Omega 3 Fatty Acids: Something Is Fishy!
Turn on the news, open a magazine or surf the web and you'll find a new "miracle" supplement that makes outrageous claims promoting health and wellness. As a consumer, it's hard to separate fact from fiction and according to the Nutrition Business Journal we spend over 23 billion dollars per year searching for nutritional nirvana. However, there is some magic waiting, and it's as close as your grocery store.
Omega 3 fatty acids are essential fats needed for a variety of important physiological functions. Your body needs this indispensable fat for cell membranes and for normal brain function and vision. In the current American diet, we consume little of this type of fat and our fat intake is dominated by animal fats, trans fats in baked goods, and omega 3's fatty acid cousin — omega 6 fatty acids. Unfortunately, we consume about 10 times more omega 6 fats than omega 3. Ideally, these fats should be balanced as they are both important for the prevention of heart disease. The best sources of omega 3 fatty acids include cold water fish such as salmon, albacore tuna, cod and dover sole. The most important omega 3 fatty acids are those in fish and are known by their nicknames, EPA and DHA. If fish is not your favorite, you can get some omega 3's from flaxseed. Flaxseed, canola oil and walnuts contain ALA which is the parent compound of EPA and DHA. The conversion of ALA to DHA is only between 5-15%. Although there are many benefits of eating those foods, it is EPA and DHA that have most of the benefits associated with omega 3 fatty acids. If fish is not on your list of favorite foods, fish oil supplements would be a good choice.
So what's the scientific evidence supporting an increased need for the omega 3 heroes?
For adults, increasing omega 3 fatty acids can reduce all cause mortality from coronary heart disease. These fats can stabilize heart rhythm, decrease risk of sudden death and heart attack and have a small positive impact on blood pressure. Omega 3 fatty acids can also reduce triglycerides, a blood fat linked with Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Since heart disease is still the major cause of mortality in the United States, increasing your consumption of fish can be a valuable weapon in the battle against heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends that consuming 2 fatty fish meals per week is an important part of your heart healthy diet.
Omega 3 fatty acids are good for all of the cardiovascular benefits and to reduce inflammation common to many chronic illnesses. Additionally, because your brain loves this fat, exciting research suggests that omega 3 fatty acids may reduce some of the damage done from brain injuries such as concussions. In fact, 20% of the dry weight of your brain is polyunsaturated fat. So maybe the term "fat head" is a compliment! Since this fat is preferentially utilized by the central nervous system, there is some research indicating that EPA in a dose of approximately 500 mg may have a moderate benefit in children with ADHD. Some additional studies suggest a mild benefit in children with ADHD. Other studies also suggest a mild benefit for those with mild to moderate depression.
Supplements may be a better choice for women planning on becoming pregnant or young children as fish can contain mercury. If you take a blood thinner or anti-inflammatory medication, always check with your doctor as high dose of omega 3 fatty acids can increase the likelihood of bleeding. Keep in mind that great nutrition and disease prevention begins with your plate and fish is a great source of lean protein and heart healthy fat.