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Omega 3 Fatty Acids- good for your heart and mind

 

"Runner" by Alexandra E Rust is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Omega-3 fatty acids – good for your body and mind

We have known for a long time that omega-3 fatty acids are essential for human bodies to function properly and required throughout or lifetime.  Scientists continue to study omega-3s to understand how they affect health.  According to the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements, people who eat fish and other seafood have a lower risk of several chronic diseases – what is not clear is whether the benefit is from eating these foods or from the omega-3s they contain.[1]  The bullets below show the beneficial effects of consuming foods containing omega-3 fatty acids.

  • Heart disease. Research shows that people who eat fish at least twice a week have a lower risk of dying of heart disease.
  • High blood pressure. Consumption of omega-3 fatty acids is especially beneficial for people with moderate to severe high blood pressure.[2]
  • High triglycerides and cholesterol. Omega-3 fatty acids can significantly reduce blood triglyceride levels and may improve high-density lipoprotein (HDL, or "good") cholesterol.[3]
  • Rheumatoid arthritis. Studies suggest omega- fatty acids might help reduce pain, improve morning stiffness, and relieve joint tenderness in people with rheumatoid arthritis.[4]
  • Inflammatory bowel disease.  Omega-3 fatty acids may have a beneficial effect in the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease.[5]
  • Cancer. Diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids have been associated with lowered risks of developing certain types of cancers.[6]  Research is ongoing regarding the effect omega-3 fatty acids have on delaying or reducing tumor development in breast and prostate cancer.[7]  A recent study at the Université Catholique de Louvain in Belgium slowed tumor development in mice with a DHA-enriched diet.[8]
  • Migraines.  A new study suggests that a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the frequency and intensity of monthly migraine attacks.[9]
  • Mood.  Researchers in the emerging field of nutritional psychiatry are studying the relationship between diet and mental wellness.  It appears that consuming whole foods such as vegetables, fruit, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds, beans and legumes and fermented foods like yogurt may help reduce symptoms of depression, stress, and anxiety.[10]
  • Brain health.  Fatty fish are the ultimate brain food. According to the United Brain Association, a diet with higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids may lower the risks of dementia and enhance memory in addition to managing stress and producing serotonin.[11]
  • Protect the brain from air pollution.  A new study indicates that women with higher blood levels of omega-3s had less brain shrinkage tied to air pollution. Apart from omega-3 blood levels, consuming eight ounces of non-fried fish per week was associated with higher white matter volume.[12]
  • Acne.  While taking fish oil supplements does not appear to have a beneficial effect on acne, one study of 500 patients in dermatology clinics found that those who ate fish at least once per week were 32% less likely to have moderate to severe acne.[13],[14]

What are omega-3 fatty acids?

Omega-3 fatty acids are an essential fat that the human body cannot make on its own - they are called essential because we need them to survive.  We get the omega-3 fatty acids we need from the foods we eat.  Fish contain two kinds of omega-3 fatty acids:  eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).  Plants contain a form of omega-3 called alpha-linolenic (ALA).[15]  DHA or docosahexaenoic acid is crucial to brain function, vision, and the regulation of inflammatory phenomena.[16]

The American Heart Association recommends that people without a history of heart disease should eat at least two four-ounce servings of fish each week.  In addition to benefitting heart health, the twice per week seafood recommendation appears across the different studies (brain, cancer, arthritis, skin).  Omega-3 fatty acids are a key ingredient in the popular Mediterranean diet.  In fact, omega-3s appear to be a large part of the favorite diets rated in U.S. News.[17]  The Food and Nutrition Board of the US Institute of Medicine (now the National Academy of Medicine) offers guidelines for adequate intake of omega-3 fatty acids for various life stages.[18]

"wild salmon grilled on a cedar plank" by woodleywonderworks is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Food vs. supplements

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans says that we should get most of our nutrients from foods that contain vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber, and other substances that benefit health. Sometimes fortified foods and dietary supplements may provide nutrients when you don’t get enough from food.  The Mayo Clinic, in a myth-busting article, also says that it’s better to get omega-3 fatty acids from your diet, rather than from a bottle of supplements.[19] 

The webpage Seafood Health Facts:  Making smart choices (a joint project by the Universities of Oregon State, Cornell, Delaware, Rhode Island, Florida, and California and the Community Seafood Initiative) has a list of the omega-3 content of frequently consumed seafood products.  Another useful website is the US Department of Agriculture FoodData Central, where you can search the nutritional values of a large variety of foods.

Good omega-3-rich fish options include salmon, sardines, Atlantic mackerel, cod, herring, trout, and light tuna.  Sizzlefish offers wild Alaska King Salmon, wild Alaska coho salmon, wild Alaska sockeye salmonCopper River king salmon and many other types of wild caught fish and seafood.  While fatty fish like salmon are especially high in omega-3 fatty acids, all fish have some level of omega-3s and other vitamins and minerals that are essential nutrients for keeping hearts and brains healthy[20] and Sizzlefish has put together combinations of fish high in omega-3s.

 

Please Note: 

Omega-3 dietary supplements may interact with the medications you take. For example, high doses of omega-3s may cause bleeding problems when taken with warfarin (Coumadin®) or other anticoagulant medicines.

Fish is the best food source of omega-3 fatty acids, but several plants contain ALA. This is not as rich of a source of omega-3 fatty acids, but some studies show that ALA can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.[21]

As always, you should talk with your health care provider about any complementary health approaches you use (including fish oil supplements).

This article is meant only to be educational.

 

 

 

 

References

 

[1]  https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Omega3FattyAcids-Consumer/

[2]  https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements-fish-oil/art-20364810

[3]  https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-disease/in-depth/omega-3/art-20045614

[4]  Kostoglou-Athanassiou, I., Athanassiou, L., & Athanassiou, P. (2020). The Effect of Omega-3 Fatty Acids on Rheumatoid Arthritis. Mediterranean journal of rheumatology, 31(2), 190–194. https://doi.org/10.31138/mjr.31.2.190

[5]  Ungaro, F., Rubbino, F., Danese, S., D’Alessio, S. (2017) Actors and Factors in the Resolution of Intestinal Inflammation: Lipid Mediators As a New Approach to Therapy in Inflammatory Bowel Diseases. Frontiers in Immunology 8:1331. https://doi.org/10.3389/fimmu.2017.01331

[6]  Abbas, A., Witte, T., Patterson, W. L., 3rd, Fahrmann, J. F., Guo, K., Hur, J., Hardman, W. E., & Georgel, P. T. (2021). Epigenetic Reprogramming Mediated by Maternal Diet Rich in Omega-3 Fatty Acids Protects From Breast Cancer Development in F1 Offspring. Frontiers in cell and developmental biology, 9, 682593. https://doi.org/10.3389/fcell.2021.682593

[7]  https://stanfordhealthcare.org/medical-clinics/cancer-nutrition-services/reducing-cancer-risk/omega-3-fatty-acids.html

[8]  Emeline Dierge, E., Debock, E., Guilbaud, C., Corbet, C., Mignolet, E., Mignard, L., Bastien, E., Dessy, C., Larondelle, Y., & Feron, O. (2021) Peroxidation of n-3 and n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids in the acidic tumor environment leads to ferroptosis-mediated anticancer effects.  Cell Metabolism, June 11, 2021.

https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cmet.2021.05.016

[9]  Brooks, M. (2021) Diet rich in omega-3s linked to fewer migraines, less pain.  Medscape Medical News, July 6, 2021.  https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/954272

[10]   O’Connor, A. (2021) How food may improve your mood. The New York Times. May 6. 2021.  https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/06/well/eat/mental-health-food.html?searchResultPosition=4

[11]   https://unitedbrainassociation.org/2019/07/09/10-superfoods-to-boost-brain-power/

[12]  Bakalar, N. (2020) Eating fish may protect the brain from pollutants. The New York Times. July 15, 2020.  https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/15/well/eating-fish-may-protect-the-brain-from-pollutants.html?searchResultPosition=2

[13]  https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/omega-3-for-acne#benefits

[14]  Hjalmarsdottir, F. (2018). 17 science-based benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/17-health-benefits-of-omega-3

[15]  https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/17290-omega-3-fatty-acids

[16]  https://scitechdaily.com/an-omega-3-thats-poison-for-cancer-tumors/

[17]  https://health.usnews.com/best-diet/best-diets-overall

[18]     Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine. Dietary Fats: Total Fat and Fatty Acids. Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press. 2005:422-541. https://www.nap.edu/catalog/10490/dietary-reference-intakes-for-energy-carbohydrate-fiber-fat-fatty-acids-cholesterol-protein-and-amino-acids

[19]  https://www.mayoclinic.org/dont-get-tricked-by-these-3-heart-health-myths/art-20390070

[20] https://www.doh.wa.gov/communityandenvironment/food/fish/healthbenefits

 

[21]  https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/17290-omega-3-fatty-acids