Being a clinical dietitian for just over 20 years, I am very aware of the benefits that Omega 3 fatty acids have on health. Increasing research in this area confirms the protective effect of omega 3 fatty acids in regards to various conditions. These include the following:
Coronary Heart disease and Stroke
Men consuming fish regularly, on a weekly basis, have a 50 percent lower risk of dying from sudden cardiac arrest than do men who eat fish less than once a month. The beneficial effects of fish might be attributed to the anti-arrhythmic, anti-thrombotic, anti-atherosclerotic and anti-inflammatory properties they posess.
Research has shown that children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) can benefit from the supplementation of Omega 3 fatty acids.
Memory and Learning
Many studies show that Omega 3 fatty acids can improve memory and learning abilities, especially in children.
Since omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties, it can help to reducmptoms of Crohn's disease.
Omega-3 fatty acids can also help in autoimmune disorders such as Rheumatoid Arthritis and Multiple Sclerosis.
Cancer of the breast, colon, and prostate
Even during chemotherapy treatment, omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to have beneficial effects.
It has been found that omega-3 fatty acids can decrease serum FSH (Follicular Stimulating Hormone) levels in women of normal weight range.
Two types of Omega 3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in animal products (fish) or in plant products (flaxseed, chia seeds and hemp). However, the types of Omega 3 found in fish EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) differ from the ones found in plant sources. The type of omega-3 fatty acids found in plants is called ALA (alpha-linoleic acid).
Although plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids can be equally beneficial, most of the studies done so far have been using animal-based omega-3 fatty acids.
Theoretically, fish can provide you with all the omega-3 fatty acids you need. However, since today's fish supply contains industrial toxins and pollutants, I am hesitant in recommending fish.
Most large fish are contaminated
Large fish like tuna and salmon are found to contain large amounts of heavy metals. Unless they are wildly caught from less contaminated seas, tuna and salmon consumption is not recommended . Instead, choose small, fresh fish such as sardines or krill, which are an excellent source of animal based omega-3 fatty acids and are free of harmful toxins and pollutants. Keep in mind that canned sardines should not be consumed due to the contamination from the BPA in cans.
Are supplements important?
In many cases, yes. However, taking an omega-3 fatty acid supplement should be based on your needs and health status and after discussing it with your health care provider. If you do decide to take an omega-3 supplement, choose one that is sourced from smaller fish that are not contaminated. Look for a brand that has been third-party tested for the purity of the source.
Taking a supplement should not intimidate you from eating fish at least twice a week. Eating the real food rather than taking a supplement is more beneficial, as real food is assimilated and absorbed more efficiently within the body. Real food also contains other nutrients and compounds, which work synergistically to enhance absorption.
Supplements should always supplement our food and not substitute it.
Take home message
- Omega-3 fatty acids can be very beneficial in relation to various diseases
- Due to their properties, omega-3 fatty acids can also be used preventatively by healthy individuals.
- Sardines are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and don’t have the toxins and heavy metals of large fish.
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