Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega fatty acids, which include omega-3, omega-6, and omega-9 fatty acids, are considered "good" fats. They play a critical role in the formation of cell membranes, proper brain development and function, and the regulation of various body functions including blood pressure, immune responses, and inflammation.

Omega-3 fatty acids are the most difficult of the fatty acids to acquire, but they play a critical role in cognitive and behavioral function. Infants who do not get enough omega-3 fatty acids from their mothers during pregnancy are at risk for developing vision and nerve problems. Omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation and help lower the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and arthritis.

Maintaining the proper balance of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids is important for good health. Although experts disagree on what that balance should be, most believe we should be getting somewhere in the neighborhood of a 3-to-1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. Most Americans get closer to a 20-to-1 ratio. This excessive intake of omega-6 causes inflammation and many chronic conditions that result from such inflammation.

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

It is difficult to get too much omega-3 fatty acids from natural food sources, but taking supplemental omega-3 in doses exceeding 3 grams per day may put you at risk of excessive bleeding or hemorrhagic stroke. This is especially true for people who suffer from a bleeding disorder or who take blood-thinning medications.

Omega-3 fatty acids are necessary for the production of omega-9 fatty acids. If you suffer from an omega-3 deficiency, you may also be low in omega-9s.

See also Fats.

Health Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Blood Prevents excessive blood clotting.
Concentration/Learning Required for proper brain development in the fetus and through childhood. A deficiency can lead to an inability to focus and concentrate.
Eyes/Vision May reduce the risk of glaucoma. Numerous studies have shown an association between Omega-3s and a reduced risk of age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of vision loss in older people.
Hair A deficiency can lead to brittle, dull hair.
Heart Reduces risk of coronary disease by reducing the amount of cholesterol in the bloodstream, and preventing hardening of the arteries.
Hormone Balance Helps maintain hormone balance.
Joints Reduce inflammation that causes joint pain.
Memory Reduces future risk of memory loss and dementia.
Mood A deficiency can cause depression, especially in pregnant women because the fetus will take all available Omega-3s for brain development.
Nails A deficiency can lead to brittle nails.
Sexual Function Stimulate the production of sex hormones.
Skin A deficiency can cause dry itchy skin.
Weight Loss Reduces risk of obesity. Helps regulate food intake, body weight, and metabolism.

Food Sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Flax Seed Oil 7196 mg N/A Long touted as one of the best non-animal sources of Omega-3 fatty acids.
Flax Seeds 3194 mg N/A
Walnuts 2565 mg N/A Contain a healthy ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids.
Black Olives N/A N/A
Hemp N/A N/A Contains a healthy ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids.