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Omega 3 Fatty Acids: Benefits, Foods and Supplements

Updated on December 29, 2011

For many the words omega 3 already sounds as familiar as vitamins. The name of the natural fatty acids contained in fish, shellfish and certain plants regularly gets into the news columns.

They are always needed…

Here are a few reports of beneficial effects of omega 3 fatty acids for the last 2-3 weeks: they impede the development of colon cancer, weaken the negative effects of obesity and reduce the risk of developing diabetes, they have a positive effect on men sperm quality, improving their fertility ... These examples can be multiplied. Specialists have no doubt that these fatty acids are necessary for us, like vitamins (our bodies do not produce them, too) and have a mass of useful effects. Some of them have been proven and are undoubtful. Others, like the ones mentioned above, most likely, too, will be proved, but still require further research.

The effect of omega-3 on blood vessels and heart has been studied the best. In large-scale studies involving tens of thousands of people it was found that these unsaturated fatty acids reduced the amount of harmful fats in the blood, prevented the formation of blood clots and the development of inflammation in blood vessels, thereby protecting against heart attack, stroke, and sudden death. 

How much omega 3 per day should one take?

Patients who already have heart problems are recommended taking maximum doses of omega 3 - 800-1000 mg daily. For all others, the optimal dose is 500 mg.

These data were published only in the U.S. two weeks before its recommendations were released by the European Agency for food safety, they are more modest: a useful dose of omega 3 fatty acids in Europe is a half of the previously stated - 250 mg per day. Where is the truth? Probably in the middle, but the main thing is the fact that without omega-3 fatty acids we cannot live, they are really needed.

What are omega 3 foods?

Where can we find them and what is it? And anyway, can we collect the daily dose only of the products - without drugs sold in pharmacies?

The main omega 3 sources are the fish and seafood. And the fatter they are and in the cooler waters they live, the more of these fatty acids fish contain. For example, one serving of salmon weighing 100-125 g contains 3-4 daily doses of omega 3. But this does not mean that only expensive delicacy fish is reach in them. The same portion of herring has a bit more of these polyunsaturated acids, sprats and capelin - a little less, and portions of sardines and mackerel contain from 4 to 5 daily doses, in halibut, mullet, cod, trout, sturgeon - about one-dose, in cod, catfish, haddock, flounder and redfish – a half of a dose or a little more. The same amount is present in shrimp, crabs and other seafood.

How can we provide the desired dose daily, and do not eat the same fish every day? Only two fish days a week would be perfect. Some days add other foods with omega-3 sometimes in very small quantities. For example, the richest in omega-3 fatty acids is cod liver oil. 100 g of canned liver contains 10 to 25 grams of these substances, and oil from it - it is always in such cans - more than 30 g. This means that for a daily dose needed to 2.5-5 g of liver or 1.5 g of oil. Just add a bit of this omega 3 fish oil or liver to some meal (salad, side dish, etc.), and the daily dosage of it will be filled. Almost certainly all omega 3 supplements (in capsules or liquid) are made from cod liver oil – it is the main raw material for such foods.

Other (not fish) omega-3 sources

In addition to marine omega-3 fatty acids contained in fish and seafood, there are similar substances in some plants, nuts, seeds and oils obtained from them. Among these, the ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) is definitely the most important one. You can find lot of it in canola and soybean oil. The experts recommend including these oils in our meals in stead of sunflower oil. A lot of ALA is in flaxseed oil. This oil can not be overcooked, but you can add a little bit of it to salads or use it separately. Although completely vegetarian omega-3 fatty acids can not replace the fish oil omega 3, since only a small part of it, according to various estimates, from 1 to 10 percent, is converted in the body into the same acids found in fish. Other important polyunsaturated fatty acids include DHA omega 3 and EPA omega 3 fatty acids.

By the way, for women it is easier with the omega-3 case; they are easier and better produced from plant ALA in woman’s organism. Thanks to this, during pregnancy women can provide omega-3 both, for themselves, and their unborn child.

It seems to be that there are people who have the conversion of ALA to fish oil omega-3 generally better than others. How can we explain the existence of peoples who have little or no access to fish omega-3, krill oil and vitamins? They have always consumed a lot of foods rich in ALA. But that is no reason to give up the fish vitamin today.

Most of plant omega-3 is in walnuts (30 grams of 2.8 gALA), flax seeds (1,8 g), pecan (0,3 g). In one tablespoon of walnut oil the amount of these important substances is 1.4 g, and in flax seed oil - 6,9 g, in canola oil - 1,3, in soy - 0,9. Small amounts of ALA can be found in green sprouts and their botanical relatives of the cabbage family - mustard, radishes, and turnips.

These omega 3 fatty acids benefits have been proved by various researches:

- Women who consume lots of omega-3 are usually less disposed to postpartum depression, and their children develop faster and have better cognitive abilities.

- Patients with cardiovascular disease who take omega-3 tend to have less recurrent heart attacks, arrhythmias and sudden death. Omega-3 fatty acids reduce the amount of harmful fats (cholesterol) in the blood.

- Omega-3 fatty acids positively affect the mental state, eliminate depression.

- They prevent aging; reduce cognitive and mental abilities with age.

- They reduce the risk of developing of Alzheimer's disease.

- They improve the mental function and reduce aggression in patients with dementia.

- They hinder the development of so-called macular degeneration of the retina - the main cause of blindness in the elderly.

- They hinder the development of fatty liver, metabolic syndrome and diabetes.

- They facilitate for rheumatoid arthritis - serious disease that affects joints and internal organs. Reduce the need and the therapeutic dose of hormones and anti-inflammatory drugs.

- For psoriasis and Crohn's disease (a heavy defeat colon) they prolong remission and reduce the need for hormones.

- They assist in the treatment of bronchial asthma in children.

Of course, you should always consult with your doctor or physician before taking any drugs or supplements. Omega 3 fish oil is available in most of the places at pharmacies. Also, as any other medicine, it might have some side effects. Omega 3 fish oil side effects are related to nausea, diarrhea, flatulence, foul smell and taste in the mouth, and others.

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    • Billrrrr profile image

      Bill Russo 5 years ago from Cape Cod

      A can of sardines a week will help. My only problem with sardines is sometimes I can't find the little ones. I had a can today, the fish were so big that there were only 3 of them in the container! That meant that counting head and tail, those sardines were probably six inches long. Six inches is the official length limit for sardines. Any bigger than that, they are whales. Good hub. Thanks for the info.