When you go shopping in the grocery store, you have probably seen foods advertising their specific nutritional benefits. One of the most common claims in oils, granola bars, and nuts, is their Omega-3 fatty acid content. It might make you reach for it and put it into your cart because of all of the information bouncing around about how it is good for your heart health. The benefits of Omega-3 go far beyond heart health. Their regular consumption may even help prevent a series of serious health complications over the course of your lifetime.
Omega-3 fatty acids have a long list of benefits for you at different life stages. Do you know exactly how they can benefit you?
What are Omega-3s?
Omega-3s are polyunsaturated fatty acids found generally in a oil form at room temperature. Due to their outstanding beneficial properties, the most researched types of Omega-3 fatty acids are alpha-linolenic fatty acids (known as ALA), docosahexaenoic acid (known as DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). ALA is a fatty acid found in some plant oils like flaxseed oil, canola oil, soy oil, and walnut oils, as well as in whole flaxseed and chia. DHA and EPA are found almost exclusively in seafood, though some algae have been found to also contain significant sources of DHA. All three of these fatty acids are known as essential fatty acids, since the body cannot make them and, thus, they must be consumed in the foods we eat.
How does Omega-3 benefit you at different stages in life?
During Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
DHA and EPA have been found to be very important for brain and eye development of the fetus and infant. At these stages in their lives, fetuses and infants, are dependent solely on the mother for their nourishment, so it is important for pregnant women to get enough DHA and EPA in their diet, either through eating fish, or through taking Omega-3 DHA and EPA supplements.
Evidence shows that the children of women who supplement with DHA and EPA during pregnancy and lactation have or possibly have:
- Improved problem-solving capacity
- Supported brain and eye development and function.
- A healthy heart support.
- Improved immune system and response to inflammation.
- Reduced risk of allergies.
- Reduced risk of asthma.
In addition, the benefits to pregnant mothers may be:
- Prevention of preterm labor and delivery.
- Lower risk of preeclampsia.
- Increased birth weight.
- Lower risk of post-partum depression.
Most pregnant women do not get enough Omega-3 in their diet, since many do not have easy access to or avoid consuming fish due to dietary restrictions. If this is your case and you are thinking of becoming pregnant, it is important to talk to your doctor about the possibility of taking a supplement.
During adolescence and throughout adulthood, Omega-3 consumption continues to be important for heart, brain and eye health. Additionally, consuming Omega-3 may have some benefits beyond these previously mentioned:
- One study showed how Omega-3 deficiency is linked to mood problems in adolescents.
- Healthy Omega-3 consumption contributes to healthy brain and personality development.
- Supplementation with Omega-3 may be useful for the treatment of depression.
- Healthy intake improves memory in young adults.
Throughout adulthood, Omega-3 fatty acids continue to be important for overall health. Healthy consumption is connected to:
- Memory support in adults 55 years and older
- Prevention of mental illnesses associated with older age such as Alzheimer’s, dementia, and personality disorders
- Decreased risk of repeated heart attacks
- Lower triglyceride levels
- A possible reduction in rheumatoid arthritis pain
- Higher hip bone density
Fats used to have a bad reputation, and, according to popular belief, they were to be avoided if you wanted to lose weight. Omega-3 fatty acids have helped change public perceptions about fats. Research about ALA, DHA and EPA has demonstrated the many benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids in all stages of life. In fact, cutting it out could have a detrimental effect on your health. It is important to choose foods (and fats) wisely, learn to read labels, and talk to your doctor about the possibility of taking a supplement if you feel you aren’t getting what you need from your diet.
CATEGORIES: Diet, Omega-3, Health Benefits, Nutrition, Fatty Acids