What Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids?

When we talk about supplements, one of the general types that gets a lot of attention is omega-3 fatty acids. There are different types of these supplements, including the massive selling Omega XL. According to Omega XL reviews, the product helps with joint pain, stiffness, and swelling and may improve mobility in people with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Omega 3 Supplement

While you might know they’re popular as supplements, there’s more to learn about omega-3 fatty acids than that for optimal health.

Below, we cover some critical facts about these fats and why we all need to ensure we’re getting enough.

The Basics

Omega-3s, while they’re often talked about as one thing, is actually a family of essential fatty acids. Your body can’t produce them independently, so you must get them from your diet or supplementation.

The three omega-3 fatty acids that are most important for our health include:

  • Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is the most common omega-3 fatty acid you’re getting from your diet. Your body uses ALA for energy, and it can also be converted into EPA and DHA, which are biologically active forms of omega-3. ALA is in foods like flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, and hemp seeds.
  • Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA): DHA is considered your body’s most important omega-3 fatty acid. It’s part of the brain’s structure, the retina of your eyes, and other body parts. It occurs primarily in fish oil and fatty fish. Meat, dairy from grass-fed animals, and eggs also tend to be high in DHA. If someone is a vegetarian or vegan, they may be lacking in DHA and should consider taking an algae supplement.
  • Eicosatetraenoic acid (EPA): EPA is found in animal products like fatty fish, and it has different bodily functions and can be converted into DHA.

ALA is found in plants, and DHA and EPA are found mostly in animal foods and algae.

The Role of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA, are essential for your brain and eye health. If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, it’s of the utmost importance that you get enough DHA—it affects your baby’s health and intelligence.

For adults, much research shows that omega-3 fatty acids can protect against certain types of cancer, depression, and ADHD. Omega-3 fatty acids also protect against inflammatory diseases.

More specific details on the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids include:

  • Much research shows that consuming fatty fish and seafood is good for your heart health and can protect you from certain health conditions. The American Heart Association recommends getting 1-2 servings of seafood a week to reduce the risk of heart problems. If you have heart disease, the AHA recommendation is to get around one gram daily of EPA and DHA.
  • Pregnant and breastfeeding women should have 8-12 ounces of fish and other seafood a week. It’s essential, however, to choose options that are higher in DHA and EPA and lower in mercury. Lower mercury options include sardines, herring, trout, and salmon.
  • Some research indicates that people who get more omega-3s from food or supplements have a lower risk of some types of cancer, like breast and colorectal cancer.
  • If you get more omega-3s in your diet, you may be at a lower risk of developing dementia, Alzheimer’s, and other problems with cognitive function.

The Ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3

Finally, when talking about the benefits of omega-3s, it’s also important to discuss omega-6 fatty acids. These have roles in the body that are similar to omega-3s. For example, they are used to produce eicosanoids, which are molecules that play a role in blood clotting and inflammation.

The contrast is that omega-3s are anti-inflammatory, while it’s theorized that too much omega-6 fatty acids from your diet can counteract the benefits of omega-3s.

In the standard western diet, omega-6 intake is high relative to omega-3s. The ratio and balance are thrown off, which could be a reason for the high rates of chronic illnesses in the U.S. and western countries. While it’s still being looked at in research, many health professionals feel it’s key to get enough omega-3 fatty acids to balance out your consumption of omega-6 fatty acids.

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