Did you know that your body requires certain fats (also known as lipids) for proper health, just as it needs water or protein? In particular, a polyunsaturated fat called omega-3 stands out as a good example of an oil with tremendous healing potential. Omega-3 fatty acids began to be recognized as a nutritional powerhouse following a number of studies and discoveries in the closing decades of the twentieth century. Some scientists and doctors contend that omega-3 is the single most crucial supplement that we can take.
2. What Are Food Sources Of Omega-3 Fatty Acids?
The primary omega-3 is alpha linoleic acid (ALA), which can be found in plant foods ranging from walnuts to hemp to perilla to chia to flax seed. Although the human body cannot use ALA directly, it does convert it to more biologically active forms, eicosapentanoic acid (EPA) and docosahexanoic acid (DHA), which then go on to perform a number of essential functions in the body. EPA and DHA can be found in animal flesh, especially cold water fish such as tuna, salmon, mackerel, herring, and sardines.
Unfortunately, modern diets tend to be very low in omega-3 fatty acids, due to differences in food choices and in the way foods are processed. Some authorities claim that Americans consume only one-sixth the amount of omega-3 that we used to eat in the nineteenth century. If true, this is an unmitigated disaster.
It should be noted that EPA and DHA (fish oil) have been the subject of a much greater number of studies than ALA (plant source omega-3), and appear to be nutritionally more useful than ALA.
3. What Are Some Possible Benefits Of Omega-3 Fatty Acids?
On the most basic level, omega-3 fatty acids help regulate cell membrane permeability. The cell membrane controls not only the flexibility of the cell (a red blood cell too stiff and brittle to swim through the blood stream isn’t good for very much) but also determines what enters and leaves the cell, the idea being that nutrients should come in and waste material should be expelled. If cell membrane permeability is poor, cellular health suffers, and so does the health of the organism (us) that is made up of those billions of cells.
Most scientists now believe that a reasonably high intake of omega-3 fatty acids offers significant protection against this country’s leading cause of death, cardiovascular disease. (The American Heart Association recommends that each week we eat two servings of oily, cold-water fish, such as mackerel or salmon, so as to obtain our omega-3 in the especially beneficial EPA and DHA forms. In addition, the Food and Drug Administration, an organization traditionally hostile to nutritional supplements, has approved a qualified health claim for omega-3 fatty acids, since they appear to prevent coronary artery disease.) The heart-protective properties of omega-3 apparently stem from its ability to do the following:
- Lower Cholesterol
- Lower Triglycerides
- Lower (To A Modest Degree) Blood Pressure
- Act As A Blood Thinner, Much As Aspirin Does
- Reduce Levels Of C-Reactive Protein, A Marker For Dangerous Inflammation
Omega-3 fatty acids comprise about 20% of human brain tissue, and seem to be intimately linked to the proper functioning of the human nervous system. Studies at Harvard Medical School and elsewhere suggest the intriguing possibility that an increased intake of omega-3 may help to optimize, or at least improve, certain aspects of brain function, including:
- Bipolar Disorder
- Attention Deficit Disorder And Impulsivity
- Children’S’ Iq (If Omega-3 Is Taken By Pregnant And Nursing Mothers—But Please Consult With A Knowledgeable Physician Before Doing So)
Cod liver oil, an excellent source of omega-3, first became commercially available in Europe in the 18th century. Since that time it has developed a folk reputation as being very useful for various forms of joint inflammation and pain, especially rheumatism, and modern research now generally supports the idea that omega-3 can lessen the discomfort of arthritis. (Cod liver oil is also an excellent source of vitamins A and vitamin D.)
It is interesting to note that a number of other diseases, including ulcerative colitis and Alzheimer’s, seem to have an inflammatory component. Scientists are currently studying whether omega-3 may be helpful with these conditions.
Both anecdotal and clinical data suggest that omega-3 may be of considerable use in easing the symptoms of both eczema and psoriasis. (One of the first signs of omega-3 deficiency, by the way, seems to be dry, itchy skin, which is why famous dermatologists such as Yale’s Nicholas Perricone recommend that we consume generous amounts of fish and fish oil.)
Additional research indicates that diets rich in omega-3 may act as a sort of “chemopreventive” agent that substantially lowers the risk of various cancers, including those of the breast and prostate. It is interesting to note that cancer cells thrive in the presence of omega-6 fatty acids, but cannot metabolize omega-3 fatty acids.
4. How Can Omega-3 Fatty Acids Be Taken?
Since the time of the American Civil War, the amount of omega-3 in our diets has decreased greatly, while the proportion of omega-6 has gone up by the same amount. This is not only because our food preferences have changed, but also because livestock, which used to be grass-fed, is not corn-fed, thereby decreasing the amount of omega-3 it contains. Only now is awareness growing of the advisability of adding back to our diets at least some omega-3 fatty acids.
Many consumers take omega-3 as cold-pressed flax oil, often mixed with yogurt or made into a salad dressing. This form is especially favored by vegetarians, and is usually consumed in tablespoon amounts. Most people seem to like the nutty taste of flax oil, but for those who do not it can also be taken in the less economical softgel form.
Please Note That Flax Oil Must Be Kept Refrigerated Once It Is Opened!
Others take omega-3 in the more body-ready fish oil form. Most people usually use it in softgel form, preferably as a pharmaceutical-grade, mercury-free supplement, although some take it as liquid fish oil, especially the traditional cod liver form, which has the additional advantage of being rich in vitamins A and D. For general good health people usually consume one to three capsules per day, with meals.
5. Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids Safe?
For the great majority of people, yes, although those people on the prescription blood thinner coumadin (AKA Warfarin) must consult with their doctor before using flax oil or fish oil supplements. Pregnant women and nursing mothers considering the use of omega-3 should, of course, do likewise.
And remember—you can get the best omega-3 supplements at the best prices from A1Supplements.com!