The Skinny on fatty acids.
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids for good health however, our bodies cannot make then and they must be gained by eating the right foods. Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in fish, like salmon, tuna, and halibut, some plants and nuts. Omega-3 fatty acids also play an integral role in brain health and normal growth and development. They seem to be important for both cognitive and behavioral function. New studies have shown that fetuses that do not get enough omega-3 fatty acids in utero are at a higher risk for vision and nerve disorders. However Omega fatty acids are most popularly known for reducing risks associated with heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends adding fatty fish like mackerel, herring, sardines, albacore tuna, and salmon to your diet at least twice a week.
When adding Omega fatty acids to your diet as food or a nutritional supplement, a balance of omega-3 and omega-6 should be maintained. The Mediterranean diet has a healthy balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Many studies have shown that people who eat this way are less likely to develop heart disease. The Mediterranean diet limits meat (which is high in omega-6 fatty acids) and emphasizes foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, olive oil, garlic, as well as moderate wine consumption.
Omega fatty acids can be used for the following:
People who follow a Mediterranean-style diet usually have higher HDL levels. HDL is considered good cholesterol, which helps to promote heart health. Several studies have also shown that fish oil supplements reduce triglyceride levels.
High blood pressure
Several studies illustrate that omega-3 fatty acids lower blood pressure in people with hypertension. An analysis of 17 clinical studies using fish oil supplements found that taking 3 or more grams of fish oil daily may reduce blood pressure in people with untreated hypertension.
One of the best ways to help prevent heart disease is to eat a diet low in saturated fat and to eat foods that are rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (including omega-3 fatty acids). Clinical evidence proposes that EPA and DHA, the two omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil can lower levels of triglycerides i.e fats in the blood and to lower the risk of death, heart attack, stroke, and arrhythmias in people who have previously had a heart attack. Fish oil seems to help prevent and treat atherosclerosis by reducing development of plaque and blood clots, which can clog arteries.
Studies indicate that omega-3 fatty acids in the diet, helps protect against stroke. Eating at least 2 servings of fish per week can reduce the risk of stroke by as much as 50%. However, high doses of fish oil and omega-3 fatty acids may increase the risk of bleeding. People who eat more than 3 grams of omega-3 fatty acids per day (equivalent to 3 servings of fish per day) may have higher risk for hemorrhagic stroke, a potentially fatal type of stroke in which an artery in the brain leaks or ruptures.
Most clinical studies examining omega-3 fatty acid supplements for arthritis have focused on rheumatoid arthritis, a disease that causes inflammation in the joints. Some studies have found that fish oil helps reduce symptoms including joint pain and morning stiffness. One study suggests that people with RA who take fish oil regularly may be able to lower their dose of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like Ibuprofen.
Eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids seems to reduce the risk of colorectal cancer. Looking at the Eskimos, who have a high-fat diet but eat significant amounts of fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, they have a low incidence of colorectal cancer. Animal studies and laboratory studies show that omega-3 fatty acids prevent worsening of colon cancer. Preliminary studies recommend that taking fish oil daily may help slow the progression of colon cancer in people with early stages of the disease. If you have colorectal cancer, ask your doctor before taking any supplements.
It is also suggested that women who eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids over many years may be less likely to develop breast cancer. More research is needed to understand the effect that omega-3 fatty acids may have on the prevention of breast cancer.
Population based studies of groups of men suggest that a low-fat diet including omega-3 fatty acids from fish or fish oil help prevent the development of prostate cancer.
Fish, plant, and nut oils are the primary dietary source of omega-3 fatty acids. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are found in cold-water fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, tuna, and herring. ALA is found in flaxseeds, flaxseed oil, canola (rapeseed) oil, soybeans, soybean oil, pumpkin seeds.
Both EPA and DHA can be taken in the form of fish oil capsules.
Dosage and Administration
Dosing for fish oil supplements is based on the amount of EPA and DHA, not on the total amount of fish oil. Supplements vary in the amounts and ratios of EPA and DHA. A common amount of omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil capsules is 0.18 grams (180 mg) of EPA and 0.12 grams (120 mg) of DHA. Five grams of fish oil contains approximately 0.17 – 0.56 grams (170 -560 mg) of EPA and 0.072 – 0.31 grams (72 – 310 mg) of DHA. Different types of fish contain variable amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, and different types of nuts or oil contain variable amounts of LNA. Fish oils contain approximately 9 calories per gram of oil.
Do not take more than 3 grams daily of omega-3 fatty acids from capsules without the supervision of a health care provider, due to an increased risk of bleeding.
• For healthy adults with no history of heart disease: The American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least 2 times per week.
• For adults with coronary heart disease: The American Heart Association recommends an omega-3 fatty acid supplement (as fish oils), 1 gram daily of EPA and DHA. It may take 2 – 3 weeks for benefits of fish oil supplements to be seen.
• For adults with high cholesterol levels: The American Heart Association recommends an omega-3 fatty acid supplement (as fish oils), 2 – 4 grams daily of EPA and DHA. It may take 2 – 3 weeks for benefits of fish oil supplements to be seen.