You might have heard of the term Omega-3 Fatty acids, found in many healthy foods and objectively an essential part of any nutritional diet. You might have even heard that they are good for you. But like most people, you might not be completely aware of what exactly omega-3 fatty acids are, and how can they be beneficial to you. We are here to fill that gap in your knowledge, here is Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Their Benefits.
What Exactly Are Omega-3s
While fat is generally associated with poor health, there is one kind which not only is healthy but also essential for our physiology: Omega-3 fatty acid. There are 3 kinds of omega-3s, eicosapentaenoic acid or EPA, docosahexaenoic acid DHA (generally found in certain fish) and alpha-linolenic acid (found in plant sources). Our bodies cannot synthesize ALA and can only attain it via consumption. And while our bodies can use ALA to produce EPA and DHA, it can only do so in miniscule amounts so it is highly recommended to obtain them through diet as well. Omega-3 are present in the walls of our cell, DHA levels are particularly high around our brain, eyes and in our sperm cells. Aside from that, they provide us with calories to give our body energy. Few nutrients have been studied as extensively as omega-3 fatty acids and they have multiple functions in our immune system, lungs, heart, blood vessels and the hormone producing glands.
Deficiency in India
The shockingly high rates of Omega-3 deficiency in India is considered by some to be a health crisis. Said deficiency can lead to some substantial health issues. Diets in which red meat or poultry is prominent or the kind that expressively restrict fat often lead to omega-3 deficiency.
But how can you know if you have omega-3 deficiency? Well, it is not always obvious that you have omega-3 deficiency, but there are some symptoms that are more apparent, like the following:
Omega-3s help in construction of cell membrane and if you have too little; your hair, skin and nails might suffer. Dry skin, fragile hair, and weak nails that peel and crack are all signs of omega-3 deficiency. Skin rashes and dandruff are also symptoms of omega-3 deficiency.
Sleeplessness and exhaustion are also omega-3 deficiency symptoms. It is hard to isolate, the true cause of insomnia in anyone, lack of omega-3 fatty acids is among the causes.
Not enough important fatty acids in you can lead to drop in concentration and problems with memory. If you have difficulty when remembering things, are unable to focus and are irritable and anxious, you just might have omega-3 deficiency.
Omega-3 fatty acids from fish are outstanding anti-inflammatory compounds. And lack of said compounds can lead to a lot of discomfort and pain.
As strange as this one might seem, disproportionate amount of ear wax are also a sign of omega-3 deficiency. And while this may not seem that big of an issue, excessive ear wax, aside from being a hassle to deal with, can actually lead to hearing loss.
Extended, heavy menstrual periods with clotting also are sometimes caused by not having enough omega-3 in your system.
Effects on Our Health
As mentioned before, scientists have and continue to study omega-3 to see how it affects our health. People with seafood based diets are less susceptible to several chronic conditions. It is unclear if this is due to omega-3 in said seafood or the seafood itself. Here is what the aforementioned research has shown:
Several studies have shown that consumption of fatty fish in a healthy eating pattern reduces the risk of some heart issues. Triglyceride or harmful fat in our blood vessel levels drop in our body if we get EPA and DHA via diet or supplementation.
Consumption of seafood during pregnancy and breastfeeding can improve your baby’s health. Be careful to choose fish like salmon, herring, sardines, and trout that are low in mercury levels and high on omega-3. Effects of omega-3 supplementation during pregnancy and breastfeeding on baby’s health are unclear. However, according to some studies, omega-3 supplementation may slightly increase a baby’s weight at birth and the length of time the baby is in the womb, both of which may be beneficial. It is also believed that omega-3 deficiency can lead to premature births and supplementation or dietary consumption of omega-3 can help prevent that. DHA is present in breast milk and most commercial infant formulas.
According to some studies, consumption of omega-3 fatty acids in food and dietary supplement helps lower the risk of breast cancer and perhaps colorectal cancer. Contradictorily, a large clinical trial found that omega-3 supplementation did not impact the overall risk of cancer or specifically breast, prostate or colorectal cancer.
According to some research, consumption of omega-3 from food such as fish may lower the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and other cognitive function issues. It is inconclusive though and more research is required on this subject.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a major cause of vision loss among aging adults. Studies suggest that people who get higher amounts of omega-3s from their diet may have a lower risk of developing AMD. However, once an individual has AMD, omega-3 supplements do not effectively reverse or slow down the disease
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) causes chronic pain, swelling, stiffness, and loss of function in the joints. Certain clinical trials have shown that omega-3 supplementation while taken with standard RA medication and other treatments may help manage RA. Taking omega-3 supplements may lessen the need for pain-relief medication in people with RA but it is unclear whether these supplements reduce joint pain, swelling or stiffness.
If you eat food high in omega-3s, it lowers inflammation, a key factor in asthma. That being said, more research is needed in whether or not omega-3 supplements improve lung function or cut the need for medication in asthmatics.
According to some studies, omega-3s can reduce the symptoms of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in some children and improve their ability to remember and learn. But once again, more research is needed and one shouldn’t solely rely on omega-3 supplements for ADHD.
Where to find Omega-3s
As mentioned multiple times before, EPA and DHA are found in seafood, specifically oily fish. And ALA is found in plant oils.
Animal based sources:
- Freshwater Bass
- Lake Whitefish
Plant based sources:
- Flax seeds (Alsi) and their oils
- Chia seeds and their oils
- Soybeans and their oils
- Brussels sprouts