The Health Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega3By Jacquie Eubanks BSN, RN

Essential fatty acids (EFA’s) are polyunsaturated fatty acids that are required for good health and biological processes yet the human body is unable to synthesize them.  The two major families of these fats, omega-3’s and omega-6’s, are nutritional cornerstones of human health and, as such, we must consume these fats through diet or supplementation.  Omega-3 fatty acids play a vital role in the health of every cell of the body and help protect us from a number of key health threats.  

Fish, nut oils, and the oils of certain plants are the primary dietary sources of omega-3 fatty acids.  Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are found in cold water oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, halibut, sardines, tuna algae and krill.  Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)  can be found in the oils of palm, flaxseed, rapeseed and soybeans, and in raw nuts such as cashews, pecans and walnuts. 

A healthy diet contains a balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.  There is a growing health concern that the average Western diet contains far more omega-6 fatty acids than are needed for optimal health. The typical American diet contains a high ratio of 14 – 25 times more omega-6’s than omega-3’s.  In fact, Americans appear to have the lowest intake of omega-3’s than any other developed country.  Optimal balance of fatty acids would be more in line with a ratio of 4:1, roughly 4 parts omega-3’s to 1 part omega-6’s.  Unfortunately, we consume these high levels of omega -6’s through saturated, hydrogenated oils found in so many processed foods, snack foods and fast foods.  Many nutrition experts believe that before the heavy consumption of processed foods we consumed roughly equal amounts of essential fatty acids.  A reduction of saturated fats and transfats and an increase in polyunsaturated fats would be beneficial to the health of many Americans. 

Extensive research has shown that the two main omega-3s, EPA and DHA,  promote key anti-inflammatory pathways and the internal repair systems that operate in response to inflammation.   The research-backed benefits of omega-3 fatty acids include:

  • Support of cardiovascular function and circulation.
  • Support of healthy blood vessel function.
  • Promotion of the metabolism of dietary fat and cholesterol.
  • Support of a healthy heart rhythm.
  • Promotion of healthy triglyceride levels in healthy individuals.
  • Promotion of the metabolism of dietary fat and cholesterol.
  • Support of a healthy heart rhythm.
  • Promotion of healthy triglyceride levels in healthy individuals.
  • Support of healthy brain function.
  • Protection of nerve and brain cells from oxidative stress and damage.
  • Promotion of healthy eyes and vision.
  • Support of healthy tissue moisture and tear production.
  • Promotion of joint mobility and flexibility. 
  • Support of a healthy immune response.
  • Stimulation of the production of healthy skin cells and nourishment of hair, skin and nails.
  • Support of digestive and gastrointestinal health. 
  • Promotion of positive mood and well being. 

Fish oil supplementation is believed to be effective for the following health conditions:

  • High triglyceridesHigh triglycerides are associated with heart disease and untreated diabetes. To reduce the risk of heart disease, the medical community believes it is important to keep triglycerides below a certain level.  Supplementation with fish oil is believed to aid reduction of triglycerides.
  • Heart disease  –  Fish oil helps keep healthy hearts healthy and is thought to lower the risks of heart attacks in people who have heart conditions. 
  • High blood pressure  –  Omega-3 fatty acids appear to expand blood vessels, which helps bring blood pressure down in individuals with high blood pressure. 
  • Rheumatoid arthritis  –  Fish oil helps reduce inflammation, resulting in decreased pain and stiffness and increased mobility.
  • Age related eye diseases  – Evidence shows fish oil may lower the risk of developing macular degeneration.
  • High cholesterol  –  Scientists believe that fish oil may lower cholesterol by preventing absorption of cholesterol in the intestine. 

It is always best to consult a health care provider for recommendations for the best formula for your specific state of health.  Here are some suggested guidelines for daily supplementation:

  1. To avoid deficiency and support health and maintenance – 500 mg of EPA + DHA
  2. For proactive support – 1 g EPA + DHA
  3. For high intensity support – 2- 4 g EPA + DHA

EPA/DHA Essentials by Pure Encapsulations  is an ultra-pure, molecularly distilled fish oil concentrate that has been tested for environmental contaminants.  Ingredients are  sourced mainly of sardines and anchovies found off the coast of Chile or Norway.  Contains 300 mg EPA and 200 mg of DHA.

OmegaGenics EPA-DHA 500 by Metagenics  features a concentrated source of health-promoting omega-3 essential fatty acids from cold-water fish.  This product is produced in a Norwegian pharmaceutical-licensed facility.  Ingredients are tested for contaminants by a leading third-party lab and are stabilized with natural antioxidants to maintain freshness.  Contains 600 mg EPA and 400 mg DHA.

Orthomega Fish Oil by Ortho Molecular  is a  high-dose premium grade fish oil providing 420 mg of EPA and 300 mg of DHA per capsule in a burp free formula. 

Artic Omega Liquid Lemon by Nordic Naturals  is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids in their naturally existing ratios.  Provides 826 mg of EPA and 550 mg of DHA from purified deep sea fish oil from anchovies and sardines. 

Finest Pure Fish Oil with Essential Oil of Orange by Pharmax  contains high concentrations of EPA and DHA and has virtually no fish oil odor or taste.  Provides 750 mg DHA and 1,050 mg EPA.

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