These days almost anyone who is trying to lead a healthier lifestyle has heard of omega-3 fatty acids. Either you have read about them in the news, or a well-meaning friend or family member has told you to take them.
What you’ve heard is true: omega-3 fatty acids may benefit your health in several ways.
However, there is some conflicting information out there about omega-3 fatty acids. This confusion can sometimes create more questions than answers. This article answers some common questions about omega-3 fatty acids and shares how they may benefit your health.
Before we dive into the omega-3 fatty acid benefits, let’s answer some common questions about this powerful compound.
What are omega-3s fatty acids?
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential polyunsaturated fats. The term “essential” means that the body cannot make them on its own. Therefore, you must consume omega-3 fatty acids through food every day.
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How many omega-3s fatty acids are there?
There are three main types of omega-3s:
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) come from fatty fish such as salmon, herring, sardines, tuna, trout, and mackerel. Since EPA and DHA come from fish, they are often called fish oils.
- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is the most common omega-3 fatty acid in most Western diets. ALA comes from plant foods such as vegetable oils, flaxseeds, and nuts.
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Which omega-3 fatty acids benefit me?
All omega-3 fatty acids are healthy fats. However, EPA and DHA from fish oil are the most studied. The research shows that these two types of omega-3 fatty acids may be beneficial for various conditions.
How do omega-3 fatty acids benefit my health?
Omega-3 fatty acids benefit several different health conditions. Below are some examples of ways in which omega-3 fatty acids may benefit your health.
A heart-healthy diet is rich in EPA and DHA. One research study concluded that the more fish you eat, the lower risk you may have of stroke and heart failure.
Due to the strength of the evidence for fish oil, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the following health claim: “Supportive but not conclusive research shows that consumption of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.”
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends eating a variety of fish (particularly fatty fish) at least two times per week. Consider adding salmon, sardines, trout, herring, tuna, or mackerel to your weekly meal plan.
Ideally, increasing omega-3 fatty acid intake through foods is preferable. However, those not getting enough omega-3 through diet alone should consider taking an omega-3 fish oil supplement.
Studies have shown that omega-3 fish oil may also support healthy joints and mobility in adults and those who participate in high-intensity exercise.
It is thought that Americans consume more omega-6s fatty acids (from vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds) than omega-3s fatty acids. Many healthcare professionals believe bringing these two essential fatty acids into better balance is a good idea for overall health. But don’t do this by cutting back on healthy omega-6 fats. Instead, add some extra omega-3s to support a long-term healthy, and active lifestyle.
Omega-3 fatty acids are particularly important during pregnancy. Research suggests that they help support brain development, eye health, and healthy gestational length. DHA is also important for a baby’s mental and visual development during pregnancy and throughout infancy. Experts recommend that pregnant and breastfeeding women consume at least 200 mg of DHA every day.
Remember, growing babies cannot produce their own DHA efficiently, so babies depend on their mothers to get DHA. Therefore, a mother’s DHA reserve decrease during pregnancy as her DHA transfers from her to her baby.
How Omega-3 Fatty Acids Benefit Your Health
Recent research has started to look at omega-3 fatty acids’ role in overall sense of well-being. Although the results are mixed, a few studies find an association between a higher intake of omega-3s and happiness.
How much omega-3 fatty acids do I need?
Healthy individuals who eat fatty fish more than twice a week may not need to take an omega-3 (fish oil) supplement. For generally healthy people who do not eat fish often, taking a fish oil supplement may be beneficial. Remember, before deciding to take any supplement, speak with your healthcare provider to make sure it is the best choice for you.
Is it safe to take omega-3 fatty acid (fish oil) supplements?
The FDA has ruled that daily intake of EPA and DHA up to 3 grams (3,000 mg) is safe.
The most common side effect of low-quality fish oil supplements is a fishy aftertaste. However, higher-quality fish oil supplements that have been molecularly distilled and steam-deodorized should not have this problem. If you experience a fishy aftertaste, try keeping your fish oil supplement in the freezer.
Some people can experience an upset stomach when taking fish oils, especially at higher doses. Taking fish oil supplements with food can help to reduce any stomach upset.
People taking certain medications such as blood thinners or having a surgical procedure should speak to their healthcare providers before taking any fish oil supplements.
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How can I tell if my fish oil supplement is free from contaminants?
Choose an independently tested and certified fish oil. These types of certifications guarantee content accuracy, purity, and freedom from contaminants. Organizations like NSF® International USP® provide third-party testing and certification for dietary supplements. In addition, the International Fish Oil Standards (IFOS) program offers lot-specific fish oil test results for several products on the market.