Certain fats are essential for human health and cannot be manufactured in the body. These fats therefore need to be supplied by your diet. The Essential Fatty Acids (EFA's) are also known as Omega-3 (Linolenic Acid) and Omega-6 (Linoleic Acid). Both groups of fats provide many benefits to our health, but because the Western diet generally supplies ample amounts of Omega-6, this article is going to focus mostly on Omega-3's. However, it should be pointed out that the healthy consumption of Omega-6 should fall between 1 to 4 times that of Omega-3. This ratio is commonly out of kilter in favour of too much Omega-6 so many of us could probably benefit from increasing our intake of Omega-3 to restore this imbalance.
There are 3 major types of Omega-3 fats that we are concerned with; ALA (Alpha-Linolenic Acid), DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid), and EPA (Eicosapentaenoic Acid). The latter 2 fatty acids (DHA & EPA) are more readily used by the body, and ALA is usually converted to these once injested. However, this conversion may not always take place. Dietary reasons for this may include an excessive consumption of Omega-6 and other fats. It is also known that diabetes can interfere with the efficiency of this process. Omega-3 derived from fish is already in the desired form of DHA & EPA whereas flaxseed, another well known source, is in the form of ALA which requires further metabolism. This is not to say that you should avoid sources of ALA, as it still has its place in a balanced diet.
Omega-3 fats are not only required for optimal health but may also help with:
As we age, so do the cells in our body, their membranes become less fluid and more rigid. The responsiveness and resiliency of cells is dependant on their 'membrane fluidity'. Our diet can have a positive or negative influence on membrane fluidity and nutrients including Omega-3 fatty acids may be just the tonic to rejuvinate cells by improving their fluidity.
DHA and EPA can be found in cold water fish such as salmon, mackerel, halibut, sardines, and herring. Omega-3 in the form of ALA is found in flaxseeds, flaxseed oil, canola (rapeseed) oil, soybeans, soybean oil, pumpkin seeds, pumpkin seed oil, purslane, perilla seed oil, walnuts, and walnut oil.
If fish oil or fish oil capsules are used be sure to check that the manufacturer certify their products free from PCB's and heavy metals such as mercury.
Because of the potential for side effects and interactions with medications, dietary supplements should be taken only under the supervision of a knowledgeable healthcare professional.