The Real Health Benefits of Omega 3 Fatty Acids
What are omega 3 fatty acids?
Omega 3 fatty acids are classified as a poly unsaturated fat. Although fat in any form is advised to be eaten in moderation, omega 3 fatty acids are considered to be a ‘good’ fat and are important in the diet. They are an essential fatty acid which means the body needs omega 3s to continue functioning normally, yet it can not make them on its own so they must be obtained through food. Omega 3 fatty acids consist of Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA), Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) and Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA).
Omega 3 fatty acids are most commonly known for their positive effects on the heart. They can lower ‘bad’ cholesterol levels (LDL) and raise ‘good’ cholesterol levels (HDL). Omega 3s as well decrease triglyceride levels and blood pressure. They allow blood to flow smoothly through the body by slowing the rate at which fatty substances build up on the walls of blood vessels, thereby clogging them. Additionally, they prevent blood from clotting and the development of abnormal heart rhythms.
Research has shown a substantial decrease in the risk of Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) and Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) in men and women with higher intakes of omega 3 fatty acids than those with lower intakes. This is supported by two studies discussed by the National Health and Medical Research Centre (NHMRC) that followed their participants over 10-15 years.
Omega 3 fatty acids are beneficial for individuals with diabetes who are at a heightened risk of heart disease. They have also been shown to decrease insulin resistance.
Omega 3 fatty acids affect brain and nerve function, they play a large role in the development of the brain and eyesight in babies. They are capable of enhancing mental alertness and mood. Studies have shown that supplementing omega 3s can provide benefits for those with depression, schizophrenia, learning difficulties and behavioural disorders. Higher intakes of omega 3s have also been linked with a decrease in cognitive decline and dementia associated with aging.
Omega 3 fatty acids have been associated with a decrease in macular degeneration, common with aging.
Omega 3s can decrease inflammation and as a result have positive outcomes for some inflammatory disease. In particular, consumption of Omega 3s can alleviate some of the symptoms associated with rheumatoid arthritis such as pain and stiffness. There have also been mixed results on the potential benefits for inflammatory bowel disease but more study is required to confirm this.
Where do I get omega 3 fatty acids?
Omega 3s can be found in a variety of fish, plant and animal. Of these sources, they are most easily obtained from fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel and herring. Other types of fish contain omega 3s but in smaller amounts.
It is recommended that 2-3 serves of fish be eaten per week to assist in keeping your heart healthy. One serve of fish is equal to 150g.
Plant sources include linseed, canola oil and nuts (walnuts in particular). Animal sources include omega enriched eggs, beef, kidney and chicken. Consuming a combination of fish (2-3 serves/week), plant and animal sources of omega 3 fatty acids is enough to gain their benefits.
If you struggle to eat 2-3 portions of fish per week, look for foods that have been fortified with omega 3s. Many foods enhanced with omega 3 fatty acids are now on the market including items such as bread and dairy products. Another alternative is to take omega 3 supplements that come in the form of fish oil capsules or flaxseed capsules as a vegetarian option. However, flaxseed capsules are less effective in providing DHA and EPA omega 3s. The number of capsules required per day is dependent on the brand and concentration.
If you would like more information about how to include more omega 3 fatty acids in your diet or you would like to make an appointment with Belinda to discuss your diet and nutrition, please call ENT Wellbeing Diet & Nutrition, Sydney, on 1300 123 368.