So, you want to look and feel great, have a healthy heart, fight the signs of aging, perhaps discover relief from PMS, improve the sharpness of your mind and your memory and have a more positive outlook on life? Sounds like you’re looking for a miracle drug, but, in fact, what you’re really describing are the effects that Omega-3 essential fatty acids can have on your mind and body.
What exactly are Omega-3 essential fatty acids?
The Omega-3s are the good fats that we’re hearing about in the news and see touted on egg cartons. Consuming them is essential for the optimal functioning of every cell of our bodies and yet we cannot manufacture them internally. Therefore, we must get them from the foods we eat or through supplements.
Here in America, since most daily diets are heavily comprised of processed foods and we consume more saturated fats from meats and dairy and less unsaturated fats from fish, nuts and seeds, our diets are woefully deficient in Omega-3 fatty acids and two vital compounds: DHA and EPA.
How can you boost Omega-3s in your daily diet?
Eating cold-water fatty fishes at least twice a week is one of the best ways to up your intake of Omega-3s. Salmon tops the list with the highest Omega-3 content, followed by anchovies, sardines, herring and mackerel. Other fish that supply Omega-3s in a smaller quantity include trout, swordfish, tuna, Pollock, flounder, halibut, haddock and cod. Shellfish like mussels, oysters, scallops, clams and shrimp also are moderately good sources of Omega-3s.
Also, adding oil-bearing nuts to your diet, especially walnuts and almonds, as well as some vegetable oils (canola, flax seed oil) and tofu can provide you with beneficial Omega-3s. Eggs that are harvested from chickens that are fed a diet rich in Omega-3 offer another good source.
Enjoy the weight loss advantages
Fish is low in saturated fat and high in quality protein with an abundance of essential amino acids. Fish is also lower in calories than beef, poultry and pork and high in minerals. By changing your diet to one that’s high in Omega-3 foods and by regularly substituting fish for meat, you are not only gaining the benefits of Omega-3s, you’ll be eating lower-calorie foods that encourage weight loss.
The Mediterranean Diet is a good example of a healthy diet that can pump up your Omega-3 quotient with good fats, while eliminating bad fats. The result is you’ll enjoy a leaner, meaner, trimmer body.
Omega-3s offer optimum health boost
In addition to weight loss, eating an Omega-3-rich diet can be good for your overall wellness. Medical researchers discovered the health benefits of Omega-3s in the late 70s, while investigating the effects of the Alaskan Inuit diet on their health. While subsisting mainly on fatty fish and other fish-eating marine life, the Inuit seemed virtually immune to heart disease, stroke and arthritis. Was there a connection? Studies showed that indeed there was. What they found were some amazing effects on the heart, mind and body.
Omega-3s are heart-healthy
DHA, a long-chain Omega-3 and a polyunsaturated fatty acid, was shown in studies to actually cut the risk of heart attack in half! DHA lowered high blood pressure and helped to control cholesterol by raising the HDL (good cholesterol) and lowering the bad LDL cholesterol.
Brain function and mood improved
The old adage that fish is brain food is 100% correct. In fact, more than half the human brain is fat! Brain tissue is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids and they provide a vital component in brain cell membranes and intercellular nerve connections. So, it’s not surprising that Omega-3 fatty acids contribute extensively to brain development and emotional health.
Poor intake of EPA and DHA has been linked to depressed mood, hostility and impulsive behavior as well as poor performance on cognitive and memory tests and a more rapid cognitive decline with aging.
Studies have shown that individuals who eat diets rich in Omega-3s are less likely to suffer from depression, ADD and Alzheimer’s. In addition to combating depression, fatty acids also appear to relieve symptoms of anxiety, impulsiveness and aggression. The Omega-3s are essential to mood regulation and emotional stability and have been found useful in the treatment of bipolar disorder and are being used experimentally with attention deficit disorder patients.
Fetal and infant brain development
Pregnant mothers need crucial fatty acids to pass on to the growing fetus to ensure proper brain and nervous system development. Likewise, breast-fed infants whose mothers received Omega-3 supplementation showed better brain development. However, mothers should be cautioned to select sources of Omega-3s that are free from toxins like mercury, PCBs, heavy metals and radioactive poisons that can be found in certain fishes such as swordfish.
Cancer risk is reduced
Another series of studies revealed the fact that individuals who consumed the recommended amount of Omega-3s daily showed a reduced risk of cancer. There is even some early evidence that Omega-3s can work to inhibit cancer growth. Researchers continue to study the effectiveness of Omega-3 supplementation in the prevention and treatment of colon, breast and prostate cancer.
Arthritis pain may lessen
Research shows that Omega-3 fatty acid supplements helped reduce tenderness in joints, decreased morning stiffness, and allowed for a reduction in the amount of medication needed for people with rheumatoid arthritis. Early studies are showing that the same may be true for osteoarthritis.
Bone density may improve
Clinical studies suggest that Omega-3 fatty acids such as EPA help increase levels of calcium in the body, deposit calcium in the bones, and improve bone strength. In fact, in a study of women over 65 with osteoporosis, those given EPA and GLA supplements experienced significantly less bone loss and, in fact, many showed increased bone density.
Treatment of a variety of ailments being studied
Ongoing studies are continuing to investigate the effects of Omega-3 fatty acids on: psoriasis, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), asthma, macular degeneration, and even menstrual pain.
How Much Is Enough?
For most individuals, clinicians recommend 1000-2000 mg of Omega-3 fatty acids daily to maintain optimal health and cognitive function. However, individuals who are depressed may need 1000-4000 mg to experience maximum benefit.
Optimizing your intake of essential Omega-3 fatty acids is crucial to maintaining a healthy mind, a healthy body and a healthy heart. Make sure your diet is rich in Omega-3s or look into supplements that can make up for what your diet may be lacking.
Note of caution: Individuals who have bleeding disorders or who are taking anticoagulants such as Warfarin (Coumadin®) or Plavix should use Omega-3 supplements only under the consultation of a physician.