Omega-3 fatty acids are a family of healthy polyunsaturated fats with numerous health benefits. These fats are important for the maintenance of healthy cell membranes and contribute to the production of hormones that regulate blood clotting, inflammation and the contraction and relaxation of artery walls.
Two of the most important types of omega-3 fatty acids are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Studies show that these fatty acids can help prevent heart disease, heart attack and cancer, and help treat mood disorders like depression.
Conversely, omega-3 deficiency can expose you to a greater risk of these age-related diseases. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats, which means the body is unable to produce them. Read the evidence below to learn more about the pitfalls of omega-3 deficiency.
Omega-3 fatty acids for age-related diseases
The modern American diet is heavy with processed foods, and this causes people to consume more omega-6 fatty acids – another family of essential fats – and not enough omega 3 fatty acids. A high ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 is associated with an increased risk of various health issues, including increased heart disease risk factors, metabolic syndrome, obesity and inflammation.
By consuming too much of one and not enough of the other, one can miss out on the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. In fact, studies show that some people who experience depression and other mood disorders may not have enough EPA and DHA in their bodies. In a 2004 review, people with minor depression, postpartum depression and suicidal thoughts were found to have lower levels of EPA and DHA.
Another study, published in 2009, suggests that EPA may be beneficial for mental health patients. Researchers reviewed three studies that used EPA to treat recurrent major depression and bipolar depression in adults and children. Most of the participants who took EPA showed significant improvements compared to those who took a placebo.
Other studies also support taking omega-3 fatty acids to prevent cardiovascular disease and cancer. In a 2019 review, researchers found that people who took omega-3 fish oil supplements had a lower risk of heart attack, death from coronary heart disease and other cardiovascular events than those who took a placebo. The researchers added that higher doses of omega-3 fish oil supplements provided the greatest benefit. (Related: Omega-3 fatty acids naturally protect cardiac tissue after a heart attack.)
In a 2018 study of female mice, researchers suggested that omega-3 fatty acids may slow down the growth and spread of breast cancer cells. The researchers injected mice with an aggressive type of breast cancer cells and fed them with a liquid diet rich in either omega-3 or omega-6 fatty acids.
After more than a month, the researchers found that the tumors in the mice who had the omega-3-rich diet were 50 percent smaller than the mice who had the omega-6 diet. Some of the omega-3 mice never seemed to have developed breast cancer, and others survived longer than those on the omega-6 diet.
Boost your intake of omega-3 fatty acids
EPA and DHA are mainly found in fatty fish, seafood and fish oil supplements. However, you can also boost your intake by consuming foods rich in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), another type of omega-3 fatty acids. Your body can convert ALA into EPA and then into DHA.
Recommended amounts for omega-3 fatty acids have not yet been established except for ALA. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends taking between 1,100 and 1,600 milligrams (mg) of omega 3 fatty acids per day for adult men and women.
Keep in mind that only small amounts of ALA get converted into EPA and DHA, so you might need to consume more than the recommended amounts. Studies suggest that taking 1,000 to 4,000 mg of DHA plus EPA daily confer the greatest benefit.
Learn more about the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids at FishOils.news.