What are essential fatty acids and why is it so important?

We asked our guest health expert, Jodie Hutchinson, PA to chime in on the importance of omega 3s for good health. Omega 3 Fatty acids are called “essential” fatty acids because the body needs them but can’t produce them, so we have to add them to our diet. A diet rich in omega-3s stops inflammation and reduces the body’s overall burden of chronic inflammation. The importance of a healthy diet has gained relevance as scientists research the growing role of chronic inflammation in causing disease.

The name omega-3 covers a range of fatty acids, three of which are particularly important for our health: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Although difficult names to pronounce, these fatty acids are extremely important to our health. Both are found in oily fish as “long-chain” fatty acids that are produced by algae and then eaten by fish. The third one is alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), found primarily in plant sources.

The richest source of ALA is ground flaxseed. However, ALA is also found in hempseed, chia seeds, soybeans, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, and avocado and macadamia oil. Once ingested, the body converts ALA into EPA and DHA, allowing it to be more readily used by the body.  There has been concern with taking flaxseed with prior history of breast cancer as it acts as a phytoestrogen. However, several studies in women have shown that higher intake of lignans, the key phytoestrogen in flaxseeds, is associated with reduced risk of breast cancer.

One must be careful with taking Omega-3 products as they may interact with drugs that also have a “blood-thinning” effect, such as ASA and anticoagulants (warfarin, heparin, Plavix) and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen. If you are taking any medicines, ask your doctor before increasing your omega-3 supplements.

Lastly, higher intake of omega-3s, especially DHA, are essential to the brain, impacting behavior and cognitive function – and may be associated with a lower prevalence and protection from depression and seasonal affective disorder.  Because DHA is a structural fat in the grey matter of the brain, evidence suggests that a higher level of consumption may be associated with reducing the risk of neurological imbalances such as Alzheimer’s and attention-deficit disorder.

Ensure you have a diet rich in Omega 3 as it is very important in prevention of disease, as well as, healing your body. As a breast cancer survivor, I ensure to keep the inflammation down as to not promote disease. Thanks Jodie for helping us understand Omega 3s.