Omega-3s—Fad or for Good?

New studies keep finding the benefit of omega-3s in lowering inflammation in the body, which lessens the pain of chronic conditions such as heart disease, Alzheimer's, arthritis, depression, chronic dry eye, IBS or menstrual cramps. We polled our audience and found that 69 percent of participants regularly take an omega-3 supplement. Whether it's fish oil, the vegetarian-friendly flaxseed oil or a diet rich in foods containing this vitamin, omega-3s are flying off the shelves.

Oxidative stress is the cumulative, day-to-day assault our cells endure. The longer we live, the more oxidative stress our bodies experience and the harder it is to deal with. This makes us more sensitive to inflammatory responses in our central nervous systems.

Omega-3 fatty acids lower inflammation within the body, helping to reduce conditions such as heart disease and Alzheimer's disease. It has also been found to lessen the intensity of joint pain and stiffness in rheumatoid arthritis and neck and back pain, as well as pain caused by inflammatory bowel disease and menstrual cramps.

When it comes to our emotional health, the scientific evidence agrees that increased dietary omega-3 consumption helps reduce depression. The association between low omega-3 levels and a higher incidence of depression is especially noticeable among women who are pregnant or nursing, which depletes their nutritional reserves.

Foods to add to your diet
The new Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend adding two 8-ounce servings of seafood to your diet per week. The highest levels of omega-3s in food are found in fatty fish such as mackerel, Atlantic or sockeye salmon, lake trout, herring, sardines and canned light tuna. Two 3.5-ounce portions weekly can help lower inflammation, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. If you're a vegan and don't eat any animal products, you can get some omega-3 benefit from flaxseed oil, walnuts and hemp and chia seeds. Your body converts the type of omega-3 found in these foods to the more beneficial type found in fish oil but not at the same level.

Choosing a supplement
When buying fish oil or omega-3 supplements, read the label carefully. Note how much of the supplement is actually omega-3 fatty acids—it may differ greatly from the size of the capsule. Choose one with high omega-3 content and low (or no) saturated fats or omega-6 fatty acids (which contribute to inflammation). Look for supplements that are molecularly distilled, which removes mercury or PCB toxins. Also, fish oil taken from small, cold-water fish such as anchovies and sardines has the most omega-3 with fewer contaminants than larger fish. Many labels will list the fish source for the supplement.


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