Are you suffering from high blood pressure? Diabetes? Arthritis? Depression? Or maybe someone you know has recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or was told by their doctor they must lose weight. The far-reaching benefits of omega-3 supplementation are revolutionizing how many of these common but debilitating or even life-threatening ailments are treated and drastically improving the quality of life for those individuals suffering from the conditions.
Omega-3 is comprised of essential fatty acids (EFAs). Essential because the human body cannot produce them on its own so it is necessary to ingest the fatty acids either in food or in supplement form. Cold-water fatty fish such as salmon, halibut, sardines, mackerel, herring, anchovies and tuna and fish oils are the best overall source of Omega-3 fatty acids although flaxseeds actually contain higher concentrations. Omega-3 can also be found in walnuts, soybeans, pumpkin seeds, kiwifruit, chia, algae, krill and lingonberries although many people find supplements easier to fit into their day to day life and some foods such as eggs and cereal are now fortified with Omega-3.
The Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids help every tissue in the body remain healthy and in peak condition.
- High Cholesterol and Omega-3 – Omega-3 promote an increase in the levels of high density lipoprotein (HDL) or good cholesterol while also decreasing triglycerides or fatty material that circulates in the blood stream. Researchers also believe that Omega-3 fatty acids actually decrease the amount of low density lipoproteins (LDL) or bad cholesterol and walnuts and walnut oil especially decrease the overall total cholesterol and triglycerides in a person suffering from high cholesterol.
- Heart Disease and Omega-3 – research has shown that the fatty acids EPA and DHA found in fish oil and are part of the Omega-3 complex reduce risk factors associated with heart disease. Furthermore, there is strong evidence that these EFAs also inhibit the production of plaque and blood clots that lead to artherosclerosis and can help prevent a fatal heart attack or further heart attacks or strokes from occurring.
- High Blood Pressure and Omega-3 – for people suffering from hypertension, the EFAs in Omega-3 can help significantly lower blood pressure by removing the fatty deposits or triglycerides that clog up the bloodstream that cause high blood pressure and often lead to strokes.
- Diabetes and Omega-3 – diabetics tend to have high levels of triglycerides or fatty deposit in their system as well as low good cholesterol or HDL. Omega-3 fatty acids help lower the triglyceride levels while raising the HDL levels. There is also some indication of EFAs increasing and regulating the levels of blood sugar during fasting in those suffering from type II diabetes although more research is necessary to confirm these findings.
- Arthritis and Omega-3 – Omega-3 has anti-inflammatory properties (unlike Omega-6 that increases inflammation) and aids in reducing joint tenderness and morning stiffness in those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. This helps moderate pain levels and decreases the amount of medication needed to control the condition. Although not as much is known about the effects of Omega-3 fatty acids on osteoarthritis, studies suggest that the anti-inflammatory benefits reduce swelling and discomfort in those suffering from it as well as those suffering from inflammatory bowel disease and dysmenorrhea (painful menstrual).
- Chronic Obesity, Weight Loss and Omega-3 – Omega-3 fatty acids aid in weight loss by lowering cholesterol levels and helping regulate blood sugar levels so energy levels stay consistent.
- Osteoporosis and Omega-3 – Although more research is needed, in a study of women over the age of 65 over a three year period, those given EFAs showed significantly less bone loss then those on a placebo and in some cases, there even showed an increase in bone density.
- Depression and Omega-3 – Clinical studies show that people that either do not get enough Omega-3 or have an imbalance of Omega-3 to Omega-6 have a higher likelihood to suffer from depression. As EFAs assist and promote healthy nerve cell membranes and this added communication within the brain is a vital part of good mental health.
- Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder and Omega-3 – Similar to the effects on depression, Omega-3 helps those suffering from Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia by helping keep nerve cell membranes healthy. It helps stabilize mood. Scientists agree that there is a breakthrough imminent in the treatment of Schizophrenia but more research is necessary to fully understand how and why Omega-3 helps control this disorder.
- Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and Omega-3 – Research shows that children suffering from ADHD may have low levels of Omega-3 in their diet which negatively affects their ability to learn and behave i.e. sitting still, ability to sleep and swings in temper and mood. Brain chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine that help increase the ability to concentrate, be attentive and stay motivated are inhibited by low levels of Omega-3 and are directly related to ADHD. Moreover, a study of school age children suffering from ADHD found that supplementing the children’s diet with Omega-3 improved their reading, spelling and classroom behavior as well as lowered their physical aggression and ‘acting out’ in school.
- Burns, healing and Omega-3 – EFAs help reduce inflammation and promote healing in burn victims as Omega-3 regulates healthy levels of protein in the body. Protein is the building blocks of any healing either from a burn or a wound.
- Skin and Omega-3 – Although more research is necessary, scientists have found that psoriasis treatment is more effective when EFAs are included in the diet and that those suffering from UV sensitive skin may benefit from including Omega-3 in their diet.
- Inflammatory bowel disease and Omega-3 – Since the EFAs in Omega-3 contain anti-inflammatory properties, the treatment of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are better managed with the addition of an Omega-3 supplement to the regular medicine prescribed.
- Asthma and Omega-3 – For adults suffering from asthma, the anti-inflammatory benefits of Omega-3 can help lower inflammation and increase lung function.
- Macular degeneration and Omega-3 – Macular degeneration is an age-related condition that all too frequently leads to complete sight loss in the elderly. Studies show that people that include Omega-3 fatty acids and maintain a healthy balance of Omega-3 to Omega-6 fatty acids are far less likely to develop this debilitating condition.
- Cancer and Omega-3 – Breast, colon and prostate cancer all respond well to the addition of Omega-3 to the diet and woman suffering from breast cancer are far less likely to die from it then those that do not have an adequate intake in their diet. However, once the cancer has metastasized or spread, EFAs can actually aid in the growth of the tumors so must be avoided in more advanced cases of cancer treatment.
- Other benefits – EFAs promote healthy circulation so those suffering from varicose veins and numbness in extremities will benefit from adding Omega-3 to their diet. Research into the benefits of EFA supplements for those suffering from Alzheimer’s is being conducted as Omega-3 fatty acids improve memory and cognitive function.
The many benefits of Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation are only now beginning to be fully realized and much research is underway to fully understand the many benefits of this miraculous complex of nutrients. For now, if you are feeling down – eat a fish. A little stiff from a long run or menstrual pains have you sidelined – chew some flaxseeds. Or maybe your child is running amok – hand them an Omega-3 enriched bar and enjoy the rest of your day!