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What is An Omega3 Fatty Acid?

Omega-3 fatty acid is considered essential to human health. Your body cannot produce its own omega-3 fatty acids, so you have to get them from dietary sources like fish oil and flax seed.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Your Body

There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids that are used by the body. They are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Research indicates that omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation and can help prevent chronic diseases, such as heart disease, cancer and arthritis.

Omega-3 Deficiency

The brain appears to be largely made up of omega-3 fatty acids. This means they're essential for cognitive function, memory and behavioral function. If a pregnant woman doesn't get enough omega-3 fatty acids during pregnancy, her baby could be born with vision and nervous problems. Symptoms of omega-3 fatty acid deficiency in adults include:

  • fatigue
  • poor memory
  • dry skin
  • heart problems
  • mood swings
  • depression
  • poor circulation

Use of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids, used in conjunction with omega-6 fatty acids, may be helpful in preventing and managing the following conditions:

  • high cholesterol
  • hypertension
  • heart disease
  • diabetes
  • obesity
  • weight loss
  • arthritis
  • osteoporosis
  • depression
  • bipolar disorder
  • schizophrenia
  • attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • eating disorders
  • burns
  • skin disorders
  • inflammatory bowel disease
  • asthma
  • macular degeneration
  • menstrual pain
  • colon cancer
  • breast cancer
  • prostate cancer

Though further study is needed, research suggests that omega-3 fatty acids may be useful in preventing and managing a variety of other diseases, including autism, ulcers, Lyme disease and panic attacks. Omega-3 fatty acids may also be useful in supporting the immune system.

Sources of Omega-3

Dietary sources of omega-3 fatty acids include fish, plant and nut oils. Cold water fish like salman, halibut, mackerel and tuna are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are also found in flaxseed oil, canola oil, soybean oil, pumpkin seed oil and walnut oil.

For those who require additional dietary supplementation, fish oil capsules or cod liver oil are both good sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Fish oil should be kept refrigerated, and you should only buy from companies who can certify that their products don't contain heavy metals like mercury, lead and cadmium.

Dosage and Precautions

Dosage should be based on the amount of EPA and DHA in the product, not the total amount of fish oil. A dosage of 180 mg of EPA and 120 mg of DHA should be appropriate for most people. Different types of fish and plant oils contain different amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, so read the label carefully.

Adults should take no more than 3 grams of omega-3 fatty acids in capsule form each day, unless directed by a health care provider, as such high dosages carry a risk of internal bleeding. The American Heart Association recommends that healthy adults with no history of heart disease eat fish at least twice a week. Adults with coronary heart disease should take 1 gram daily of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids. Those with high cholesterol levels should take 2 to 4 grams of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids each day.

There have been few studies about the effects of omega-3 fatty acid supplements on children, so children under the age of 18 should not take omega-3 fatty acid supplements unless directed by a doctor.

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