THE BENEFITS OF OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS
WHAT ARE OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS?
Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of essential polyunsaturated fat, meaning that they must be obtained from your diet since the human body cannot make them. This type of fat gets its name from the structure of the fatty acid molecule. The first double bond in the chemical structure is located at the third carbon molecule, hence the name omega-3.
There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids: ALA, EPA and DHA. ALA is found in nuts and seeds such as hemp seeds, flaxseeds, chia seeds and walnuts. EPA and DHA are mainly found in fatty fish such as salmon and tuna but can also be found in algae. Since a vegan diet restricts animal products, it is recommended to eat a diet rich in nuts and seeds and take a vegan algae oil supplement that contains EPA and DHA.
IMPORTANCE OF OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS
Omega-3 fatty acids play many important roles in the body: maintaining cell membrane integrity, helping to reduce blood pressure and triglyceride levels, balancing hormones and providing anti-inflammatory effects.
Since omega-3 fatty acids are considered anti-inflammatory, there is evidence to suggest that they help reduce the risk of heart disease and improve overall heart health. It is also suggested that they can reduce the risk of some cancers. It is recommended for most pregnant women to take a DHA supplement, as it aids in brain and nerve development in the fetus. There is also some literature to support omega-3 intake for the prevention of Alzheimer's and dementia.
THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN OMEGA-3 AND OMEGA-6
Omega-6 is another essential polyunsaturated fatty acid that should be consumed in your diet. It is vital for proper brain function and development. Additionally, it helps regulate your metabolism, maintains bone health and the reproductive system, and stimulates hair and skin growth. There is research to show that omega-6 may be beneficial in the following disease states: rheumatoid arthritis, diabetic neuropathy, certain allergies, eczema, osteoporosis, etc.
These fatty acids can be found in corn, peanuts, soybean oil, nuts, whole-grain bread and some seeds.
It is important to note that even though omega-6 fatty acids are essential, some possess pro-inflammatory properties. It is reported that chronic diseases (such as cardiovascular disease) are associated with a chronic state of inflammation, which could be partially due to an over-consumption of omega-6 with an inadequate intake of omega-3.
Since omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties, it is important to balance the intake of both to help prevent adverse side effects. It is suggested that a proper omega-6 to omega-3 ratio is between 1:1 and 1:4.
Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are required from your diet since your body does not synthesize them. They are important for your body to function properly. Without them, you are at increased risk of adverse health effects and essential fatty acid deficiency.
Keep in mind that even though omega-3 is anti-inflammatory, it does not mean that it should be the only essential fatty acid consumed. Omega-6 fatty acids are just as important in the body. You need to be mindful that the ratio between the two is balanced.
While following a plant-based diet, you may need to supplement these essential fatty acids depending on what foods you are consuming.