Shannon's health and fitness blog

What you should know essential fatty acids

We’ve all heard about Omega-3’s and Omega 6’s and essential fatty acids, but do you really know what they are and why they’re so essential?  Essential fatty acids (EFA’s) cannot be made by our bodies, so it is essential that we get them from our diet.  Both omega-3 and omega-6 are found in the membranes of every cell in our bodies.  At the molecular level, EFA’s protect and keep our cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, GI, and immune systems functioning optimally.  There are five forms of omega-3’s, however only 3 of those are important for human health.  They are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).

Of those three, ALA is the only form that is specified in the United States’ official guidelines with a dietary reference intake.  Most people consume the minimum amount easily because it is found in flax, canola oil, soybean oil,  walnuts, and other plant based fats.  The problem is that ALA has no known function in the body.  The reason it’s required is because the human body can convert a small amount into DHA and EPA, however the amount converted is not enough to keep our brains, hearts, and other functions healthy.  Research is now showing that it is far more important to consume DHA and EPA, found in salmon, herring, sardines, and other oily varieties of fish.

So why are these fatty acids so important?  Omega-3 as a group is known for it’s anti-inflammatory properties and is linked with the prevention and treatment of heart disease, stroke, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis, depression/bipolar disorder, Alzheimer’s, ADHD, skin disorders, asthma, and breast, colon, and prostate cancers.  EPA and DHA both help lower blood pressure, reduce fat levels in the blood, slow the development of clots, and avert abnormal heart rhythms.  DHA is important in developing brains and eyes.  Studies have shown that women who eat at least 4 servings of fish a week or supplement with 1.1 grams of DHA a day while pregnant, have children with higher IQ scores through age 4, lower rates of allergies, better sleep patterns, and better vision.  High doses of DHA and EPA can reduce morning stiffness and joint pain in arthritis patients.  Studies have also found lower levels of Omega-3’s in adults with Alzheimer’s and ADHD than in comparable groups without those problems.

So the bottom line is-for better health we should all be consuming 1-3 grams a day of fish oil.  Of course, getting it from our diet is ideal, but probably not realistic unless you consume these oily fish most days of the week.  When picking out your supplements keep in mind that oily fish can contain high levels of toxic pesticides, dioxins, PCB’s, or heavy metals such as lead and mercury.  Your supplement should come from deep-water fish inhabiting the least polluted waters on earth.  Look for natural forms that have been purified by molecular distillation to ensure the product is free of mercury and other contaminants.  Look for both EPA and DHA in the supplement.  Always check the expiration date and take note of any bad smell or taste, which may mean the product was poorly purified, has expired, or has already oxidized.


May 2, 2010 - Posted by | Food, Health | , , , , , , , , ,

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