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Essential Fatty Acids: What You Need to Know (Part 4)
February 9, 2009
This week, we conclude our series on essential fatty acids. (See the previous entries at "Essential Fatty Acids: What You Need to Know [Part 1]," "Part 2," and "Part 3.") I hope that this information hasn’t been too technical for you. However, you don’t always read or hear about such things as essential fatty acids in the newspaper or on television, so my thought is that this has been an interesting topic.
We’ve looked at one of the two groups of essential fatty acids, the omega-6 fatty acids. This week, we’ll focus on the omega-3 fatty acids. Back in April of 2007, I wrote about omega-3 fatty acids (see “Fabulous Fish Oil Findings: Part 1,” “Part 2,” and “Part 3″), so I’ll try not to repeat myself too much here. (However, a review is often a good thing!).
Omega-3’s: What Do They Do?
You probably know that omega-3 fats may help lower the risk of heart disease. These essential fatty acids do so by preventing arrhythmias, decreasing the risk of blood clots, lowering triglyceride (blood fat) levels, slowing the growth of plaque inside artery walls, decreasing inflammation, and lowering blood pressure. Maybe these should be renamed omega-3 miracle fatty acids!
What you may not know, though, are some of the other important roles of omega-3 fats in the body, which include treating rheumatoid arthritis, improving inflammatory bowel diseases (Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis), and helping to manage asthma, depression, and schizophrenia. Please realize that the point is not to stop taking your asthma medicine, for example, but that including more omega-3’s from food sources or from supplements may help alleviate some symptoms of these disorders.
Are Omega-3’s From Plants As Good As Those From Fish?
Unfortunately, certain factors can hinder the conversion process. These factors include a diet high in saturated and trans fat and cholesterol, alcohol, lack of adequate calories and protein, and a deficiency in certain nutrients such as zinc, copper, magnesium and calcium.
Also, it seems that people with diabetes may have a harder time converting ALA to EPA and DHA, too. A safe bet, then, is to take an omega-3 fatty acid supplement, especially if your diet is lacking in seafood. If you’re a vegetarian and taking fish in any form is not an option for you, just be sure to include sources of ALA in your diet every day, such as walnuts, flax seed, flax seed oil, soybeans, tofu, olive oil, and canola oil. Some other foods may contain omega-3 fatty acids, such as omega-3 fatty acid-enriched eggs, fortified margarines, some yogurts, some salad dressings, and hemp-fortified cereals.
Some good news about plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids: They may help promote and protect bone health by impeding the breakdown of bone, which may help reduce the chances of osteoporosis.
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