Omega-3 fatty acids are considered essential fatty acids. They are essential to human health but cannot be manufactured by the body. For this reason, omega-3 fatty acids must be obtained from food.Also known as polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), omega-3 fatty acids play a crucial role in brain function as well as normal growth and development.
There are three major types of omega 3 fatty acids that are ingested in foods and used by the body:
- alpha-linolenic acid (ALA),
- eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA),
- docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
Once eaten, the body converts ALA to EPA and DHA, the two types of omega-3 fatty acids more readily used by the body. Extensive research indicates that omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation and help prevent risk factors associated with
- chronic diseases such as heart disease,
- cancer, and
These essential fatty acids are highly concentrated in the brain and appear to be particularly important for cognitive (brain memory and performance) and behavioral function.
In fact, infants who do not get enough omega-3 fatty acids from their mothers during pregnancy are at risk for developing vision and nerve problems.
Symptoms of omega-3 fatty acid deficiency include
- extreme tiredness (fatigue),
- poor memory,
- dry skin,
- heart problems,
- mood swings or depression,
- and poor circulation
Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in
- fish, such as salmon, tuna, and halibut, other marine life such as algae and krill,certain plants (including purslane), and nut oils
American heart association recommends eating fish (particularly fatty fish) at least two times a week. Fish is a good source of protein and doesnâ€™t have the high saturated fat that fatty meat products do. Fatty fish like mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna and salmon are high in two kinds of omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
AHA also recommend eating tofu and other forms of soybeans, canola, walnut and flaxseed, and their oils. These contain alpha-linolenic acid (LNA), which can become omega-3 fatty acid in the body. The extent of this modification is modest and controversial, however. More studies are needed to show a cause-and-effect relationship between alpha-linolenic acid and heart disease.