(NaturalHealth365) Many people wonder ‘why are omega-3 fats so important’ for human health? For starters, omega-3 fats are dietary essentials that need to be supplied in the diet on a regular basis. The human body has a remarkable ability to synthesize fats including cholesterol from the raw materials supplied in the diet. But, omega-3 fats are the only kind of fat that our body cannot produce endogenously, hence they are called essential fatty acids.
Understanding the importance of omega-3 fats for optimal health
Omega 3 fats are termed essential because they are necessary to perform critical functions in the body. Omega-3 fats belong to the family of polyunsaturated fats that participate directly and indirectly to bodily functions ranging from hormone synthesis to cognitive function.
Here are some of the more important ways these fat help to promote health:
The cellular component: Omega-3’s form the structural framework of every cell and influence the function of the cell receptors in the cell membranes.
Hormone synthesis: They trigger the production of important hormones that help in reproduction, balancing inflammatory and anti-inflammatory reactions, blood clotting, contraction and relaxation of blood vessels.
Cognitive health: Omega-3 fats are present in higher percentages within the brain versus any other organ. Your memory and brain performance are dependent on omega-3.
Cardiac health: Omega-3 fats have a reputation for promoting healthy heart by promoting decreased inflammatory reactions, lowering high blood pressure and improving blood circulation. In fact, there are plenty of clinical studies to prove that omega-3 fats are good for the entire cardiovascular system.
Other health conditions: Omega-3 fats are also helpful in improving conditions such as stroke, eczema, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and may also have a protective role in preventing cancer.
There are three types of omega- 3 fats – eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).
EPA is the short form of eicosapentaenoic acid and helps to decrease high cholesterol and reduces the risk of heart problems. Excellent dietary sources of these fats are the wild-caught fish, and marine cold water fish. The fish that consume underwater plants tend to produce higher amounts of essential fatty acids within their tissues – which is why they are a good source of omega-3.
Food sources of EPA include most cold water fish and shell fish like krill. Other examples include mackerel, herring, salmon, sardines, tuna and tilapia. Plant sources include certain types of micro-algae and seaweed.
DHA is the abbreviated form of docosahexaenoic acid and is a predominant fat in brain tissues and also concentrated in the retina of the eye. It plays a role in memory and cognitive ability. It is also a part of every nerve cell, therefore responsible for cell to cell signaling and other crucial nervous system tasks.
Food sources of DHA include most cold water fish. Fresh water fish, tilapia and cat fish are poor sources of DHA. But, algae sources and certain types of seaweeds are excellent (vegan) sources of DHA.
DHA is popular for decreasing the risk of learning abilities and attention deficit hyperactive disorder in children.
ALA is converted to EPA and DHA by our body given the right dietary sources and when the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 ratio is at the ideal level of 1:1 or 1: 2. However, due to poor dietary habits, the conversion of ALA to EPA and DHA does not always take place in an efficient manner.
Food sources of ALA include plant sources like flax seed, pumpkin seeds, flax seed oil, perilla seed oil, walnuts, walnut oil and tofu.
Generally speaking, for those suffering with heart disease, it is advised to consume about one gram of EPA and DHA per day. When considering fish oil supplements for EPA and DHA, always consult your doctor – especially if you have heart troubles.
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1. Leaf A. Prevention of sudden cardiac death by n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. J Cardiovasc Med.(Hagerstown). 2007; 8 Suppl 1:S27-29.
2. American Heart Association, Questions on ”better” fats, Nutrition Center. Updated May 6 2013
3. Angerer P, von Schacky C. n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and the cardiovascular system. Curr Opin Lipidol. 2000;11(1):57-63.
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