Omega‐3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids that need to be obtained from diet. They are crucial for development and function of the brain and nervous system.
The best‐understood omega‐3 fatty acids are DHA and EPA, which are primarily found in the oils of fatty fish such as salmon, sardines and tuna. Another type of omega‐3 fatty acid is ALA, which is found in plant foods like flax, walnuts and canola oil. ALA can be converted into DHA and EPA as needed.
The American Heart Association recommends two servings of fish weekly to obtain these essential fatty acids.
Omega‐3 fatty acids possess many known neurological, anti‐inflammatory and cardioprotective health benefits.
Because the central nervous system is mostly DHA, omega‐3 fatty acids play a critical role in brain and nervous system development and repair. Preliminary research suggests that omega‐3 fatty acids may help protect against Alzheimer’s disease and dementia by decreasing the amyloid plaque in the brain that causes Alzheimer’s.
Omega‐3 fatty acids also have antiinflammatory properties that help boost the immune system and reduce arthritis symptoms.
Consumption of omega‐3 fatty acids has been found to improve blood sugar levels and improve glucose tolerance in persons with type II diabetes.
Studies have linked omega‐3 fatty acid consumption with reduced blood clotting and lower blood pressure — both cardioprotective benefits.
A number of studies have also shown that fish-oil supplements may lower elevated triglyceride levels.
While omega‐3 fatty acids do have some cardioprotective benefits, recent research has failed to support prior findings that omega‐3 fatty acids reduce overall risk of heart attack, stroke or death from heart disease.
The benefits of consuming omega‐3 fatty acids are best obtained from foods; however, fish-oil supplements containing both EPA and DHA may be a good option for people who do not consume fish. Before starting any supplement, consult your health care provider to ensure the maximum benefits and the safest dosage.