By Steven Hutchings
What’s good for the brain is good for the heart. Heard that one? I’d put a shiny new dollar on it that you have. And omega-3 fatty acids seem to be at the center of it all.
Not familar with omega-3s? Here’s your primer: omega-3 fatty acids are a group of three fats called ALA, EPA and DHA. They’re the talk of the town – or at least among nutritionists and those in health circles because they reduce inflammation and appear very beneficial to the heart, the brain, your skin and more. You can get omega-3s through diet, or a supplement like OmegaDaily.
While the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids appear to be numerous, it’s important to speak with a physician if you have specific health concerns before trying an omega-3 rich diet. Everything in moderation, and specifically a limit of four grams per day with doctor-approval as we learn more about this mysterious little elixr of life.
What is An Omega-3 Fatty Acid?
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids required for the body to properly function. Researchers believe they reduce inflammation in the blood vessels, joints and elsewhere. Evidence also suggests omega-3 fatty acids may reduce risk of heart and brain diseases.
There are different kinds of omega-3s, including:
DHA – Docosahexaenoic Acid
EPA – Eiposapentaenoic Acid
ALA – Alpha-linolenic Acid, which the body converts to DHA and EPA
You’ll typically get the first two from coldwater, oily fish and fish oil supplements, and the latter from plant sources like flax. Presently, most studies have focussed on omega 3s from fish oil. Plant-derived omega 3s, including ALA, may have similiar benefits, but for now, most evidence leads to DHA and EPA.
Why You Need Omega-3s
Omega-3s are a group of essential fatty acids. As such, you need them to perform many functions, like controlling blood clotting and building cell membranes in the brain. They’re linked to a list of health benefits that grows by the year, including for:
Blood fats (Triglycerides): Numerous studies suggest that fish oil supplements can lower triglycerides – a risk factor for heart disease. DHA by itself has proven to lower triglycerides as well.
Rheumatoid arthitis: Evidence suggests that fish oil supplements (EPA + DHA) can reduce joint stiffness. Omega-3 supplements also appear to help anti-inflammatory drugs work better.
Depression: Some researchers believe that cultures with diets rich in omega-3s have fewer struggles with depression. Case in point, Japan, which has one of the highest life expectancies on the planet, and the lowest rate of depression among industrialized countries.
Prenatal health: DHA appears to influence visual and neurological development in infants, though studies can’t yet conclude that omega-3s or related supplements help babies during pregnancy or breastfeeding.
Asthma: Studies show that omega-3s reduce inflammation, making it of interest to people who struggle with asthma. More studies are needed, though, to determine if fish oil supplements help lung function or if they reduce how much medicine a patient needs to control the disease.
ADHD: Fish oil might reduce symptoms of attention deficit hyperactive disorder in children and help with cognitive function. As with most benefits of omega-3s, more research is required, however, and omega-3 supplements should not be used as the primary treatment for this disorder at present.
Alzheimer’s disease and dementia: Omega-3s may also benefit that thing called your noggin, and of equal importance, your ability to keep it in top form as you age and guard against Alzheimer’s. The benefits may also extend to existing dementia patients, slowing cognitive decline to a more manageable rate.
Some researchers believe omega-3s may also reduce risk of heart attack, strokes and death from heart disease. Study results are inconclusive and more research is required.
Where to Get Omega-3s
Seafood lovers will like this next part. Omega-3s EPA and DHA abound in coldwater oily fish. Get them from your diet and you’ve got the added bonus of other nutrients that may interact with and increase absorption of omega-3s in:
salmon (opt for wild salmon, which has more omega-3s than farmed)
You can get ALA from plant sources, including flax, flax seed, walnuts, canola oil, olive oil and soybean oil. Keep in mind however that dietary sources of omega-3s may also be high in calories – among them nuts and oils – so you may want to mix up your sources a little and eat them in moderation.
Seafood not your thing? You’ve obviously never had the joy of wild, fresh spring salmon caught off Vancouver Island, Canada. No worries, though, you can also get omega-3s from supplements like OmegaDaily.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids: What To Look For
A few things to think about with omega-3s.
Choose the right fish. While the oily, coldwater fish mentioned in this article are among the healthiest foods on the planet, some large predatory fish are high mercury, PCBS and other toxins. Among the worst offenders: mackerel, wild swordfish, and shark. The latter are especially high in mercury and are severly over-fished, with some species being depleted by up to 90%.
Use this list as a reference of safe fish to eat, or peruse the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s seafood watch pocket guide.
Low Toxins/High Sustainability
Pacific herring* (B.C.)
Red king crab (Bristol Bay)
Pacific cod (Alaska/B.C.)
Tanner crab (US Bering Sea)
Atlantic pollock (Northeast Arctic/New England)
Alaskan pollock (Eastern Bering Sea)
Atlantic mackerel* (Northeast Atlantic)
American plaice (New England)
Canary rockfish (US Pacific coast)
Black rockfish (US Pacific coast)
Yellowfin sole (Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands)
European anchovy* (South Africa)
Rock sole (Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands)
Pacific Ocean Perch (Alaska/US Pacific Coast)
Ocean perch (Newfoundland)
Alaska plaice (Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands)
Flathead sole (Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands)
Skipjack tuna* (Central Western Pacific)
Arrowtooth flounder (Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands)
English sole (US Pacific coast)
Pacific salmon* (Chinook, Chum, Cohi, Pink or Sockeye
*Indicate good sources of omega-3 fatty acids
High Toxins/Low Sustainability
Bluefin tuna (Eastern Atlantic)
Yellowtail flounder (Georges Bank)
Spanish mackerel (US South Atlantic)
Gag grouper (US Gulf of Mexico)
Shark (All species)
Avoid ‘Atlantic’ Salmon sold in supermarkets by the way – it’s actually farmed salmon and higher in toxins than wild. Believe me, wild salmon tastes better too!
How Much Omega-3 Fatty Acids Should I Get?
Omega-3s are essential fatty acids. You need them for your body to properly function. Studies suggest that up to 90% of Americans don’t get enough omega-3s in their diet. Don’t go overboard though – too much of a good thing isn’t always a good thing.
Here are some guidelines to review with your doctor regarding how much omega-3 you should be getting:
A healthy 30-year old with no specific health concerns – About two servings of fish a week or two to three 300 mg fish oil capsules per day.
People with heart disease – Up to one gram (1000 milligrams) of DHA and EPA combined from fish oil.
People with specific health concerns (like triglycerides) – Up to four grams a day with doctor supervision.
Not all folks are keen on fish oil, or fish for that matter. Yet they recognize the health benefits of omega-3s, from reduced stiffness to better skin. A solution for that? You bet, and it’s a good one.
OmegaDaily is an omega-3 supplement formulated from the green-lipped mussel of New Zealand. It’s a powder – not an oil – sourced from a superior marine extract than often found at your local health store.
You can’t buy OmegaDaily at your local pharmacy. You’ll want to put it in your home though, because it’s higher quality than most omega-3 supplements, and an excellent alternative for people who don’t like fish oil.