We have all heard or read about the health benefits of omega 3 fatty acids but we don’t pay attention enough to care if we have enough of it in our diets. Because almost everyone has a diet that is deficient in omega 3, the health benefits are mostly the result of adding back into the diet what was normally there in the first place.
Omega 3 fatty acids are gaining a lot of medical importance, mainly because they are very beneficial health-wise for every one of every age, from babies to old folks. Evidence shows that they protect against heart disease, among many other diseases, and lower triglyceride levels.
Here is an introduction to omega 3 fatty acids which will tell you their benefits and risks, and how they help people in any age group, infants, children and teens, young adults, and middle-aged to older adults alike.
Omega 3 Basics
Omega 3 is an essential fatty acid, or organic acid that our body uses to function properly. One of its more important roles is as an anti-inflammatory. It has a very vital role in preventing chronic diseases that are related to inflammatory processes, like heart disease and arthritis.
Whether omega 3 comes from a food source, like fatty fish or plants, or from supplements, studies have shown that omega 3 is beneficial to people of different ages.
Omega 3 For Prenatal Health, Pregnancy, and Infants
There is a lot of evidence that show how omega 3s are beneficial to our health even before birth:
- Studies have shown that baby formulas with the omega 3 fatty acid DHA improve the cognitive development of babies. The same is true for babies whose mothers took omega 3 supplements (DHA and EPA) during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. They have improved hand-eye coordination, attention span, social skills, and intelligence test scores.
- Fish oil taken during pregnancy reduces the risk of teenaged children developing asthma.
- Evidence has shown that premature infants also benefit from formula with omega 3, helping promote growth and brain development.
- The risk of premature labor is reduced as shown by a study of women who ate omega 3-rich eggs compared to women who ate standard eggs.
A lot of studies about omega 3 may not be definitive, but there is enough evidence that show the many benefits that DHA and EPA intake give infants and pregnant women. Baby formulas now include DHA supplements and breastfeeding mothers can also increase the omega 3s in their breast milk by adding supplements to their diet.
Omega 3 For Children and Teenagers
- Increasing the levels of omega 3s in kids 12 years old and below with ADHD, whose levels are below normal, by giving them fish oil supplements have shown improvement in behavior, reduction in hyperactivity, and a boost in attention.
- Fish oil, which is commonly used to treat depression in adults, also help reduce the symptoms of depressed 6- to 12-year.
- A diet rich in omega 3 reduces the risk of developing type 2 diabetes of kids who are predisposed to developing the disease.
- A small study has shown that omega 3 may help reduce the swelling of the airways and kids with asthma who took fish oil displayed fewer symptoms. Although other studies have not proven that omega 3s can be used for the treatment of asthma.
Again, a lot of studies about omega 3 are still not conclusive and more research is needed to fully understand how omega 3 can be beneficial to our health.
Omega 3 For Young Adults
Young adults are relatively healthy compared to other age groups, but thinking ahead health-wise is always a good idea.
- Taking fatty fish, particularly fish oil, whether from food or supplements improves cardiovascular health. There is a lower rate of and a reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease for young adults who take a standard dose (one gram) of omega 3 from fish oil.
- There is promising evidence from studies of people who take higher doses of omega 3 having lower levels of certain cancers, like cancers of the breast, ovaries, prostate, esophagus, and colon among others.
- With regards to depression and other psychiatric conditions, omega 3s may also have beneficial effects on brain chemistry. Lower than normal levels of omega 3s have been linked to higher incidences of depression, in comparison with populations with healthier diets. Some studies have shown that fish oil boosts the effectiveness of antidepressants. Others show that omega 3s also help with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
The benefits of omega 3s to other health conditions are still being studied.
Omega 3 For the Middle-aged and the Old
People from this age group get the most benefits from omega 3s, especially since the risks for serious health conditions are higher for these people.
- The benefits from omega 3s for cardiovascular health are enormous. It has been shown that omega 3s help keep the heart rhythm steady. In healthy people, omega 3s help prevent cardiovascular diseases. Those with heart disease, on the other hand, have a reduced risk of complications and death. Fish oil, for example, can reduce the risk of heart-related death in people who have had heart attacks, slow down arteriosclerosis, and lower the risk of strokes.
- DHA and EPA, in particular, decrease triglyceride levels by 20% to 50%. The effectiveness depends on the dosage of omega 3s taken in, which should be recommended by a doctor.
- People with hypertension may have improved blood pressure levels from fish oil intake.
- Some studies have shown that high doses of omega 3 from fish oil may reduce some symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, including morning stiffness and pain. Taking high doses of omega 3 should always be doctor-supervised.
- Fish oil combined with calcium and primrose oil increase bone density and, therefore, may also be beneficial to people with osteoporosis.
- There is some evidence that older people may prevent memory loss and reduce the risk of dementia by having diets that are high in omega 3s.
Getting more omega 3
The best way to get omega 3s is to improve your diet.
There are many natural sources of omega 3s. DHA and EPA can be derived from fatty fish and krill oil. ALA is the fatty acid in plants and is broken down in the body into DHA and EPA. Some plant sources are flax, olive oil, and certain leafy greens, but they are not as effective. Food products that contain algae oil are also good sources of DHA.
Children and pregnant and breastfeeding women should get their omega 3s from smaller fatty fish, like salmon and trout, and should only consume a maximum of 12 ounces a week. They should be careful of toxin build up from the consumption of some seafood like shark, swordfish, and tilefish.
Omega 3 supplements and omega 3-fortified foods, such as certain milk products, juices, eggs, cooking oils, and breads, are also good options.
Supplements are beneficial especially for people who are not getting enough omega 3s from their diets. Omega 3 supplements are also safe, but people who have bleeding disorders or are on medication that affects bleeding should always consult a doctor first before taking any. For children, supplements are also safe and beneficial, but it is important that the dosage given is recommended by a doctor.
Omega 3 Is Not an Alternative Medicine
Omega 3 fatty acids are actually a complementary treatment, rather than an alternative treatment. They are most effective when working hand in hand with traditional medicine. Omega 3s are not replacements; but they often amplify the effects of prescription drugs which may allow you to take them in lower doses.
The intake of omega 3s as an alternative medicine should always be supervised by a doctor. How they are used and in what quantities are dependent on your overall health condition, especially if you have any predisposition to or already have certain medical problems.
The potential benefits of omega 3s certainly outweigh the low risks and getting more of them from our diet or from supplements, like an extra gram of fish oil, should not pose any problems.