Foods like avocado, oily fish, and flaxseeds are often touted as being good for your health because they contain “healthy fats”.
These healthy fats include omega-3 fatty acids.
There is actually plenty of evidence to support these claims, with researchers discovering numerous health benefits associated with omega-3 consumption.
In this article, we’ll explain what omega-3 fatty acids are and share a few of the best health benefits of omega-3s.
What are Omega-3 fatty acids?
Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat.
They are considered an important nutrient as they are needed to form cell membranes in the human body.
Omega-3 fatty acids are also an “essential” nutrient, which means the human body cannot synthesise them internally — they must be obtained through diet.
There are three main types of omega-3 fatty acids:
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
EPA and DHA are found in fish, which is why they are often referred to as marine omega-3s.
ALA is found in vegetable oils, flax seeds, nuts, leafy vegetables, and certain types of animal fat.
ALA is the most common source of omega-3 fatty acids for people eating a Western diet.
The human body can use fatty acids as energy for muscles and other organs.
They are also used as building blocks for cell membranes and for storing energy.
When fatty acids aren’t used by the body, they will be converted into triglycerides.
A triglyceride is a type of molecule consisting of three fatty acids and a glycerol compound.
Once in this form, they can be stored in the body’s fat tissue.
What are the health benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids?
Omega-3 fatty acids can reduce the risk of heart disease
Multiple studies have found that consumption of omega-3 fatty acids can reduce the risk of heart disease.
The earliest studies were performed decades ago, when researchers discovered that people living in communities that consumed lots of fish had lower incidences of heart disease.
They soon realised that the high levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their diets were responsible for this phenomena.
Since then, researchers have discovered that many other heart health benefits come from eating more omega-3 fatty acids.
Blood pressure reduction
Multiple studies have confirmed that consuming foods high in omega-3 fatty acids can reduce diastolic blood pressure.
Lower risk of atherosclerosis
Atherosclerosis occurs when plaque builds up in the arteries.
This restricts blood flow, causing increased blood pressure and putting more strain on the heart muscle.
Omega-3 fatty acids have been proven to prevent plaque from holding onto arterial walls, reducing the risk of atherosclerosis.
Several studies have found that omega-3s reduce the production of compounds that are released during the body’s inflammatory response.
Reducing the production of these substances reduces inflammation and keeps the heart healthy.
Lower risk of blood clots
Having a high level of omega-3 fatty acids in the blood stream can prevent blood platelets clumping together and forming dangerous clots.
More good cholesterol and less bad cholesterol
Omega-3 fatty acids include the levels of HDL cholesterol (“good” cholesterol).
It can also reduce the levels of LDL cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol) in some people.
Omega-3 fatty acids can reduce inflammation
Inflammation is a natural process that occurs in response to an infection or injury.
However, certain health conditions and lifestyle choices can cause inflammation to become chronic (long-term).
When chronic inflammation occurs, the risk of diseases like cancer and heart disease increases dramatically.
Researchers have found that omega-3 consumption can decrease production of certain substances linked to inflammation, including eicosanoids and cytokines.
Many other studies have observed a link between omega-3 consumption and inflammation reduction.
By consuming more omega-3s and reducing inflammation, the likelihood of contracting one of these chronic diseases is reduced.
Omega-3s may make bones and joints healthier
Millions of people living in the United Kingdom suffer from arthritis and osteoporosis.
Omega-3 fatty acids may help to combat osteoporosis by increasing the amount of calcium in the bones, which improves their strength.
Multiple studies have found that omega-3 helps to treat arthritis by reducing pain.
Omega-3 fatty acids are good for your skin
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) provides the cell membranes that are essential for creating healthy skin cells.
Omega-3s supports eyes health
DHA is required to support the structure of the eye.
Failing to obtain enough of this important nutrient may lead to vision problems occurring.
Researchers have also found that obtaining plenty of omega-3 fatty acids can reduce the risk of macular degeneration.
Omega-3 fatty acids can protect against autoimmune conditions
Autoimmune conditions occur when the immune system mistakes the cells in your body as being foreign cells that need to be attacked.
There are many types of autoimmune conditions including type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and Graves’ disease.
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