What is it?
Omega 3 fatty acids are also known as polyunsaturated fatty acids and are essential for human health. But our bodies do not produce omega 3’s, which means we need to eat a diet rich in this nutrient to receive the benefits.
There are two main omega fatty acids, EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). You find EPA and DHA in animal sources such as herring, salmon, mackerel, halibut, tuna, sardines, anchovies. There are plant based sources known as ALA (alpha linolenic acid) which will convert to EPA or DHA, but very poorly. Only a miniscule amount actually converts to a useable source. ALA can be found in flax seeds, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, soybeans and seaweed.
What is it good for?
Omega 3’s do a ton of amazing work for the body, in fact, it would be hard to list them all here, though much of its benefit comes from its anti-inflammatory properties. Fish oil builds cell membranes, promotes new cell formation, reduces inflammation and pain. Omega 3’s act as a natural blood thinner and can prevent clotting. Studies have shown it can improve memory, cognitive abilities, mood, and even reduce the effects of a handful of chronic disorders such as alzheimer’s, cardiovascular disease and arthritis.
A small study has shown that children with asthma who took omega 3 oils for 10 months had a greater decline in symptoms than those who took a placebo. There are conflicting studies on the efficacy of fish oils in those with ADHD, but it has been widely accepted as a helpful supplement for those who struggle with hyperactivity. Many children develop eczema, which is believed to be a sign of allergy or intolerance; omega 3’s can reduce the prevalence and pain associated with this skin condition.
Boys need 3x the amount of omega 3 oils that girls do because estrogen is a fatty carrier and testosterone is not. A lack of essential fatty oils can cause the brain to not create enough serotonin, which can lead to depression, hyperactivity, anxiety, anger and sleep problems.
70% of Americans are believed to be omega 3 deficient secondary to a poor diet. Symptoms of omega-3 fatty acid deficiency include fatigue, poor memory, dry skin, heart problems, mood swings or depression, and poor circulation.
This vital nutrient can increase your HDL (good cholesterol), lower blood pressure, decrease heart disease and stroke, treat stiffness and pain caused by arthritis and lupus. Omega 3’s can increase levels of calcium in bones and bone density in those with osteoporosis. Reduced intake of omega 3’s has been shown to increase age related cognitive decline such as dementia and alzheimer’s. Older adults who ate more cold water fish were less likely to have macular degeneration. It was also noted that individuals with diets high in omega 3’s are less likely to develop colorectal cancer and can prevent the development of prostate cancer.
Studies have reported a decrease in symptoms of depression when omega 3’s were taken alongside anti-depressant medications, more so than taking the medications alone. The same effect was noted with those who have bi-polar disorder and preliminary studies are coming out on those with schizophrenia, though the results are mixed. Studies have shown it can reduce menstrual pains and those who eat a diet high in cold water fish are less likely to develop breast cancer. Individuals with psoriasis, a skin disorder, observed greater improvements in skin condition when they took omega 3’s in conjunction with their prescription medications.
“Men whose records showed they had low levels of DHA in their blood were 62% more likely to have been suicide victims than those with the highest levels.” If this alone doesn’t push home why DHA is so important, I don’t know what will.
Our brains are made of 60% fat, 30% of that fat is DHA, which can only be found in breastmilk and fish oils. The corpus callosum, which connects the two hemispheres of the brain is made of fat, as are myelin sheaths, what coats the nervous system and brings impulses to and from the brain. Infants who do not get enough omega-3 fatty acids from their mothers during pregnancy are at risk for developing vision and nerve problems. Getting enough of these nutrients is incredibly important during prenatal development.
DHA and EPA affect sperm health and mobility, as well as increasing fertility in women and omega 3’s have been shown to reduce the likelihood of postpartum depression. Higher consumption of omega 3’s during pregnancy and while breastfeeding may reduce the risk of allergies in infants. The American Pregnancy Association cites that fish oils decrease the likelihood of preterm labor, preeclampsia, and increase birth weight.
How do I incorporate it?
Food first! Do your best to get enough omega 3 fatty acids from your diet. The current Recommended Adequate Intakes of omega-3s for kids are:
- 0 to 12 months: 0.5 grams/day
- 1 to 3 years: 0.7 grams/day
- 4 to 8 years: 0.9 grams/day
- 9 to 13 years (boys): 1.2 grams/day
- 9 to 13 years (girls): 1.0 grams/day
- 14 to 18 years (boys): 1.6 grams/day
- 14 to 18 years (girls): 1.1 grams/day
The American Heart Association recommends getting at least 2 servings of fish a week to get the appropriate amount of omega 3’s.
This is an awesome link describing how much fish oil should be utilized for each condition, though you should always consult your doctor!
In this book she discusses how omega 3’s helped her son recover from a traumatic brain injury.