If you' re looking for the most effective way to get omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFAs) into your diet, it' s time to dive into fish. Oils from fish-in both dietary and supplement forms-are arguably one of the best sources of the essential fatty acids DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). New research suggests that these fatty acids are beneficial for everything from improved cognitive function to cancer and diabetes prevention.
What are the benefits of fish oils?
1. They Pump Up Heart Health
DHA and EPA from fish or fish oils can lower triglycerides, decrease the risk of arrhythmia, and slow buildup of plaque in the heart and blood vessels, reducing risk of heart attack, stroke, and other heart-related diseases. The American Heart Association says adults who get a daily average of 250 mg of omega-3 fatty acids from eating a variety of oily fish about twice a week, or through supplements, can decrease their risk of cardiovascular disease. People with cardiovascular disease should aim to get 1,000 mg of omega-3 fatty acids per day.
2. They Help Alleviate Pain and Inflammation
Research has shown that taking fish oils is a safe way to reduce the production of pro-inflammatory and pain-sensitizing messenger molecules while simultaneously raising the levels of anti-inflammatory self-healing molecules. "Inflammatory mechanisms in the body are in part regulated by the type of fat we consume in our diet," says Keri Marshall, ND. However, surveys show that up to 70 percent of the U.S. population consumes a diet with an imbalanced ratio-too much omega-6 (other than GLA, see below) and not enough omega-3-that creates low-grade chronic inflammation.
3. They Help Diminish Memory Loss
Omega-3 fats are found in particularly high concentrations in the nervous system. Fish oils have been shown to help support mood and memory, as well as protect the delicate cells of the brain and nervous systems. Low intake of DHA has been linked to dementia and Alzheimer' s disease, and research indicates that people who consume more DHA over a lifetime have better cognitive function and a clearer memory as they age.
4. They Keep Skin Healthy
New research demonstrates that omega-3s reduce inflammation caused by ultraviolet radiation (i.e., sunburn). Fish oils are especially beneficial for chronic skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis. Omega-3s ingested and/or applied directly to the skin can provide anti-inflammatory benefits and reduce symptoms.
5. They Promote Eye Health
Fish oils are good for eye health and dry-eye syndrome, which affects 14 percent of those over the age of 40. Omega-3 EFAs are thought to keep the eyes moist by controlling inflammation, which can decrease tear production.
6. They Suppress Autoimmune Disorders
The body' s immune system naturally attacks foreign particles by activating the inflammatory response, but with autoimmune diseases, the body fails to distinguish these foreign particles and instead attacks itself. Some of these diseases include Crohn' s disease, multiple sclerosis, Graves' disease, and Hashimoto' s thyroiditis. Omega-3 EFAs have been used to reduce the inflammatory response and alleviate symptoms in these disorders.
7. They Help Brighten Moods
Depressed or just feeling blue? Several mental health conditions have been related to DHA deficiency, including bipolar disorder. Regular fish oil consumption has been shown to reduce depression, anger, aggression, and anxiety. In fact, the American Psychiatric Association Omega-3 Subcommittee recommends a minimum of 1 g EPA and DHA for mood and psychological conditions.
8. They Make Kids Smarter
Fish oils can benefit children early on, even in the womb. Infants need DHA for nervous system development and only get it from their mothers or a DHA- enriched formula. Children with learning disabilities and ADHD who have higher blood levels of omega-3 EFAs show reductions in inattention, cognitive problems, angry outbursts, and anxiety. And with the environmental toxins that now plague fresh and salt waters, the FDA has warned that people, especially children, limit their intake of fish. Supplements serve as safe alternatives for acquiring EFAs.
9. They Reduce Cramps
Menstrual pain is associated with increased contractions in the uterus. Whereas omega-6s produce prostaglandins that increase contractions, nausea, and headache, prostaglandins from omega-3s do not cause severe contractions; higher intake of fish oils can help reduce menstrual pains and the symptoms associated with it.
10. They May Help Prevent Cancer
Promising studies report that fish oil may reduce the risk of developing breast, colon, or prostate cancers. Omega-3s offer cancer protection in three ways: they stop the alterations from normal cell to cancer mass, inhibit unwanted cellular growth, and cause death of cancerous cells. Although shown to reduce the growth of cancer cells and polyps, it' s unclear if fish oil affects cancer survival or remission.
11. They Help with Weight-Loss and Diabetes
Omega-3 EFAs combined with an aerobic-activity-based weight-loss program improves metabolic and cardiovascular parameters. The anti-inflammatory effects of EFAs may also help alleviate some effects of diabetes as well as obesity.
12. They're Easy to Consume
The best sources of omega-3 EFAs come from cold-water fish high in fat, such as tuna, salmon, mackerel, and herring. Because of toxins found in farmed fish, wild-caught fish are preferred. Some fish, such as tuna, have elevated mercury levels as well. Fish oil supplements and other foods enriched with EPA and DHA-such as eggs and soymilk-are growing in popularity.
Omega 3 Fatty Acid Supplements
Coromega Omega-3 Squeeze Chocolate Orange, Olympian Labs ENTERIC COATED OMEGA-3 FISH OILS, Natural Factors RX OMEGA-3 FACTORS, ReNew Life NORWEGIEN GOLD DAILY OMEGA, Nordic Naturals OMEGA BLOOD SUGAR, Bluebonnet Omega-3 1000 mg. Brain Formula, Barlean' s lemon zest omega Swirl, and Carlson Labs Fish oil multi (not shown).