Heart health and more: The benefits of omega-3 fatty acids
February 8, 2023
Fat is one of the key macronutrients your body needs to function along with protein and carbohydrates.
Fat gives you energy, helps protect your organs, supports cell growth and helps your body absorb other nutrients, among many other functions. Fat is a key player in your optimal health.
Of course, that statement comes with some caveats. Your body is kind of picky when it comes to what type and how much of each fat it wants.
“Getting adequate amounts of healthy fats in our diet supports optimal nutrition and health,” said Becky Bender, an Amway nutrition researcher & clinical investigator, “while too many unhealthy fats are linked to health risks.”
Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are examples of healthy fats, but you still need to pay attention to how much you’re getting. Both types of fatty acids are essential for human health, but an excess intake of omega-6 fatty acids can come with health risks. Like most things in life, it’s all about balance. Your body works best when your omega-3s and omega-6s are in balance.
Unfortunately, many people’s diets are filled with an overabundance of omega-6 fatty acids, found in vegetable oils, as well as the bad fats that are found in foods like fried chicken, ice cream, rich desserts or highly processed snack and convenience foods. In addition, far too many people fall short on consuming enough healthy fats, which are found in seafoods, nuts, seeds, avocados, soy beans, fish oils and plant oils.
“Thankfully, you can increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids through your diet or by supplementation,” Bender said.
Let’s take a closer look at those healthy fats. You may not run across the term omega-3 fatty acids on a regular basis, but chances are you’ve heard of fish oil supplements. Fish oil is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, making it a common ingredient in omega-3 supplements.
There are several types of omega-3 fatty acids, but most research focuses on three main types: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). ALA is found mostly in plant sources like chia seeds, walnuts and flax seeds, while EPA and DHA are in fish, fish oils and other seafood.
You can only get omega-3 fatty acids from the food or drink you consume because our bodies cannot produce them on their own; that’s why they are called essential fatty acids.
Omega-3 fatty acids are the building blocks of our cellular walls, or the membrane, so the benefits of consuming adequate amounts are wide ranging.
“Like the skin of a fruit or vegetable, these cellular membranes are extremely important because they protect our cells from the outside world,” Bender said. “They are the gatekeepers, allowing and protecting the passage of certain nutrients as they enter and leave the cell.
“This demonstrates omega-3 fatty acids’ important role in supporting cellular health throughout the body, including cells found in the heart and the brain.”
Scientific research suggests adequate consumption of omega-3 fatty acids has cardiovascular health benefits. They help maintain already normal blood lipid levels and already normal blood pressure. This makes them something to consider in a diet for healthy hearts.
“Like a car engine, we want good oil flowing through. Omega-3 fatty acids have a free-flowing quality about them, which, in balance with omega-6 fatty acids, supports normal, healthy blood flow,” Bender said.
Remember when we talked about the role omega-3 fatty acids play when it comes to your cells? That is a key function when it comes to your skin health.
Omega-3 fatty acids work to support your skin health from the inside by helping to support your skin’s structural health.
There are notable omega-3 benefits for brain health. Both EPA and DHA are important omega-3 fatty acids found in brain tissue. It’s key for adult brain function and childhood brain development.
“DHA is important for maintaining cell membrane fluidity, which helps cells communicate properly with one another,” Bender said.
EPA is found in smaller concentrations in the brain, but it still plays an important role in energy production and maintaining the proper balance with DHA.
DHA occurs naturally in the eye, especially the retina, and is important for normal eye function. Both EPA and DHA support healthy eye moisture.
A large study showed a benefit for eye moisture in the participants who consumed omega-3 fatty acids from fish compared to those who ate little or no seafood.
Omega-3 fatty acids have also been shown to support healthy joints, including normal joint function and joint tissue. It supports the maintenance of healthy joints as you age as well as healthy joint mobility.
When it comes to omega 3 for joints, leading experts recommend eating a 3- to 6-ounce serving of fish rich in omega-3s two to four times a week.
Now you know why you need to have a healthy balance of omega fatty acids in your diet. The next questions are how much do you need and how do you get them?
The American Heart Association and the National Institutes of Health recommend adults consume fatty fish at least two times per week. Experts recommend consuming between 250-500mg of EPA and DHA each day.
If you’re feeling a bit inadequate because you know your intake falls considerably short of that, take solace in the fact that you’re not alone. Ninety percent of Americans don’t get the recommended amount of omegas in their diets, according to the USDA Dietary Guidelines.
The best way to increase your intake is to eat more foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids, especially if they replace foods that are high in omega-6 fatty acids. (Remember that balance we talked about?)
What are good sources of omega-3s? EPA and DHA are found in fatty fish, shellfish, their oils and algae, while ALA is typically plant based—walnuts, other nuts and their oils, beans and plant oils, and various seeds and seed oils, especially chia seeds.
Food sources of omega-3 fatty acids
Grams of omega-3s per serving
Flaxseed oil, 1 tbsp.
Chia seeds, 1 oz.
Canola oil, 1 tbsp.
Mayonnaise, 1 tbsp.
Black walnuts, 1 oz.
Atlantic salmon, farmed, 3 oz.
Canned sardines, 3 oz.
Atlantic mackerel, 3 oz.
Canned anchovies, 1 oz
Shrimp, 3 oz
Source: National Institutes of Health
Instead of steak or chicken one night a week, start experimenting with fish recipes or choose seafood off the menu when you eat out. Consider adding seeds to your salads, smoothies or other culinary creations. Grab some nuts as a snack instead of chips. Or change up your cooking oils for different recipes.
You can also consider a fish oil supplement to help fill the gaps of omega-3 fatty acids, especially if you are not a big fan of seafood, seeds or nuts.
As with many things, you can have too much of a good thing. It’s best to consume omega-3 fatty acids in the recommended amounts to avoid any adverse reactions.
When it comes to omega-3 supplements with fish oil, however, there is a common omega-3 side effect that occurs even when taking the recommended amount: A tendency to burp up an unpleasant fishy taste. Bender said that’s also indicative of the difficulty our bodies have in absorbing omega-3 fatty acids.
“Our digestive fluids are very high in water, and as you probably know, oil and water don’t usually mix,” she said. “This means that in our digestive tract, fats tend to float on the top of digestive fluids. This is why with some omega-3 supplements you may have experienced that unpleasant, fishy burb-back.”
Bender said Nutrilite™ Omega and Advanced Omega fish oil supplements, which include ALA from chia seeds and DHA and EPA from fish, were formulated with a new technology tackling that problem and increasing the absorption rate three-fold.
“Our special formulation combines omega-3 fatty acids with an absorption technology that works much like the bile in our stomachs,” she said. “Results from our own human clinical study found three times better absorption compared to the same formula without the absorption technology. It’s also gentle on the stomach and there’s less fishy burp back.”
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