Essential Omega-3 fatty acids are one of the most widely-recommended supplements for keeping us healthy, providing a huge range of benefits in almost every organ system in our bodies. What are the unlimited benefits of Omega-3’s?
What are Essential Omega-3 Fatty Acids?
Essential Omega-3 fatty acids are a special kind of essential unsaturated (read: healthy) fat. Note that “essential” here means that our bodies cannot make omega-3’s by itself; we have to get them through our foods.
Their are two general types of Omega-3’s:
Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA): the Omega-3’s found in plant sources, like flax, chia seeds, walnuts, and some vegetables.
Eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acids (EPA and DHA, respectively): the Omega-3’s found in animal sources, like sardines, salmon, anchovies, and grass-fed/pasture raised beef and eggs.
A lot of people will tell you that these two kinds of Omega-3’s are the same, and to an extent, they are. We certainly need to get both kinds through our diets, since our bodies can make neither one from scratch. A healthy body will convert some ALA into EPA and DHA, which are slightly more active in our health, but this conversion process is inefficient and shouldn’t be relied upon as the sole source of EPA and DHA in our systems.
Why do we need Essential Omega-3’s Fatty Acids?
What are the unlimited benefits of Omega-3’s? For a long time, it’s been known that omega-3’s (especially prenatal DHA) are necessary for optimal brain development in infants and children. But more recent research has suggested that these essential fatty acids help to protect the adult brain as well. In both infants and children, the brain and nervous system is composed largely of fat, and inadequate DHA in adulthood has been linked to neurodegenerative disorders (like Parkinson’s disease). Long-term benefits omega-3 supplementation appears to protect cognitive function and neuronal structure in Alzheimer’s disease. Some research even suggests that omega-3 supplements can help manage symptoms of psychiatric disorders as well, including bipolar disorder and depression.
Omega-3’s also function as a powerful antioxidant. It is this property of omega-3’s that give them their reputation for reducing pain and inflammation. A lot of research has found that omega-3 supplementation can help to alleviate the symptoms of inflammatory autoimmune disorders including Crohn’s disease, lupus, multiple sclerosis, and arthritis, though these effects have not been found to persist long-term.
What are the unlimited benefits of Omega-3’s*:
- Reduce the risk of coronary heart disease
- Increase circulation
- Lower triglycerides
- Lower blood pressure
- Support emotional equilibrium
- Fight inflammation
- Improve focus and learning ability
- Reduce risk for dangerous blood clots (such as those that cause strokes)
- Smoother skin
- Brighter mood
- Joint Support (especially for runners and strength trainers)
Can you get these unlimited benefits of Omega-3’s strictly through food?
Well, maybe. Your daily supply of ALA is pretty easy—incorporating a handful of nuts or a tablespoon of chia seeds or ground flax seeds into your diet every day would do the trick. But the EPA and DHA are a little bit trickier, especially when you don’t live near the coasts. Fresh, wild-caught fish is a little hard to get your hands on, and grass-fed meats are just so expensive. For these reasons, more and more people are turning to Omega-3 supplements for optimum nutrition.
What should I look for in an Omega-3 supplement?
Their are so many different Omega-3 supplements to choose from. Here are two criteria you can use to narrow it down:
- The source. Unless you’re a strict vegetarian/vegan or have an allergy to seafood, you should aim to supplement with EPA and DHA (having both in the same supplement is optimal). A good-quality omega-3 supplement should list the source of their fatty acids on the label.
- The dose. I look for an omega-3 that contains at least 600 milligrams of EPA and DHA per dose. This sometimes involves some math. Read the labels! If the label doesn’t specify the form of the omega-3 or the EPA plus DHA adds to less than 600 milligrams, you’re wasting your time.
Fish Burps Suck! How can you avoid fish burps?
Fish burps have become the endearing term for a big belch after taking a fish oil supplement that leaves a fishy taste in the mouth. Fish burps are caused by gas, which is produced in your stomach as you begin to digest a fish oil supplement (this is normal and occurs with lots of other foods, like beans and cruciferous veggies). Don’t resign yourself to daily fish burps! Here’s how to avoid them completely:
- If you’re new to fish oil supplements, start by taking half the regular dose and increasing after a week or two. Your body will adjust.
- Take your fish oil with a meal. Since your stomach will be working on lots of different foods at once, the gas it produces will be diluted.
- A softgel with an enteric coating won’t digest until your small intestine, which means no gas in your stomach.
- Put the bottle in the freezer. Like the enteric coating, keeping the supplement cold will delay digestion slightly.
A note on Omega-6’s:
Omega-6 fatty acids tend to be inflammatory, rather than anti-inflammatory. We do need omega-6’s in our diets, but they are so common in the typical US diet that it isn’t difficult to get plenty. In the supplement aisles you may see fish oils or other omega-3’s that contain omega-6 and/or omega-9 fatty acids as well. These types of supplements would only be necessary in very rare cases; if you’re generally healthy but just want to make sure your fatty acid intake is balanced, stick with a supplement that features omega-3’s only.
Essential Omega-3 fatty acids are one of the most widely-recommended supplements for keeping us healthy, providing a huge range of benefits in almost every organ system in our bodies. Now you now know the unlimited benefits of essential Omega-3s. Curious to learn more about supplements? Here’s the best way to increase your probiotics effectiveness.
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*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.