Omega-3 Health Essentials

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What’s the story on omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFAs)? Well, omega-3s—called “essential” because our bodies can’t make them—include alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Flaxseed oil and walnuts are prime ALA sources, whereas DHA and EPA are found almost exclusively in fish, fish oil, and milk fortified with these crucial fats.

Do you consume omega-3s every day?  If you’re like most Americans, you might not. Studies show that while we evolved with a 1:1 ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s, for most people eating a Western diet, the ratio is now closer to 16:1. What caused this tremendous shift? Primary culprits include margarine, baked goods, and cheap oils used in processed/fast foods—all of which many Americans eat to excess. The downside is that this imbalanced Western EFA ratio may increase your risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and inflammatory health issues.

Fortunately, many studies suggest that boosting your omega-3 intake may reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, hypertension, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and joint pain. Omega-3s may also minimize the chronic inflammation linked to degenerative brain disorders like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. According to the journal Biomedical Pharmacotherapy, a ratio of 4:1—as opposed to the typical American average of 16:1—is associated with a 70% decrease in mortality from cardiovascular disease.

If you don’t eat seafood, you can obtain omega-3 EFAs from plant sources, but ALA from plants must be formed into DHA/EPA in your body, and the conversion is not 100% efficient. Fortunately for those who neither eat fish nor supplement fish oil, commonly consumed foods like milk are now being fortified with these important EFAs. Given the many health benefits omega-3s offer, finding ways to incorporate them daily is a very smart move.

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2 Comments for “Omega-3 Health Essentials”

  • I take omega-3 everyday for my arthritis and it works

  • “Fortunately for those who neither eat fish nor supplement fish oil, commonly consumed foods like milk are now being fortified with these important EFAs.”

    However, most of the fortified milk gets the omega-3s from fish sources so they are still inappropriate for vegetarians and vegans.

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