What Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids?

Omega-3 essential fatty acids are used by every cell in the human body to make the hormones it needs to keep inflammation in check. These eicosanoid hormones keep the immune system from attacking healthy tissues.

These essential fatty acids stop processes in the brain that contribute to depression, paranoia, and schizophrenia. They stabilize the linings of arteries so that hardened cholesterol plaques don't rupture, and they may play a role in preventing or treating diabetes, Parkinson's disease, cardiac arrest, and cancer.

As important as omega-3 fatty acids are to human health, they are just half of the fatty acids essential to human health. We all also need omega-6 fatty acids, the molecules that make the hormones that perform the opposite function.

Balance between Omega-6 and Omega-3 is critical

The problem is, however, that we usually get far more omega-6's than omega-3's in our diet. Most of us need to reduce omega-6 consumption and increase omega-3.

Healthy Ways to Get Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Several plant oils are great sources of the omega-3 essential fatty acid known as alpha-linolenic acid. The human body converts alpha-linolenic acid into two other omega-3 essential fatty acids, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosahexaenoic acid (EPA).

Women's bodies have especially active conversion enzymes for making DHA when they are pregnant, since DHA is essential to the development of the fetal brain.

Some of the plant oils that can easily provide you with all the omega-3 essential fatty acids you need are flaxseed oil, walnut oil, and a kind of oil that is much more common in China and Japan than in the rest of the world, perilla seed oil.

Problem with Plant Oils

There's just one problem with using these healthy plant oils. Except for flaxseed oil, they contain much more omega-6 fat than omega-3 fat. And even flaxseed oil contains just a little more than 50 per cent omega-3's.

Getting healthy amounts of omega-3 fatty acids is not just about how much omega-3 you get, it is also about how much omega-6 you get. It doesn't do you a lot of good for your body to have a little omega-3 fat to make anti-inflammatory hormones when it has a tremendous amount of omega-6 fat that it will turn into pro-inflammatory hormones.

You might be able to get the right balance of omega-6 and omega-3 if you follow a low-fat, mostly vegetarian diet and use a lot of flaxseed oil, but it's much, much easier-and requires consuming fewer calories-to use omega-3 fatty acid supplements.

Two Healthy Forms of Omega-3's

There are two good ways to your omega-3 essential fatty acids. One is to use high-quality fish oil. A good quality fish oil is encapsulated, and it provides at least 600 milligrams of DHA + EPA per capsule.

It won't give you fish breath or cause diarrhea because you get all the omega-3's you need from just a few capsules a day. But there is also a vegan alternative.

Fish don't make their own omega-3 essential fatty acids. Big fish get them from eating little fish. And little fish get them from eating microalgae. You can get your omega-3 essential fatty acids from microalgae, too.

It's harder to "catch" (or raise) microalgae than it is to harvest fish, so microalgae-derived omega-3 supplements cost a little more.

But aside from being cruelty-free, they also are free of heavy metals, pollutants, and animal byproducts. They provide all the benefits of fish oil without the fish.

Every fish oil capsule or microalgae capsule provides just as much omega-3 fatty acids as an ounce of the highest omega-3 fish, kippered herring.

Many people find kippered herring to be an acquired taste.

And the salmon, mackerel, and sardines that also are high in omega-3's have to be eaten fresh, without frying, to provide the same amount of omega-3 fatty acids that you can get in your daily dose of fish oil or microalgae.

For easy, healthy nutrition, buy the highest quality omega-3 supplements and take every day.

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