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RDs Weigh In -Archived



Omega 3 Fatty Acids~Something's Fishy!


Turn on the news, open a magazine or surf the web and you will find a new “miracle” supplement that makes outrageous claims promoting health and wellness.  As a consumer, it is hard to separate fact from fiction and according to the Nutrition Business Journal we spend over 23 billion dollars per year searching for nutritional nirvana.  However, there is some magic waiting and it is as close as your grocery store.


Omega 3 fatty acids are essential fats needed for a variety of important physiological functions.  Your body needs this indispensable fat for cell membranes and for normal brain function and vision. In the current American diet, we consume little of this type of fat and our fat intake is dominated by animal fats, trans fats in baked goods and omega 3 fatty acid’s cousin, omega 6 fatty acids.  Unfortunately, we consume about 10 times more omega 6 fats than omega 3.  Ideally, these fats should be balanced as they are both important for the prevention of heart disease. The best sources of omega 3 fatty acids include cold water fish such as salmon, albacore tuna, cod and dover sole. The most important omega 3 fatty acids are those in fish and are known best by their nicknames, EPA and DHA.  If fish is not your favorite, you can get some omega 3’s from flaxseed. Flaxseed seed, canola oil and walnuts contain ALA which is the parent compound of EPA and DHA.  The conversion of ALA to DHA is only between 5-15%.  Although, there are many benefits of eating those foods, it is EPA and DHA that have most of the benefits associated with omega 3 fatty acids.  If fish on not on your list of favorite foods, fish oil supplements would be a good choice.

So what’s the scientific evidence supporting an increased need for the omega 3 heroes? For adults, increasing omega 3 fatty acids can reduce all cause mortality from coronary heart disease.  These fats can stabilize heart rhythm, decrease risk of sudden death and heart attack and have a small positive impact on blood pressure. Omega 3 fatty acids can also reduce triglycerides, a blood fat linked with Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.  Since heart disease is still the major cause of morality in the United States, increasing your consumption of fish can be a value weapon in the battle against heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends that consuming two fatty fish meals per week is an important part of your heart healthy diet. 

It is wise to consume Omega 3 fatty acids for all of the cardiovascular benefits and to reduce inflammation common to many chronic illnesses   Additionally, because your brain loves this fat, exciting research suggests that omega 3 fatty acids may reduce some of the damage done from brain injuries such as concussion.  In fact, 20% of the dry weight weight of the your brain is polyunsaturated fat. So maybe the term “fat head” is a compliment!  Since this fat is preferentially utilized by the central nervous system, there is some research indicating that EPA in a dose of approximately 500 mg may have a moderate benefit in children with ADHD. Some additional studies suggest a mild benefit for those with mild to moderate depression. 

Supplements may be a better choice for women planning on becoming pregnant or young children as fish can contain mercury.  If you take a blood thinner or anti-inflammatory medication always check with your doctor as high dose omega 3 fatty acids can increase the likelihood of bleeding. 

Add a Comment
Comments (1):
3/13/2012 12:58:19 PM by Sarah

Thanks for writing some great info about Omega 3. I'm pregnant and I've been taking Omega 3 supplements for 6 months already.

RDs Weigh In -Archived
Written by registered dietitians who are Academy media spokespeople
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