The Basics on Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3's are considered essential fatty acids. For our bodies to function normally, we need essential fatty acids. Essential fatty acids (ALA,DHA,EPA) are not made in the body and because they are inefficiently converted from ALA to EPA and DHA, we must get them from our diet .

 The Basics on Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3s have numerous health benefits. Omega-3s are thought to play an important role in reducing inflammation throughout the body such as the blood vessels, the joints & elsewhere.

However, omega-3 supplements (EPA/DHA) may cause the blood to thin & cause excess bleeding, particularly in people taking anticoagulant drugs.

There are several types of omega-3 fatty acids. Two very important ones are EPA & DHA. Both are primarily found in certain fish. Plants like flax contain ALA, an omega-3 fatty acid that is partially converted into DHA & EPA in the body. Algae oil often provides only DHA. Experts say that DHA & EPA  have better established health benefits than ALA. DHA and EPA are found together only in fatty fish & algae. DHA can also be found on its own in algae, while flaxseed & plant sources of omega-3s provide ALA.

Supplement and Diet Tips on Omega-3 Fatty Acids:
Before you start using any supplement, you should always talk it over with your doctor. He or she may have specific recommendations or warnings, depending on your health and the other medicines you take.

Experts usually recommend 1 gram (1,000 milligrams) of DHA & EPA combined from fish oil daily for those with heart disease. People with certain health conditions may take doses of up to 4 grams a day (only under a doctor's supervision).

Consider a supplement like algae oil or fish oil capsules. Fish oil contains both EPA & DHA. Algae oil contains DHA and may be a good option for those not tolerant to fish or for vegetarians. The most common side effect from fish oil is gas & indigestion. Getting a supplement with an enteric coating might help.

In high doses (3 grams & above) omega-3 supplements (EPA/DHA) can increase the risk of bleeding. People with bleeding conditions (or who take medicines that could increase bleeding, like Coumadin, Plavix, Effient, Brilinta, and some painkillers) should talk to a doctor before using any omega-3 supplements. Bleeding-related complications are separate effects for EPA & DHA. DHA has not been associated with bleeding problems

When possible, try to get omega-3 fatty acids from foods. Fish high in DHA and EPA omega-3 fatty acids include anchovies, bluefish, herring, mackerel, salmon (wild has more omega-3s than farmed), sardines, sturgeon, lake trout, and tuna.
Choose the right fish. While eating more fatty fish is a good idea, some are more likely to have higher levels of mercury, PCBs, or other toxins. These include wild swordfish, tilefish, & shark. Farm-raised fish of any type may also have higher levels of contaminants. Children and pregnant women should avoid these fish entirely. Everyone else should eat no more than 7 ounces of these fish a week. Smaller fish like wild trout and wild salmon are safer.

Good food sources of ALA, which is converted into omega-3 fatty acids in the body, include walnuts, flax and flaxseed oil, canola oil, olive oil & soybean oil. While foods containing omega-3 fatty acids have health benefits, like oils and nuts they can be high in calories. So eat them in moderation.

Consider eating more free-range beef & poultry. Free-range animals have much higher levels of omega-3's than typical, grain-fed animals.

26 January 2012