Omega 3 Essential Fatty Acids and Your Health

excerpt of an article by Ms. Jane E. Brody - New York Times' Personal Health Columnist and writer of health issues

Omega 3 fatty acids may have a role in preventing cardiovascular disease. For fish to maintain fluidity in cold water, their fats have to remain liquid, and liquid fats (really oils) are polyunsaturated. But fish oils, rich in omega 3 fatty acids, are chemically different from the polyunsaturated oils in plants like corn and soybeans, and it is that difference that has given fish "star billing".

The two omega 3s in fish are eicosapentaenoic acid, or EPA, and docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA. They are considered essential fatty acids, although they can be formed in the body from another omega 3, alpha linolenic acid, or ALA. ALA is found in plants like flaxseed, spinach, mustard greens, soybeans, canola oil, wheat germ and walnuts, as well as in marine animals that eat plants containing ALA.

The conversion rate is poor; however, and you will have to consume large amounts of ALA (from plant sources) to obtain a meaningful amount of EPA and DHA. Eating fish and fish products is far more efficient.

"DHA is a natural ingredient in breast milk, and it is critical to the normal development of the brain and retina. It has recently been approved as an additive to infant formula. In addition, the omega 3 acids perform many biochemical functions that can benefit the heart and blood vessels. Omega 3 fatty acids can inhibit the synthesis of substances that promote inflammation, reduce the tendency of the blood to form clots, stabilize the electrical activity of the heart, lower triglyceride levels, reduce blood pressure moderately and improve the functioning of artery linings. Other suggested benefits include an anti-inflammatory effect that can help people with autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and ulcerative colitis."

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