Omega-3 fatty acids are considered essential fatty acids. They are essential
to human health but cannot be manufactured by the body. For this reason,
omega-3 fatty acids must be obtained from food. Omega-3 fatty acids can be
found in fish, such as salmon, tuna, and halibut, other marine life such as
algae and krill, certain plants (including purslane), and nut oils. Also known
as polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), omega-3 fatty acids play a crucial role in brain function as well as normal growth and development. The American Heart
Association recommends eating fish (particularly fatty fish such as mackerel,
lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna, and salmon) at least 2 times a
week. It is advised that pregnant women and mothers, nursing mothers, young
children, and women who might become pregnant not eat several types of fish,
including swordfish and mackerel. These individuals should also
limit consumption of other fish, including tuna, salmon, and herring.
They can take omega-3 fatty acids in quality dietary supplements that are
certified mercury-free by a reputable third-party retailer.
Omega-3 is made up of three different types of fatty acids
There are three major types of omega-3 fatty acids that are ingested in
foods and used by the body: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid
(EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Once eaten, the body converts ALA to EPA
and DHA, the two types of omega-3 fatty acids more readily used by the body.
Extensive research indicates that omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation and
help prevent risk factors associated with chronic diseases such as heart
disease, cancer, and arthritis. These essential fatty acids are highly
concentrated in the brain and appear to be particularly important for cognitive
(brain memory and performance) and behavioural function. In fact, infants who do
not get enough omega-3 fatty acids from their mothers during pregnancy are at
risk for developing vision and nerve problems. Symptoms of omega-3 fatty acid
deficiency include extreme tiredness (fatigue), poor memory, dry skin, heart
problems, mood swings or depression, and poor circulation.
Omega-3 and Omega-6 consumption must be balanced
It is important to maintain an appropriate balance of omega-3 and omega-6
(another essential fatty acid) in the diet, as these two substances work
together to promote health. Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce inflammation, and
most omega-6 fatty acids tend to promote inflammation. An inappropriate balance
of these essential fatty acids contributes to the development of disease while
a proper balance helps maintain and even improve health. A healthy diet should
consist of roughly 2 - 4 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty
acids. The typical American diet tends to contain 14 - 25 times more omega-6
fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids, and many researchers believe this imbalance
is a significant factor in the rising rate of inflammatory disorders in the
The Mediterranean diet naturally contains a healthy balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids
In contrast, however, the Mediterranean diet consists of a healthier balance
between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, and many studies have shown that
people who follow this diet are less likely to develop heart disease. It also
contains another fatty acid, omega-9 fatty acids, which have been reported to
help lower risks associated with cancer and heart disease. The Mediterranean
diet does not include much meat (which is high in omega-6 fatty acids) and
emphasises foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, including whole grains, fresh
fruits and vegetables, fish, olive oil, garlic.
A healthy balanced diet is the best way to consume all the nutrients we need. Sometimes however this isn't possible and then supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying any supplements or herbal medicines.