Omega-3 fatty acids have been getting a lot of attention as more people become aware of the many health benefits they provide.
Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat, and they are essential to good health. The three major types of omega-3 fatty acids are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).
DHA and EPA have plenty of health benefits. They help keep the brain, heart and immune system healthy. They improve blood vessel functioning and lower blood pressure. They reduce triglycerides (a type of fat found in the blood). They reduce inflammation and pain in joints and other areas of the body. They help regulate blood sugar levels and reduce insulin resistance. They improve fat metabolism and increase fat burning during exercise.
There's also strong evidence that DHA and EPA may reduce the risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer's disease, may help in the treatment of ADHD and depression, and may help prevent age-related macular degeneration (an eye disorder).
The health benefits of ALA are not as well documented as the health benefits of DHA and EPA. There's evidence that ALA improves heart health and reduces inflammation in the body, but more studies and research are needed in order to determine what other potential health benefits ALA might provide.
Also, because the body can partially convert ALA into DHA and EPA, it's not yet known if ALA has substantial health benefits as is, or whether it must be converted to DHA and EPA to produce most of its health benefits. There's also the issue of just how effective the conversion of ALA into DHA and EPA is, as the conversion process is highly affected by factors such as age, gender and diet.
The best sources of DHA and EPA are fatty fish, such as salmon, sardines and mackerel, and fish oil. The best sources of ALA are flaxseeds and flaxseed oil, walnuts, soybeans and soybean oil.
Many people are deficient in omega-3 fatty acids without realizing it since the symptoms are often attributed to other health conditions or nutrient deficiencies. Symptoms of omega-3 deficiency include cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, fatigue, frequent colds, poor concentration, mood swings and depression, joint pain, brittle hair and nails, and dry skin.
Many people are turning to fish oil supplements for their DHA and EPA as an alternative to eating fish. This is because of the risk of fish being contaminated by mercury, PCBs and other environmental toxins. There's also no way to be sure that the fish you're eating contains enough DHA and/or EPA to ensure maximum health benefits. The highest quality fish oil supplements contain no contaminants and contain high concentrations of DHA and EPA.
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In conclusion, now that you understand just how important omega-3 fatty acids are, make sure that they're a regular part of your diet.