The body can produce most fat types from other fats or carbohydrates, but there are some exceptions. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (omega-3 fats and n-3 fats) are an example of essential fats that the body cannot produce on its own. To maintain a healthy body, these fats must be consumed through diet.
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for cells to operate correctly and are a vital part of your cell membranes, helping to provide structure and supporting interactions between cells. These compounds play an especially important role in maintaining healthy cells in your eyes and brain, where they are found in concentrated levels. These essential nutrients help keep your heart, lungs, blood vessels, and immune system working the way they should.
There are three main types of omega-3 fatty acids:
· EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid).
· DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).
· ALA (alpha-linolenic acid).
EPA and DHA are marine sources of omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and seafood, whilst ALA is found in plants. Your body can convert some of the ALA consumed in food into EPA and then DHA, but the conversion rate can be inefficient and produce only small amounts. Therefore, dietary sources rich in EPA and DHA (such as fish) are essential for getting enough of these fatty acids.
Foods high in omega-3 include certain fish and seafood, a few vegetable oils, nuts (especially walnuts), flax seeds, and leafy vegetables.
Health Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids can be beneficial for your cardiovascular system (Ref 1). They are especially important for managing triglyceride levels, which can build up in the bloodstream and lead to atherosclerosis and subsequently, an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Omega-3s may also help raise your HDL (good cholesterol) levels and lower blood pressure.
Consumption of EPA+DHA supplements from fish oil may reduce joint stiffness and pain (Ref 2). Furthermore, studies suggest that these fatty acids can increase the potency of anti-inflammatory medications.
Scientists have discovered that communities which ingest high quantities of omega-3s suffer from fewer cases of depression. There is an inverse link between intake of oily fish and depression and bipolar disorders (Ref 3). There are mixed results concerning the potential effects of fish oil supplements on mental health, as this is a multifactorial disease where other factors influence depression including overall diet quality and social environment.
It seems that DHA is essential for the healthy growth of vision and nervous systems in babies (Ref 4).
Eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids can help decrease inflammation, a fundamental factor in asthma (Ref 5). Further research and trials are necessary to see if taking fish oil supplements improves pulmonary performance or reduces the amount of asthma medicine someone needs.
Evidence from studies suggests omega-3 supplements may reduce the severity of ADHD symptoms in children and improve cognitive abilities like thinking, recalling information, and learning (Ref 6). However, further research is needed before omega-3s can be recommended as a primary treatment for ADHD.
Alzheimer’s and dementia
According to some studies, omega-3 fatty acids might help protect against Alzheimer's and dementia and have a positive effect on mild memory loss related to aging (Ref 7). However, there is no conclusive evidence yet.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD)
Research from population studies shows that people who consume diets richer in omega-3 fatty acids (from sources like fish oils) are less likely to have AMD (Ref 8).
In the next part, we will delve into foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, supplementation and other health benefits.
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