Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for life and have to come from diet since the body has a very limited ability to make them. These fatty acids are potent anti-inflammatory’s and may help lower risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and arthritis. They can lower triglycerides and blood pressure. They are also known to alleviate depression, treat rheumatoid arthritis, and help with a variety of other conditions.
Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish, such as salmon, tuna, and halibut, other seafood including algae and krill, some plants, and nut oils.
There are several types of omega-3s. The two most common are EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). They occur primarily in fish, but there are vegetable sources as well. Vegans can get DHA from marine algae supplements. EPA can be made by the body in very small quantities from ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) found in walnuts, flax, chia, and hemp seeds.
While there is no controversy about whether omega-3s are good for you, there is a controversy about how much omega-6 versus omega-3 fatty acids you need to keep your body healthy. The majority of people consume about 75 times more vegetable oil rich in omega-6 fatty acids than their grandparents or great grandparents did. At the same time, the majority of Americans consume too little healthy omega-3s, either from fatty fish, algae supplements or fish oil supplements. Omega-6 is primarily sourced from corn, soy, canola, safflower, and sunflower oils. These are overabundant in the typical diet, which accounts for excess omega-6 levels.
The result is that the balance of our fatty acids, at least according to some experts, is seriously… off kilter. Most medical professionals will tell you that the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids should be 1:1 or at most 4:1. The typical American diet has a ratio close to 20:1.
Omega-3 ranks among the most important essential nutrients out there today. In 2008, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published three studies investigating the role of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids in elderly populations. Low concentrations of EPA and DHA resulted in an increased risk of death from all causes, as well as accelerated cognitive decline. The studies also suggest that a higher intake of omega-3s may bring certain health benefits that short-term supplementation cannot give.
Both EPA and DHA can be taken in the form of fish oil capsules. Keep flax seed, flax seed oil, fish, and krill oils refrigerated. Whole flax seeds must be ground within 24 hours of use, so the ingredients stay active. Flax seeds are also available in ground form in a special mylar package so the components in the flax seeds stay active.
Be sure to buy omega-3 fatty acid supplements made by established companies who certify that their products are free of heavy metals, such as mercury, lead, and cadmium.