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Omega-3 Fatty Acids

What Are Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Sources, Benefits, Supplements & Side Effects

Mother Nature has equipped our bodies to synthesize most of the nutrients necessary for survival. But this group of nutrients is unfortunately not synthesized in our bodies. Owing to the countless benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, these must be taken through diet or supplements.

Eating two servings of fatty fish in a week provides you with ample omega-3 for your body's needs. But in case you are not a seafood person, it is also available in supplements. Often, our everyday ingredients, like cooking oils, baby cereals, and formulas, are fortified with Omega 3.

What are omega-3 fatty acids?

Omega-3 Fatty Acids, frequently referred to as “Omega 3,” are unsaturated fatty acids having a double covalent bond and a third position from the omega end. This sounds confusing, but this is why this class of fatty acids is named so.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids are essential fats that are meant to be taken through diet or supplements as they provide numerous health benefits. Three common omega-3 fatty acids are

Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA),  Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA), and Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA).

Alpha-Linolenic acid

Alpha-linolenic acid is an essential fatty acid found commonly in nuts, seeds, and plant-based oils. It is known for its benefits for cardiovascular health. ALA maintains normal heart rhythm and pumping and prevents blood clotting in blood vessels.

Eicosapentaenoic acid

Eicosapentaenoic acid is another omega-3 fatty acid that is good for reducing the risk of heart disease and also has anti-inflammatory effects. It is mainly found in seafood. It also helps with depression and mental health.

Docosahexaenoic acid

Docosahexaenoic acid, like EPA, is also found in cold-water fish, but they are not the same. DHA provides various health benefits, including heart, eye, and nerve health, fighting depression, and reducing inflammation. It also plays an important role in infant and childhood development and boosts memory and thinking processes.

Omega 3 fatty acids benefits

Heart health

Omega-3 is known to have a positive effect on blood cholesterol levels and thus prevent clotting of blood and clogging of blood vessels with plaque. They also improve high blood pressure and irregular heart rhythms.

Eye Health

Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) is a vital constituent of the retina of your eye. The retina is involved in image production, and not having enough DHA in your diet may cause vision problems. Omega-3 fatty acids and adequate dietary intake can decrease the possibility of age-related vision impairment known as macular degeneration, which may cause blurred vision or blindness.

Fights depression and anxiety

Omega 3 supplements are found to decrease the symptoms of prevailing depression and anxiety and also reduce the onset of depression and anxiety. Among all three kinds, EPA is the most effective for this cause.

Promotes brain health during pregnancy and childhood

DHA constitutes around 40% of PUFAs in the brain. Children born to pregnant women who took omega 3 during the course of pregnancy and those infants who are fed DHA-fortified formula are found to have better eyesight, higher IQ, better developmental, behavioral, and social skills, and lesser prevalence of ADHD, Autism, and cerebral palsy.

Anti-inflammatory action

Omega-3 fatty acids are linked to decreasing the release of molecules and chemicals involved in inflammatory responses, such as eicosanoids and cytokines. Thus, the symptoms of chronic inflammation associated with arthritis, cancer, and heart diseases improve.

Improved ADHD symptoms

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is very prevalent among children nowadays and is characterized by symptoms including hyperactivity, inattentiveness, restlessness, aggression, and impulsivity. In these children, a lower intake of omega-3 is observed and supplementing their diet with omega-3 fatty acids is found to be beneficial. 

Reduce symptoms of metabolic syndrome

Metabolic syndrome is a set of symptoms including insulin resistance, fat accumulation in the belly area, high blood pressure, and disturbed lipid profile. It is associated with other morbidities and chronic conditions like diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and arthritis. Ample omega-3 intake can reduce the conditions associated with metabolic syndrome.

Fight autoimmune diseases

Autoimmune diseases, where our immune system confuses our very own cells with foreign bodies and attacks them, can be reduced by taking enough omega 3 through diet or supplements.

Prevent memory loss and fight Alzheimer’s Disease

Omega 3 fatty acids can help with the prevention of decline in brain function with age, memory loss, and Alzheimer’s disease. In the early stages, when symptoms are mild, AD can be treated with omega-3 supplementation.

Prevention of cancer

Adequate intake of omega-3 fatty acids is linked with a lower risk of different forms of cancer, such as prostate cancer, colon cancer, and breast cancer.

Beneficial for asthma at early ages

In young children and infants, omega-3 fatty acid fortification in the formula can reduce the onset of symptoms of asthma, including coughing, shortness of breath, and wheezing, which can be life-threatening if worsened.

Liver health

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is becoming more common as dietary habits get worse. The omega 3 supplements can reduce liver fat and inflammation and improve blood cholesterol levels.

Improves PMS symptoms

Mood swings and cramps are two of the most common PMS symptoms. These can be improved by taking omega-3-rich foods or supplements. In fact, omega 3 is determined to be more effective than ibuprofen in case of menstrual pain.

Improves sleep

Melatonin is the hormone that helps you fall asleep. Lower levels of melatonin are often related to lower levels of DHA and supplementing your diet with DHA can improve your quality of sleep.

Skin health

DHA improves skin health as it is responsible for healthy cell membranes and thus softer, moist, and wrinkle-free skin. EPA also improves skin by hydrating the skin and delaying the aging process. It also prevents dark spots and acne and is therefore an ingredient in a lot of beauty creams and moisturizers.

Sources of Omega 3 Fatty Acid

Omega-3-rich foods

Omega-3 fatty acids are a group of unsaturated fatty acids that our body fails to synthesize on its own. It is found in various plant and animal-based sources. The richest ones are listed below.

  • Salmon
  • Mackerel
  • Oysters
  • Flaxseeds
  • Chia seeds
  • Walnuts
  • Soybeans
  • Canola oil

Omega-3-fortified foods

The foods are often fortified with omega-3s to ensure robust intake and provide additional benefits. Some common foods fortified with omega-3s include eggs, milk, orange juice, baby cereals, cooking oils, etc.

Omega 3 supplements

Omega 3 capsules

Capsules are a considerable option for people who are not taking omega-3 fatty acids via diet. These capsules are derived from both animal and plant sources. Vegan omega-3 supplements are also available nowadays.

It is recommended not to take more than 3g of omega 3 to avoid any consequences. It is important to check the possible allergens if you have any underlying allergies or experience any adverse symptoms.

Fish oil

Cod liver oil, commonly known as fish oil, is one of the richest sources of omega-3 fats and is taken more like a supplement than a food. As is obvious from the name, this oil is derived from the livers of cod fish. It comes in capsules and liquid forms, capsules being more commonly used because of lesser exposure to taste and smell.

It is taken by people as an omega-3 supplement to reduce inflammation in joints and arteries and the risk of heart disease. Fish oil is not only a source of omega 3 but also contains ample amounts of fat-soluble vitamins A and D. For this reason, this nutrition supplement provides extra advantages.

The reason being the presence of vitamins A and D, extra benefits, and a good natural source of omega-3 fats, the fish oil supplement is the most commonly chosen omega-3 supplement.

Omega-3 side effects 

Omega-3 intake does not pose any serious health risks. Some people may experience common symptoms like nausea, bloating, and diarrhea. But higher than recommended doses of omega 3 fatty acids can cause symptoms like.

  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Gastroesophageal reflux
  • Heartburn
  • Low blood pressure

Bottom line

Omega-3 fatty acids are very important nutrients, providing countless health benefits. They are therefore recommended to be taken through diet. In order to ensure adequate intake and attain health benefits, omega-3 fatty acids are added to everyday foods like eggs, oils, and baby cereals, as well as available in supplement forms. The most common supplement is fish oil, which is consumed by many to achieve better health.

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