Omega-3 fatty acids
The two most important omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, are found mainly in fish. ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), another omega-3 fatty acid, is found in plant-based foods such as nuts. Omega-3 fatty acids are not only essential for normal body function but also provide significant health benefits.
How do Omega-3 Fatty Acids help us to be healthy?
Blood triglycerides: Fish oil supplements can lower elevated blood triglyceride levels. Increased concentrations of triglycerides in the blood increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Rheumatoid arthritis: Fish oil supplements (EPA + DHA) can reduce stiffness and joint pain. In addition, omega-3 supplements appear to enhance the effectiveness of anti-inflammatory drugs.
Depression: It has been found that some populations who consume foods high in omega-3 fatty acids have a lower incidence of depression. Fish oil also seems to enhance the effectiveness of antidepressants and it may help in the relief of the depressive symptoms of bipolar disorder.
Infant development: DHA appears to be important for the development and maturation of the vision and the nervous system in infants.
Bronchial asthma: A diet high in omega-3 fatty acids reduces the severity of inflammation, a key component of asthma. However, it is not yet completely clear whether fish oil supplements improve lung function or reduce the amount of the needed medication for the control of bronchial asthma.
ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder): Some studies show that fish oil may reduce the symptoms of ADHD in some children and improve mental abilities such as reasoning, memory, and learning. However, more research is required in this field.
Alzheimer's disease and dementia: Current research shows that omega-3 fatty acids can help the protection against Alzheimer's disease and dementia and it may have a positive effect on the gradual memory loss associated with aging.
How to get Omega-3 Fatty Acids
The best way to get omega-3 fatty acids is with food with a high concentration of them and not from supplements. The goal is to eat fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, DHA, and EPA, two to three times a week.
Good omega-3-rich fish options include:
- Salmon (wild has more omega-3s than farmed)
While eating fatty fish is a good habit, special care should be taken with the origin of the fish because some may contain higher levels of mercury and other heavy metals, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), or other toxins. Farmed fish may have higher levels of pollutants.
Foods high in ALA are:
- Flaxseed and linseed oil
- Rapeseed oil
- Soybean oil
While all foods containing omega-3 fatty acids have health benefits, some may be high in calories. These foods should be consumed in moderation.
Fish oil contains both EPA and DHA. Algae oil contains DHA and it is a good choice for people who do not eat fish.
People with cardiovascular disease can take 1 gram (1.000 mg) of DHA/EPA combination per day. Some conditions can require up to 4 grams per day - but only under medical supervision.
The most common side effects of fish oil are indigestion and flatulence. Taking supplements in capsules after meals may help to avoid the side effects.
Omega-3 supplements (DHA/EPA) may have anticoagulant activity. Taking medications that affect blood clotting as well as certain NSAIDs requires caution.
At Diagnostiki Athinon we can check with the Omega Fatty Acid Profile OmegaScan®, omega-3, omega-6, omega-9, and the "bad" trans fatty acids. Prevention of cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases begins with the knowledge of risk factors in order to treat them properly.