Omega-3

cod liver oil

Omega-3 fatty acids are a collection of polyunsaturated fatty acids, including eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Polyunsaturated fats have been touted as ‘healthy’ fats as they promote inflammation reduction and helps lower cholesterol.

EPA and DHA are known as essential fatty acid as the body doesn’t produce them, which is why it’s important to consume enough of them through food or through supplementation. Omega-3 is vital to the production of hormones that regulate inflammation, blood clotting and the relaxation of artery walls, which is why it plays such a key role in heart health. Below are some of the benefits Omega-3 has on the heart:

  • They help to lower levels of cholesterol. Cholesterol can build up in your arteries and form plaques that increase your risk for a heart attack or stroke.
  • They reduce levels of unhealthy fats called triglycerides in the blood by as much as 30 percent. High levels of triglycerides have been linked to an increased risk for cardiovascular disease
  • They decrease the risk of abnormal heartbeats, or arrhythmias, which can lead to sudden death.
  • They might help prevent blood clots from forming. Clots that break off and block a coronary artery to the heart can cause a heart attack. Clots that block the flow of blood to the brain can lead to a stroke.

Apart from the benefits Omega-3 has on the heart, they also play a key role in mental and cognitive health too! This is why you may have heard fish, which contain high levels of Omega-3, called ‘brain food’. Those who don’t get enough Omega-3’s in their diet face an increased risk of developing conditions such as dementia, depression, attention-deficit disorder, dyslexia and schizophrenia. Some cognitive benefits include:

  • Improvement in learning and memory. In studies, children who received omega-3 fatty acid supplements did better in school, scored higher on tests of learning and memory, and had fewer behavioural problems than their peers who didn’t get the supplement.
  • Protection against depression, other mood disorders, and schizophrenia, and improve mood in people who already have depression.
  • Fight age-related cognitive decline due to dementia.

The benefits of Omega-3’s can begin before birth. DHA is passed to the foetus from the mother across the placenta, and it’s found naturally in breast milk. Babies need DHA, especially during the first two years of life, for their brains to develop properly. One study found that babies who were born to mothers with higher blood levels of DHA scored higher on tests of attention and learning than those whose mothers had lower DHA levels.

Omega-3 fatty acids are also essential for healthy skin and hair. EPA helps regulate oil production in your skin. Having plenty of this essential fatty acid in your body keeps your skin hydrated and prevents it from drying and flaking.

Omega-3 fatty acids can also help protect your skin from damage. When your body is exposed to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun, harmful substances called free radicals are generated, which can damage cells and lead to cancer and premature aging. Omega-3 fatty acids act as an antioxidant that protects your body against these substances.

One of the most interesting ways in which Omega-3 impacts on the body is the effect they have on the hormones Adiponectin and Leptin. These two hormones help to regulate body weight. The function of these two hormones enhances “communication” to and from your brain, allowing you to know when the right amount of food has been consumed. Adiponectin has actually been branded by some as ‘the fat-burning hormone’. When you start to gain weight, your body naturally starts producing less and less of this hormone due to poor dietary choices and inactivity. A separate article will be available to cover Leptin and Adiponectin in more detail but by regularly consuming Omega-3 fatty acids, you’re keeping these hormones in check!

Below are a list of foods that you can incorporate into your diet to increase levels of Omega -3:

  • Flax seeds
  • Chia seeds
  • Fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel etc.)
  • Walnuts
  • Firm Tofu
  • Shellfish
  • Canola oil
  • Navy Beans
  • Brussel Sprouts
  • Avocados

Levels of Omega-3 vary for each of those food types and how much you consume. At the moment there is no evidence that you can have ‘too much’ Omega-3 and recommendations state you should have a minimum of 250 – 500mg combined DPA and EPA daily. If you find it hard to eat the above foods, you could also think about supplementation. Fish oil is available in both liquid and tablet form in order to get your daily Omega-3 fix!