Omega-3 fatty acids are important for your health

Omega-3 fish oil capsules
©J Oterhals
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For older adults these essential fatty acids may have important health benefits related to cardiovascular health, rheumatoid arthritis and possibly other chronic illnesses.

Omega-3 fatty acids, also known as polyunsaturated fatty acids, are necessary for human health in many ways. For older adults in particular, these essential fatty acids may have important health benefits related to cardiovascular health, rheumatoid arthritis and possibly other chronic illnesses.

Health benefits for young and old

While essential for people of every age – including in growth and development – research has shown that Omega-3 fatty acids have a beneficial impact on two, and possibly more, health issues which affect older people:

Cardiovascular health
Omega-3 can lower elevated triglyceride levels which raise the risk for heart disease. Eating a diet high in fish that contain omega-3 fatty acids appears to decrease the risk of stroke. Some studies have also shown that Omega-3 fatty acids may have a modest effect on blood pressure, and may be beneficial in people with circulatory problems such as varicose veins.

Rheumatoid Arthritis
Studies have shown that fish oil supplements can help reduce joint pain and stiffness and may also boost the effectiveness of anti-inflammatory drugs.

Although not conclusive, some research also indicates that foods with high levels of omega-3 or supplements may have beneficial effects on depression as well as memory, cognitive, and behavioral function. Studies are also being done on the role of these essential fatty acids in osteoporosis, asthma, certain cancers and other disorders.

Symptoms of Omega-3 fatty acid deficiency include fatigue, poor memory, dry skin, heart problems, mood swings or depression, and poor circulation.

Ensure a daily diet rich in Omega-3

Unlike vitamin D, which is made in the body upon the skin’s exposure to sunlight, the body can’t make Omega-3. Instead it is sourced from specific foods that we eat.

There are two major types of omega-3 fatty acids in our diets:

1.  Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is found in some vegetable oils, such as soybean, rapeseed (canola), and flaxseed. It is also found in walnuts, soy and mungo beans and in green vegetables such as kale, brussels sprouts, spinach, and salad greens.

2.  Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), is found in fatty fish such as salmon, lake trout, herring, tuna, sardines and halibut, as well as in other seafood including algae and krill.

It is preferable to get omega-3 fatty acids from foods rather than supplements, since these offer other good nutrients such as protein, vitamins and minerals.  Because fish is also often high in mercury and other environmental toxins, it may be advisable to obtain more Omega 3 from plant sources than from fish sources. People who can’t get enough omega-3 fatty acids should consider taking fish oil supplements but should consult their doctors to determine what dose they should be taking. 

Whether you are interested in promoting heart health, relieving pain due to arthritis, or simply ensuring overall health, you should be aware of the benefits of Omega-3 for your health. By planning a diet that is rich is vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes, as well as regular servings of healthy fish, you can obtain the benefits of these essential fatty acids.

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