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. 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.
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. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish (particularly fatty fish such as mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna, and salmon) at least 2 times a week.
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), and 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 arthritis. 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.
It is important to maintain an appropriate balance of omega-3 and omega-6 (another essential fatty acid) in the diet, as these two substances work together to promote health. Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce inflammation, and most omega-6 fatty acids tend to promote inflammation. An inappropriate balance of these essential fatty acids contributes to the development of disease while a proper balance helps maintain and even improve health. A healthy diet should consist of roughly 1 - 4 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids. The typical American diet tends to contain 10 - 30 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids, and many researchers believe this imbalance is a significant factor in the rising rate of inflammatory disorders in the United States.
In contrast, however, the Mediterranean diet consists of a healthier balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, and many studies have shown that people who follow this diet are less likely to develop heart disease. The Mediterranean diet does not include much meat (which is high in omega-6 fatty acids) and emphasizes foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, including whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, olive oil, garlic, as well as moderate wine consumption.
However, it's important to remember not all fish oil supplements are created equal. Some fish oil supplements contain contaminated fish oil and could be harmful to your health. By buying fish oil supplements that are high in omega-3 but molecularly distilled for highest purity without toxicity, you'll be getting all of the benefits of Omega 3 without the harmful effects of toxins.