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Omega 3 Fatty Acids for Menstrual Health

Updated on June 26, 2011

For decades, people who were concerned about healthy eating, or who had conditions that forced them to become concerned, were told to avoid fats as much as possible. To this day a label of "low fat" on food products is considered by most people to be a good thing.

As nutritional science has advanced, however, scientists have discovered that eating healthfully isn't quite as simple as avoiding all fats. In layman's terms, there are "good" fats and "bad" fats and instead of avoiding all fats entirely, it's better to seek a balance between consumption of good fats and bad fats.

Omega 3 fatty acids are among the "good" fats. In addition to lowering blood cholesterol and reducing the risk of developing heart disease, Omega 3 fats also offer many benefits to women who suffer from menstrual cramps, PMS, PCOS, endometriosis, and similar conditions.

Walnuts are a great source of Omega 3 fatty acids. Photo by tvol.
Walnuts are a great source of Omega 3 fatty acids. Photo by tvol.

Benefits of Omega 3 Fatty Acids

The most significant health benefit of Omega 3 fatty acids for women who experience menstrual cramps and other problems is their anti-inflammatory abilities. Omega 3 fats are used by the body to manufacture anti-inflammatory series one and three prostaglandins, which help prevent menstrual cramps, inflammation associated with endometriosis, and many side effects of PMS and hormonal imbalances, including headaches and migraines, constipation, anxiety, depression, and more. Inflammation also contributes to a number of health problems associated with menopause, including joint pain, thinning hair and skin, vaginal dryness, osteoporosis, hot flashes, and heart disease.

Omega 3s prevent blood from clotting excessively, a benefit most commonly associated with reduced risk of heart disease and stroke, but also helpful for women who suffer from heavy and/or painful periods.

Low consumption of omega 3 fatty acids has been linked in studies to a whole host of other women's health issues, including PCOS, infertility, premature labor, post-partum depression, and certain types of cancer.

Sources of Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Omega 3 fatty acids are considered "essential" fatty acids, which means that the human body needs them to function properly, but cannot manufacture them itself. All Omega 3 fatty acids (and fellow essential fatty acids, Omega 6s) must be consumed in the diet.

Omega 6 fatty acids are frequently tarred with the "bad" fat brush. However, they, too, are necessary for the proper functioning of the body. The issues seems to be in the ratio of Omega 6s to Omega 3s consumed. Scientists agree that the most healthful ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 consumption is between 2:1 and 4:1. However, the average American consumes a diet with an Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratio between 10:1 and 30:1!

Curiously, researchers looking independently at differences between grass fed and grain fed meats, eggs, and dairy products discovered that products from animals fed exclusively on grass had a perfect ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 fats. Not only that, they discovered that when a steer was moved from pasture to a feedlot to be fattened on corn, the ratio of fats in the resulting beef skewed further and further the longer the steer was fed grain. Beef from an exclusively grass-fed cow has a ratio of about 4:1, for a conventionally grain-finished cow, the ratio averages closer to 21:1. Similar results were found with eggs, dairy products, and other meats.

For this reason, grassfed meats, eggs, and dairy products are recommended over conventionally grain fed animal products as one of the best sources of Omega 3 fatty acids. Wild game also offers a perfect ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fats.

Other excellent sources of Omega 3 fatty acids include:

  • coldwater fish such as salmon and halibut
  • oily nuts such as walnuts
  • soy products such as tofu and miso
  • flax seeds
  • leafy green vegetables, such as spinach, kale, and Romaine lettuce
  • cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage
  • canola oil

Though supplements are available, some studies suggest that Omega 3 fatty acids are most easily absorbed from dietary, rather than supplemental, sources.

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    • Amanda Severn profile image

      Amanda Severn 

      9 years ago from UK

      As a vegetarian, I tend to watch my diet fairly carefully, to make sure I'm getting everything I need. A few months back I bought a bottle of hemp oil from our local farmer's market (yes, it's legal to grow all the non-marijuana varieties here in the UK!) and I definitely feel better since I've been using it. Hemp has Omegas 3, 6 and 9 and is an excellent source of all three, plus the oil has a pleasant nutty flavour.

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