(Natural News) Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in many healthy food sources, including fish, seeds and vegetables. While many people swear by their health benefits, it’s still worth understanding what exactly omega-3s are and how they help the body.
A “good” kind of fat
Omega-3 fatty acids are a major class of polyunsaturated fatty acids. Despite having the word “fat” in their name, omega-3 fatty acids are good for your health and are needed by the body for many important processes.
The omega-3 fatty acids you consume are incorporated into cells inside the body. Within days of increasing your consumption of omega-3s, noticeable changes in your cell membranes are bound to happen. The membranes of cells belonging to the retina, brain, and heart are enriched by these fatty acids. In fact, over a third of all fatty acids in the outer segment membrane of retinal photoreceptors – cells that convert light into signals for the brain to process – are omega-3s. The abundance of omega-3s in these cell membranes suggests that they play a role in the proper functioning of these cells.
Omega-3 fatty acids also perform important signaling and communication roles within and between cells. Omega-3s are known to compete with omega-6 fatty acids, another class of polyunsaturated fatty acid, for a place within cell membranes. In particular, arachidonic acid, a type of omega-6 fatty acid, is released by cell membranes in response to external stimuli (e.g., allergies or stress). The body needs arachidonic acid as it influences blood clotting, blood pressure regulation, and immune function. However, studies have shown that elevated levels of arachidonic acid can trigger inflammatory conditions. Therefore, adding more omega-3 fatty acids to your diet displaces arachidonic acid from cell membranes and helps prevent inflammation.
While other forms of omega-3 fatty acids exist, most studies have focused on these three:
- ALA, or alpha-linolenic acid: This essential fatty acid is mostly found in nuts and seeds. It’s referred to as “essential” since the body cannot synthesize it; therefore, ALA must be obtained from dietary sources.
- EPA, or eicosapentaenoic acid: The body uses EPA to produce signaling molecules, which help reduce inflammation.
- DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid: DHA is important for many bodily functions. For instance, a study in the journal Biochimie revealed that pregnant women need to increase their DHA intake since it is essential for brain function and retinal development in babies. Fatty fish and algae are also great sources of EPA and DHA.
Health benefits of omega-3s
Studies on the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids have been promising, but scientists agree that there’s still much to discover about them.
Here are just some of the benefits of eating more omega-3s according to science. (h/t to MedicalNewsToday.com)
Multiple studies have shown that consuming omega-3 fatty acids can help fight obesity. A study from the University of Newcastle in Australia showed that people who took fish oil supplements before receiving dietary intervention lost more body weight and fat than those who didn’t take supplements. In another study, French researchers found that omega-3s can help reduce the size of fat cells in abdominal fat deposits and prevent fat buildup.
Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center studied the anti-inflammatory effects of omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil and found them to be comparable to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) in terms of relieving arthritis pain. Another study in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology revealed that omega-3 fatty acids – in particular, DHA and EPA – can improve biomarkers for inflammation. Inflammation is linked to cardiovascular disease.
According to the Office of Dietary Supplements, there is evidence of the heart benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. These healthy fats can reduce a person’s triglyceride levels which increase the risk of heart disease. To get this benefit, however, researchers suggest eating at least three fish-containing meals a week.
To increase your omega-3 intake, try incorporating more salmon and herring into your diet, as these are some of the best food sources of DHA and EPA. For those who are vegetarian or vegan, flaxseed is one of the best dietary sources of ALA.
Read more stories on the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids at Omega3.news.