There are certain fats that your body needs but can't make. These are called essential fatty acids (EFAs). Essential fatty acids are needed for a variety of functions inside your body. You need a certain amount of these fats to make hormones. You also need them for healthy cells, brain development and function and healthy skin and hair. Certain types of fatty acids called omega-3s may reduce inflammation inside your body. That's important for good health. Once source of these healthy fats is fish oil.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Fish Oil
Omega-3s come in two types - long-chain and short-chain. One of the best natural sources of long-chain fatty acids is fatty fish like wild-caught salmon, mackerel and sardines. You can also get long-chain omega-3s by taking a fish oil supplement A number of studies show that long-chain omega-3s have possible health benefits.
Short-chain fatty acids are found in high amounts in walnuts, flaxseed chia seeds and sesame seeds. You need a certain amount of these fats for health, but the benefits of short-chain fatty acids are less proven in comparison to long-chain.
The Health Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Long-chain omega-3s, like those in fish oil supplements, may lower levels of a type of blood fat called triglycerides that raise the risk of heart disease. They may also be beneficial for people who have heart failure. Some research suggests the omega-3s in fish oil may lower the risk of coronary artery disease, although not all studies are in agreement. More research is needed. Omega-3s from fish oil have an anti-inflammatory effect. Some studies show they may help with symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, a joint disease marked by pain and inflammation.
Preliminary research shows long-chain omega-3s are necessary for healthy brain function. Research suggests that older people with depression may have low levels of omega-3s in their bloodstream. Whether omega-3s can prevent certain diseases still isn't clear but it's important for health purposes to get enough of them. Most people don't get enough omega-3 fats in their diet. Modern-day diets are rich in another type of fat called omega-6s. This creates an imbalance. Some experts believe this imbalance contributes to diseases like heart disease and cancer.
Vegetarian Sources of Omega-3s
The omega-3s in plant-based foods like flaxseed, walnuts and chia seeds are short-chain omega-3s. Since vegetarians don't consume fish or fish oil, they can get the benefits of omega-3s by taking a supplement that contains plant-based omega-3s. An example is chia seed oil. Your body can convert a small percentage of the short-chain omega-3s from sources like chia seed oil to long-chain omega-3s. This means you can enjoy some of the benefits without taking fish oil.
Plus, short-chain omega-3s from sources like chia seed may have other health advantages as well. More research is needed.
Choosing an Omega-3 Supplement
If you follow a vegetarian diet, short-chain omega-3s from flaxseed or chia oil supplements are often considered the best option. On the other hand, non-vegetarians have the option of taking a fish oil supplement. Some fish oil supplements contain vitamin D. Low levels of vitamin D have been linked with a number of health problems and are important for heart and immune system health. Fish oil /vitamin D supplements combine the benefits of both.
Consult with your doctor before taking an omega-3, fish oil or essential fatty acid supplement, especially if you're taking prescription drugs or aspirin. These supplements can interact with certain medications including blood-thinning medications.
This summary is intended for general informational purposes only, and should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not strictly regulate herbs and supplements. There is no guarantee of purity, strength, or safety of the products. As a result, effects may vary. You should read product labels. In addition, if you are taking medications, herbs, or other supplements you should consult with a qualified healthcare provider before taking a supplement as supplements may interact with other medications, herbs, and nutritional products. If you have a medical condition, including if you are pregnant or nursing, you should speak to your physician before taking a supplement. Consult a healthcare provider if you experience side effects.