The Power of Omega-3
In today's diet-conscious culture, many people try to eliminate every kind of fat from their diet. However, omega-3 fatty acids, also known as polyunsaturated fatty acids, are good fats that can improve cardiovascular health, prevent diabetes, improve brain function, and may even help you lose weight.
According to the American Heart Association, omega-3 fatty acids can improve cardiovascular health by decreasing blood pressure, minimizing the hardening of arteries, stabilizing heart rhythm and preventing the development of clots and plaque, thereby decreasing the chance of stroke and heart attack. Omega-3 fatty acids have also been shown to reduce LDL ("bad") cholesterol and increase DHL ("good") cholesterol.
The high blood glucose levels associated with diabetes can damage nerves and blood vessels and lead to increased deposits of fatty materials on the insides of the blood vessel walls, which can lead to complications such as heart disease and stroke. Omega-3 fatty acids help lower blood sugar and reduce plaques and clotting, helping to prevent heart disease and keep diabetes at a manageable level.
In addition, DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), one kind of omega-3 fatty acid, has been found to boost insulin function in people who are obese and at particular risk of developing type 2 diabetes. In one study, 70 percent of patients with insulin resistance who took a daily dose of omega-3 fatty acids showed a marked improvement in insulin sensitivity.
Omega-3 fatty acids may even contribute to weight loss, although additional studies are needed to confirm initial findings. According to several small studies, it appears that omega-3 fatty acids may increase oxidation of fat by activating genes that break down fat and reduce the number of fat cells, especially in the abdominal region. And due to regulated blood sugar levels, omega-3 fatty acids may make you feel fuller longer, helping to curb those snack attacks.
Inflammatory disorders such as asthma, rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBD) may be at least partially relieved from omega-3 fatty acids. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center gave patients suffering from chronic pain fish oil supplements for 20 to 30 days and found that nearly two-thirds of the patients no longer needed to take other anti-inflammatory pain medication. At Indiana University, patients taking fish-oil supplements were found to have reduced symptoms of asthma and exercise-induced bronchoconstriction.
Omega-3 fatty acid's ability to improve brain function has been the focus of a lot of attention. A particular type of brain wave that is linked to memory and learning has been found to transmit significantly faster when supplemented with omega-3 fatty acids. These brain waves typically slow down with age and are slower in people with dementia. But within two hours after taking the supplements, test subjects showed an increased rate of transmission. DHA is also critical to proper visual and neurological development in babies and infants who do not get enough omega-3 fatty acids from their mothers during pregnancy are at risk for developing vision and nerve problems.
The effects of omega-3 fatty acids on the brain may also contribute to psychological stability. DHA makes up about 25 percent of the body's brain fat and manages the production and flow of serotonin. People battling bi-polar disorder, depression, and schizophrenia
have been found to be DHA deficient, although more studies are necessary to determine the connection between psychological health and omega-3 fatty acids. This finding may be particularly helpful for women suffering from postpartum depression and those going through menopause.
You can get omega-3 fatty acids from the food you eat or in supplemental form. Cold water fish such as salmon, herring, sardines, and lake trout are the best food sources; however, these fish may contain dangerous levels of mercury and other environmental toxins, so experts recommend women who are pregnant or may become pregnant and those who are breastfeeding avoid certain fish, such as king mackerel, swordfish, shark, and tile fish, and limit their consumption of other types of fatty acid-rich fish, such as salmon, catfish, shrimp and canned light tuna, to 12 ounces (2 average meals) per week. Fish oil pills are a safe alternative and provide the health benefits of fish without the risk.
Other sources of omega-3 fatty acids include walnuts, soy, spinach, arugula, and avocados, as well as grass-fed beef. Canola oil and flax seed oil are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids, but too much flax seed oil can cause loose stools.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that consumers not consume more than a total of 3 grams of omega-3 fatty acids per day, with no more than 2 grams per day from a dietary supplement. An excessive amount of omega-3 fatty acids can cause excessive bleeding.