Omega 3 fatty acids, so present in nuts and blue fish, have proven essential allies of our cardiovascular health, reducing cholesterol and blood pressure. In addition, they improve defenses, prevent vision loss, protect against diseases such as diabetes and cancer. And even more benefits are investigated.
WHAT ARE THEY?
These nutrients, natural components of fats and oils, are part of cell membranes so they are necessary for the growth and repair of cells. Alpha-linolenic acid, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are the most important omega 3 fatty acids for our health.
In addition, the body uses them to produce other compounds and they are also the precursors of some substances involved in the regulation of blood pressure, inflammatory response and blood clotting.
Alpha-linolenic acid cannot be produced by the body, so it is considered an essential fatty acid that must be obtained through the diet. As for EPA and DHA, although they are not essential because the body can synthesize them from alpha-linolenic acid, there are more and more studies that show the benefits of including them in the diet.
WHAT BENEFITS DOES OMEGA 3 HAVE?
Its heart-healthy effect is the one that is most widely demonstrated. Yes, this type of fat protects us because it helps reduce triglyceride and blood cholesterol levels, prevents blood clots, has vasodilator properties and helps regulate blood pressure.
Its anti-inflammatory effect and its positive effect on the immune response are also proven.
Some researchers say they are involved in the prevention of diseases such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and certain types of cancer (there are studies that confirm that omega 3 reduces the risk of breast, colon, prostate and pancreas cancer) .
Its effect on vision is also being investigated. Specifically, although more research is needed in this line, it seems that omega 3 fatty acid deficiency could be implicated in the origin of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the main cause of blindness in the elderly. For example, research conducted by researchers from the University of Melbourne (Australia) concluded that the consumption of this type of fat is related to a lower risk of AMD. Similarly, according to another study conducted at Harvard University (USA), omega 3 play an important role in the regulation of the formation of new blood vessels (angiogenesis), which is key in this disease.
On the other hand, the effect of omega 3 fatty acids on brain functions is being studied. In this sense, some studies have observed that people who have high blood levels of omega 3 fatty acids (and vitamins) show less brain shrinkage and better mental abilities. Therefore, the intake of this nutrient is associated with greater protection of brain functions.
WHAT HAPPENS IF THERE IS A DEFICIT?
The most obvious symptoms caused by the deficiency of omega 3 fatty acids include alterations in the skin with dry and scaly rashes, stunted growth of infants and children, increased risk of infections and poor wound healing.
In addition, a lack of this type of fat has also been linked to visual problems.
Similarly, as animal studies have shown, omega 3 fatty acid deficiency seems to be involved in learning and memory impairment. For that reason, clinical trials in humans are currently being carried out in order to assess the real impact that these nutrients produce on development and cognitive impairment.
WHAT HAPPENS IF I TAKE EXCESS?
Through the diet, an excess of omega 3 fatty acids is not usually achieved. And in case of taking supplements, although this type of fat is usually tolerated very well, in too high doses gastric discomforts and soft stools or diarrhea could occur .
Sometimes, when you start taking omega 3 supplements, skin rashes and acne also appear, although this effect disappears once the body adapts.
After taking fish oils, it may happen that a rare aftertaste remains on the tongue, but this symptom is unimportant. However, this does not happen when omega 3 supplements are taken with meals and not in isolation.
MAIN SOURCES OF OMEGA 3
Alpha-linolenic acid is found in nuts, flax seeds and chia seeds (a plant from Central America) and in flax, rapeseed and canola oils.
EPA and DHA are present in fish (especially blue fish), shellfish and some seaweed.