OMEGA: THE GOOD FAT
You’re often advised to cut the fat, but not all fats are unhealthy. Omega-3 fatty acids seem to have far-reaching health benefits. Studies show they help lower the risk of heart disease. They may also protect against symptoms of depression, dementia, cancer, and arthritis. Omega -3s are found is salmons, nuts, leafy greens, and more – but the health benefits can differ greatly depending on the source.
THE OMEGA-3 ALPHABET
Omega-3 fatty acids come in more than one form. Those found in fish, called DHA and EPA, seem to have the strongest health benefits. One form known as ALA is found in vegetable oils, flaxseed, walnut, and dark leafy vegetables like spinach. The body converts a small amount of ALA into EDA and DHA, and ALA also carries some of its own health benefits.
HOW OMEGA-3 FIGHTS DISEASE
It is believed they do this by reducing inflammation in the blood vessels, joints and elsewhere in the body. The risk for an abnormal heart rhythm is also reduced, as are unhealthy fats in the bloodstream. They slow the rate of plaque build-up in blood vessels. Omega 3s must come from our diet; our bodies can’t make them.
OMEGA-3 and HEART DEATHS
Omega-3s may lower the risk of death from heart disease, if you’ve has a previous heart attack. Studies demonstrate a reduction in heart attacks and sudden death among heart survivors who increase their levels of omega-3s. This includes those who take fish oil supplements and those who regularly eat fatty fish, such as salmon.
OMEGA-3s and ARRHYTHMIAS
These fatty acids seem to stabilize the heart. They can lower heart rate and reduce the risk of life-threatening arrhythmias or abnormal heart rhythms. Several common sources of Omega-3s include fish, walnut, broccoli, green soybeans that are often steamed and severed in the pot.
OMEGA -3s and TRIGLYCERIDES
Omega -3s can lower your level of triglycerides, a type of fat in your blood that is linked to heart disease. Triglycerides collect in the bloodstream and in the body’s fat cells. Unfortunately, Omega -3s increase cholesterol – both the “good” (HDL), and “bad” (LDL) kinds. People with high triglycerides should consult with doc before consuming omega-3, although eating more omega-3 rich fish is generally safe.
OMEGA-3 and HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE
Studies support evidence that omega-3s lower blood pressure. This is a small effect, though. If you have high blood pressure, eating fish may help you along with other dieting changes and medication, as doc would recommend. One strategy might be to replace red meat with fish during some meals. But try to avoid salty fish, such as any smoked variety.
OMEGA-3 and STROKE
The evidence is mixed on whether omega-3 can help prevent strokes. It reduces plaque build-up in blood vessels and has anti-clotting effects, so it may prevent ischemic strokes, those caused by clots or a blockage in the arteries. At very high doses, omega-3 supplements might increase the risk of hemorrhagic strokes, that more commonly found in hypertensive, lower socio-economic groups.
OMEGA-3 and RHEUMATOID ARTHRITIS
Studies suggest that omega-3s can reduce joint pain and stiffness in people with rheumatoid arthritis. High levels of omega-3s in the diet may also boost the effectiveness of anti-inflammatory drugs.
OMEGA-3 and DEPRESSION
Omega-3 fatty acids may help smooth out mood disorders and make antidepressants more effective. Results of studies so far have been mixed, though. Countries with high levels of omega-3 in the typical diet have lower levels of depression. More studies are needed but so far, the evidence is convincing.
OMEGA-3 and ADHA
Omega-3 supplements may ease the symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). For sure omega-3 fatty acids are important in brain function and development. Evidence is not conclusive, and a diet supplement can’t offer a cure-all for ADHA, but omega-3s may provide some added benefits to traditional treatment.
Omega-3 and DEMENTIA
We’re not entirely unanimous on this one, but some evidence suggests that omega-3s may protect against dementia and improve mental function. One study showed older people with a diet high in omega-s fatty acids had a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. More research is necessary to confirm the link.
OMEGA-3 and CANCER
The risk of colon cancer, breast cancer, and advanced prostate cancer may be reduced, but more research is required. The American Cancer Society recommends a diet that includes fish, but they stop short of endorsing omega-3 supplements for cancer prevention.
OMEGA-3 and CHILDREN
Be careful of promises that omega-3s have brain boosting powers for children. The FTC asked supplement companies to stop that claim unless they can scientifically prove it. Pediatricians do recommend that kids eat more fish, as long as it’s not breaded and fried. They also caution against types of fish that are high in mercury, such as shark, swordfish, and king mackerel.
OMEGA-3: CATCH OF THE DAY
The best source of these is fish, though some varieties give a higher dose than others. Top choices are salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, lake trout, anchovies and tuna. The American Heart Association recommends at least two servings a week of fish, which is 3.5 ounces of cooked fish or ¾ cup of flaked fish.
DANGERS OF CONTAMINATED FISH
Mercury in fish is not a health concern for most people. But the FDA has this advice for pregnant women, nursing mothers, and young children:
• Limit albacore tuna to 6 ounces/week
• Limit fish lower in mercury to 12 ounces/week
• Avoid shark, swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish
Don’t like fish? You can get omega-3 from supplements. One gram per day is the amount recommended for people with cardiovascular disease. At high levels, omega-3 can increase the risk of bleeding and may interfere with some medications. Fish oil may also deplete Vitamin E. Consult the doc before taking omega-3 supplements.
OMEGA-3 for VEGETARIANS
If you don’t like fish or fish oil, get a dose of DHA from algae supplements. Commercially grown algae is generally considered safe, though blue green algae in the wild can contain toxins. Vegetarians also can get the ALA version of omega-3 from foods such as canola oil, flaxseed, walnuts, broccoli, and spinach – or products fortified with omega-3.
AVOIDING THE OMEGA-3 HYPE
Many food products now boast that they have added omega-3 to support various aspects of your health. But be aware that the amount of omega-3 they contain may be minimal. They may contain the ALA form of omega-3, which hasn’t yet shown the same health benefits of EPA and DHA. For a measured dose of omega-3, taking fish oil supplements may be more reliable.
OMEGA-6: THE OTHER HEALTHY FAT
Omega-6 is another healthy fat. Research suggests it may protect against heart disease, especially when eaten in place of less healthy fats. The AHA recommends getting up to 10% of your total daily calories from omega-6 fats, which are found in vegetable oils and nuts. And now for some good news – most Americans and others already get enough omega-6 in their diet, thanks to cooking oils and salad dressings.
See you next week.
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