeper into what they are.
The Omega 3 Family
Here are the three members of omega 3s, which, alarmingly, are usually out of balance in our bodies due to lack of supply from our diets. The family of omega 3 consists of:
Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
To avoid getting our tongue twisted, reading these fatty acids, let us stick to using their acronyms. And to begin with, the first fatty acid in the omega 3 family is the ALA.
ALA (sometimes written as α-Linolenic acid) is a fatty acid that is plant-based, which means that those who prepare them derives them from plants. It may come from a significant amount of plant seeds such as canola, flaxseed (linseed), perilla, rapeseed, soy, or walnut oils. They are found within the green and leafy tissues of plants and a major component of the chloroplast, which is the site for photosynthesis. But, do not get confused because when we mentioned green, it does not mean that you can get ALA from all green leafy vegetables. Remember that they are only found in the green tissue part, and not all green leafy veggies are not major sources of α-Linolenic acid.
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
In contrast, Docosahexaenoic acid is a type of omega 3 fatty acid that can be derived from oils of cold-water fatty fish such as anchovies, cod liver, halibut, herring, mackerel, salmon, tuna, and more. Research says that DHA may help improve many aspects of health like brain and heart conditions. Specific Health Benefits of Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) include improvement of learning ability, maintenance of an adult's normal brain function, and prevention of several deficiencies and disorders, namely, adrenoleukodystrophy, Alzheimer disease, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, cystic fibrosis, fetal alcohol syndrome, and phenylketonuria. It can even decrease the risk of aggressive hostility and unipolar depression.
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
Last but not the least, the EPA, short for Eicosapentaenoic acid, and also named icosapentaenoic acid, is a polyunsaturated omega 3 fat that usually works hand in hand with DHA.
Both EPA and DHA are mostly found in fish. Oftentimes called the marine omega-3, EPA concentrations are highest in fishes like eels, herring, salmon, and sturgeon. You can also get EPA from shrimp and some grass-fed animal products.
Maintaining your health with Omega 3s
All three kinds of omega-3 fatty acids are important to have in our diet. As a quick overview, the nutritional benefits of omega 3 fatty acids include (and are not limited to) the following:
- Decrease the Risk of Cardiovascular Diseases
- Improve Eye Health
- Neurological and psychological wellness
- Fight Inflammation
- Prevent of Blood Clots
- Reduce Signs and Symptoms of Metabolic Syndrome
- Reduce Risk for Autoimmune Diseases
- Fight Anxiety and Depression
- Improve Bone and Joint Health
- Maintain Eye Health
- Improve Mental Health
- Reduce Fat in the Liver
- Improve Sleep
- Keep the Skin Healthy
Let us go through these benefits of omega 3 one by one.
Decrease the risk of cardiovascular diseases
Since the 1996 advisory from the American Heart Association (AHA), the topic of Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Cardiovascular Disease has been closely studied and well-researched. In one clinical trial on patients with coronary heart disease (CHD), researchers reported a correlation between reduced cardiovascular deaths and supplementation of omega-3 fatty acids. Furthermore, findings include the slow progression of atherosclerosis or buildup of bad cholesterol and fats in the same enrolled patients in the study.
Neurological and psychological wellness
The omega 3 responsible for protecting our nervous system, especially the brain and its development, is the Docosahexaenoic acid or DHA and the Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). As we have mentioned previously, DHA is responsible for improving learning abilities, maintenance of the normal brain function of adults, and prevention of several neurological and psychological brain disorders and issues including Alzheimer's disease, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and stroke. ALA's Neuroprotective Properties, on the other hand, include a decreased risk of stroke and other neurological injuries.
Inflammation is vital to health. In fact, it is the body's natural response to fight infection and to prevent further damage in the body.
If it is short term and controlled by the body, it might not be an issue. But, if it persists for a long time, even without a threat of infection or injury to the body, it might be worrisome. This kind of inflammation — chronic (or long-term), can contribute to diseases, including cancer or heart problems.
Remarkably, omega 3 fatty acids have been backed by evidence from certain studies to be effective in reducing the release and production of compounds in the body that are associated with inflammation.
Moreover, researchers consistently say that there is a connection between the intake of omega 3 fatty acids and reduce the risk of developing long-term or chronic inflammation.
Improves eye health
Research finds that omega 3 called DHA may help preserve our vision. In an article published online by the Harvard Medical School, DHA was found to decrease the risk of toxic molecule buildup at the back of the eye. This accumulation of toxic substances is responsible for vision loss and degeneration of the retina. Other studies also state that omega 3s may help with dry eye syndrome prevention, chronic inflammation of the eyelids, and decrease the risk for glaucoma and high ocular pressure by promoting proper fluid drainage.
Do you want to help preserve your eyesight? Consider Omega 3 for your eyes.
Prevent of Blood Clots
Several studies say that omega-3 fatty acids help prevent platelets in the blood from aggregating and clumping together. Thus, reducing the risk of blood clots called thrombus (which can block the arteries) or embolus (travelling unattached blood clumps or atherosclerotic plaques). These blood clots are the most common cause of heart attack and stroke.
Reduce Signs and Symptoms of Metabolic Syndrome
Omega 3 fatty acids have several benefits on metabolic syndrome, which is a set of metabolic conditions. It includes insulin resistance, high triglycerides, low levels of good cholesterol, and central obesity (also known as belly fat).
The good thing is that omega 3 was proven to reduce insulin resistance, lower triglyceride levels, and raise good cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein) levels.
Reduce Risk for Autoimmune Diseases
Insulin resistance or Diabetes is one of the examples of autoimmune diseases that omega 3 fatty acids can help prevent. Studies claim that getting enough omega-3 fatty acids during the first year of life reduces the risk of diabetes (type 1).
Besides diabetes type 1, omega 3s are also linked with reducing the risk for other autoimmune disorders such as Crohn's disease, lupus erythematosus, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, and ulcerative colitis.
However, further research is needed to determine how omega 3s directly affect these conditions.
Fight Anxiety and Depression
Interestingly, research notes that people who consume omega 3 fatty acids are less likely to be anxious and get depressed.
Among the three types of omega 3 (namely ALA, DHA, and EPA), EPA was found to work best in working against depression.
Furthermore, there are some studies that suggest taking omega 3 supplements help in improving the signs and symptoms of depression.
Improve Bone and Joint Health
Osteoporosis and arthritis are prevalent in the ageing population. As a matter of fact, the Public Health Agency of Canada has estimated during a community health survey that about 1.5 million Canadians aged 40 years and above have osteoporosis. Arthritis, on the other hand, has affected approximately 6 million Canadians, which is equal to 1 out of 5 people enduring tenderness and inflammation on one or more of the joints.
The good thing is that recently, research indicates that omega 3 may be able to help improve bone strength by increasing the levels of calcium in the bones, at the same time, reducing the risk of osteoporosis. Furthermore, it was reported that patients taking omega 3 supplements experienced decreased joint pain and improvement on grip strength.
Maintain Eye Health
DHA, one of the three types of omega 3, was found to be a major component of the eye structure, specifically, the retina. This link has become one of the reasons which led to many studies on the levels of DHA in the body and eye health.
Some research revealed that low levels of DHA could lead to vision problems. In other studies, evidence shows that getting enough omega 3 reduces the risk of developing macular degeneration, which is one of the leading causes of permanent blindness and vision impairment.
Improve Mental Health
Recently, there has been a surge of mental health concerns from the public, as well as an increasing number of people worried about chronic stress and mood swings.
What's more, scientific studies say that individuals with mental health issues usually have low levels of omega 3 fatty acids in the blood. Notably, the improvement of omega 3 levels in the body seems to reduce symptoms of mental disorders.
In another study, omega 3 supplements have been reported to reduce relapses in people with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. It has also been found to reduce the frequency of mood swings and other signs and symptoms of psychiatric disorders.
Furthermore, omega 3 fatty acids supplements were also believed to decrease episodes of violent and aggressive behaviour.
Reduce Fat in the Liver
Excessive alcohol drinking is not the only cause of fatty liver. NAFLD, short for Non Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease, is actually a more common liver condition than what some people think.
NAFLD has increased with obesity, which both became the most common cause of long term disease of the liver in Western countries.
Some health professionals believe that supplementation of omega 3 fatty acids can reduce some manifestation of NAFLD, such as inflammation, as well as liver fat.
Getting adequate sleep is necessary for optimal health. If an individual lacks sleep, certain diseases may arise. Like what studies say, sleep deprivation is a factor for depression, diabetes, obesity, and other health conditions.
And here's a fact, studies tie low levels of omega-3 fatty acids with sleep problems such as sleep apnea in adults. Furthermore, low levels of DHA (a type of omega 3), were associated with lower levels of melatonin, a hormone that helps people fall asleep.
Studies also reveal that supplementation of omega 3 can help increase the duration and quality of sleep—specifically, higher levels of DHA omega-3.
Keep the Skin Healthy
Besides the bones, eyes, and the nervous system, Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) is also responsible for maintaining the structural component of the skin. In fact, it makes up a large part of the skin and keeps the cell membrane healthy, resulting in a moist, soft, supple, and wrinkle-free skin.
Another type of omega 3, called Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), helps the skin in many ways. So far, a healthy cell membrane with enough levels of EPA can:
- Reduce premature signs and symptoms of ageing skin.
- Manage the production of oil.
- Prevent the appearance of little red bumps on the skin, usually seen on upper arms due to hyperkeratinization of hair follicles.
- Reduce the risk of acne.
- Maintain hydration of the skin.
- Protect the skin from sun damage by blocking the release of substances, which damages the collagen in the skin post-sun exposure.
The skin changes with age. Even if your skin seems fine at the moment, you should still pay attention to your aging skin. Aside from omega 3, you can also find other ways to care for your skin.
Alleviate Menstrual Pain
Menstrual pain can significantly affect women's quality of life. Some say it can even get worse with age. Usually, the pelvis and lower abdomen get affected, but in worse cases, the pain can radiate to the lower back or thighs.
Studies have determined, however, that women who take omega 3 supplements have milder pain from menstruation. Further studies also revealed that supplementation of omega 3 was more effective in treating severe menstrual pain, as compared to the consumption of pain medication or anti-inflammatory drugs.
So, instead of relying on pain medications, maybe you could try omega 3 supplements as long as you get a get-go from your healthcare provider.
How Much Omega-3 Do You need?
The American Heart Association (AHA) suggests that people who are not diagnosed with heart disease or do not have a history of any heart condition can consume at least 6-8 ounces or two servings of fish each week. It could either be herring, mackerel, salmon, sardines, or tuna. These cold-water wild varieties of fish contain high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids.
Depending on how severe your heart disease is, your healthcare professional may still recommend at least a gram EPA + DHA supplementation every day.
Can We Have Too Many Omega-3 Fatty Acids?
If you are consuming 3 grams or more of omega-3 fatty acids from what you eat each day, talk to your healthcare provider. High levels of these fatty acids may cause bleeding. Remember, as is all true with any nutrient, excessive intake can also have negative effects.
The Bottom Line
Omega 3 fatty acids are not just good for the heart. They also help improve and maintain other systems in the body to keep us alive. They build brain cells, make up the skin, and keep organs in our bodies functioning.
Good sources of omega 3 fatty acids include mackerel, salmon, cod liver oil, herring, oysters, sardines, anchovies, caviar, flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, soybeans, and other foods with decent amounts of omega 3s.
But, if you can't get enough omega 3 from your diet, you can ask your primary physician if you can try and take omega 3 supplements instead.
And regardless of whether you choose to take an omega-3 supplement or not, it is recommended that you should always aim to maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle practices. Never treat dietary supplements as the only substitute.
A healthy diet, regular physical activity, and withdrawal from smoking will reduce the risk of heart disease by up to 80%.
So, should you be taking omega 3 fatty acid supplements? Ask your doctor and remain educated by reading more about omega 3s.
Medical Disclaimer: Please Read!
This article, including all the images, texts, and other documents were created for informational purposes only. It is not intended to replace or be a substitute for professional medical diagnosis, advice, recommendations, or treatment. Always ask and follow the suggestions and orders of your primary physician or other qualified healthcare providers. If you have additional questions regarding a medical condition or other matters related to this post, please book an appointment with your health provider. Never disregard or delay professional medical advice due to something you have read from any of the articles.
If you think that you may be experiencing a medical emergency, call your primary physician, call 911 immediately, or go to the nearest emergency center as soon as possible. Applied Science Nutrition does not recommend or suggest any specific physicians, products, tests, procedures, opinions, or other related information that may be mentioned on this website.
Reliance on any of the information provided by this website, including links to various case studies, research, educational sites, and other content is solely at your own risk. Furthermore, our company, Applied Science Nutrition, is not responsible for any of the claims of the external website links and education companies mentioned and included in the article.