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The Medical Benefits of Omega Fatty Acids

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The three most common types of omega fatty acids are omega 3, omega 6, and omega 9. Of these three, omega-3 fatty acids provide the most health benefits.

Omega-3 fatty acids are the polyunsaturated "good fats" found in various food sources. There are 11 types of omega-3 fatty acids, but the most beneficial for maintaining health are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). EPA and DHA are found in fatty fish, algae, and grass-fed dairy and meat products. The body cannot produce these essential fatty acids, so it is important to consume them for ideal health. Optimal benefits are reached from eating foods that are naturally rich in Omega-3 fatty acids at least twice a week.

To obtain the health benefits of Omega 3 acids, it is recommended to eat one of the following two to three times per week: Anchovies, herring, sturgeon, lake trout, tuna, salmon, bluefish, mackerel and/or sardines. Although various plant sources (for example, flaxseeds, walnuts, and chia seeds) are also beneficial to maintain good health, they are not the best source to obtain Omega-3s as they contain the alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) type of omega-3 which the body has to convert to EPA or DHA. Unfortunately, the body does not make this conversion efficiently to obtain good levels of omega 3s for the body to use.

When deciding what source of Omega 3s to include in a healthy diet, several things should be considered. Farm-raised fish often contain higher levels of contaminants than fish caught in the wild, and other fish, such as mackerel, wild swordfish, tilefish, and shark are often high in mercury. No more than 7 ounces of farm-raised fish should be consumed in any one week, and pregnant women and children should avoid these sources entirely.

If an individual does not eat Omega-3 rich foods on a regular basis, then supplements are often the next best choice. Omega-3 supplements are an inexpensive yet effective way to improve health. The most common type of omega-3 supplement is fish oil.

Omega-3 fatty acids provide numerous health benefits for both the brain and body. Due to the anti-inflammatory properties of Omega-3 acids, they are beneficial to the treatment of autoimmune diseases, such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and psoriasis. Because they also nourish the cells that line the intestinal tract, omega-3 fatty acids also help with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Additionally, Omega-3 acids benefit mental health and aid in the treatment of anxiety, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Alzheimer's disease, and mood swings associated with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. They also promote eye health, bone and joint health, and heart health (reducing cholesterol, high blood pressure, the risk of blood clots, plaque, and inflammation). Omega 3s help to reduce metabolic issues (belly fat, high triglycerides, low HDL levels, insulin resistance, and high blood pressure). They reduce the risk of certain cancers and asthma. They also reduce liver fat, menstrual pain, improve sleep, memory, and lung function, and aid in proper fetal development during pregnancy. Omega-3 supplements often boost the effectiveness of both anti-inflammatory and antidepressant medications.

Omega-3 supplements have few side effects but include indigestion and gas. Furthermore, bleeding issues are possible especially if combined with Coumadin, Plavix, Effient, Brilinta, and some NSAIDs.

Omega-6 fatty acids are found in soybean and corn oil, mayonnaise, walnuts, sunflower seeds, almonds, and cashews. Although omega-6 fatty acids are important to maintain good health (they support inflammation which helps the body fight acute infections), the typical western diet includes more than the recommended amount. It is important to note that omega-3 and omega-6 acids often work against each other (omega 3 reduces inflammation while omega 6 supports inflammation); if taking both as a supplement, the dosages will need to be adjusted accordingly.

Omega-9 fatty acids are found in various food sources, such as plant oils and nuts. They are considered "non-essential" as they are naturally produced by the body. They are typically used as energy.

A health care professional should be consulted before beginning an omega supplement regimen. Individuals should discuss all of their current medications, herbs, vitamins, and/or supplements with a physician in order to determine the correct dosage of omegas to promote optimal health.

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