What are omega-3s? Why are we hearing more and more “Are you getting your omega-3s?” Here are the Who, What, How and Why of omega-3s.
WHO – While omega-3s are critical to normal development in pregnancy, childhood, and adolescence they play many vital roles through our whole lifespan.
WHAT/HOW – Omega-3s are one of a group called fatty acids. Fatty acids are recognized as another category of nutrients and are similar to vitamins and minerals in that we need to consume them. There are three main types of omega-3 fatty acids; ALA, DHA and EPA. ALA is the easiest of the three to get from a dietary standpoint. ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) can be found in plant sources such as flax seeds, walnuts and chia seeds and some green vegetables such as kale, spinach, and Brussels sprouts. The body will convert ALA to DHA and EPA but the amounts are not equal. This is done at less than a 1:1 ratio. Because DHA and EPA are thought to have greater health benefits it is best to find direct sources of these as well. DHA and EPA are found in certain fish such as salmon, anchovies, trout, and herring to name a few. There are supplements available that contain DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) via fish oil. If you are looking for a vegetarian way to get DHA and EPA there are some supplements available that source these from seaweed and algae.
WHY – Fat has gotten a bad rep due to many of us having excess body fat. But, in fact, fat is a necessary part of our organs, skin and cell membranes. You may be surprised to know that the human brain is composed of 60% fat. Omega-3s play critical roles for neurotransmitters in our brain as well as immune system. For a little more science on this you can visit this abstract in the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. We also need fat in order to absorb and use fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin D. According to many sources including Dr. Frank Sacks, Professor of Cardiovascular Disease Prevention, Dept. of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health:
“New studies are identifying potential benefits for a wide range of conditions including cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, and other autoimmune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.”
Omega-3 supplements may cause the blood to thin which could result in excess bleeding particularly in people taking anticoagulant drugs so as always please consult your physician to see if this is right for you.