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What are omega-3s and why do they matter?

Omega-3s are essential fatty acids and are a part of the polyunsaturated fats family. The word essential means the inability for our bodies to make them, therefore we must consume them in our diet.

The most commonly known omega-3 fatty acids are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). The EPA and DHA is generally more associated with being crucial to keep health optimal.

They absorb nutrients, allow communications to occur between cells and expel waste and toxins from the cells. Healthy cell membranes include a lot of the omega-3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA.

These help to promote membrane flexibility to allow for healthy function. When we don’t have enough of these nutrients, our cell membranes are formed using saturated acids and another group of fats called omega-6s.

These result in a firmer cell membrane, which can negatively alter its function. They are very useful for many other functions in the body, but not so helpful when they are the main components of the cell membranes.

Omega 3s are an essential part of our diet

Typically, most of us need more omega-3 fatty acids over the omega-6 fatty acids, to allow the membranes to maintain their functions. A typical Western diet or standard American diet is very rich in omega-6 fatty acids and low in omega-3s.

An unfavourable ratio between omega-3 and 6 fatty acids could indicate poorer membrane function.

What kind of health benefits can we achieve by consuming more EPA and DHA omega-3s in our diets? Their fundamental roles impact on the whole body, including joint, nerve, cardiovascular, brain and skin health.

It is largely well advertised that omega 3s are good for the heart. Research shows that they have a positive effect on the cardiovascular system, and support blood vessel wall health.

Studies have shown omega-3s, particularly DHA and EPA, could help to improve recovery following intense exercise and training sessions.

Early evidence points to the involvement of omega-3s in stimulating muscle protein synthesis in the muscles in older adults, meaning they may be useful in building muscle as well.

And these benefits are not just linked to physical health. Research suggests that supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA could improve mood and memory.

Foods high in these amazing fatty acids that contain DHA and EPA are primarily found in marine algae and therefore animals that eat marine algae.

If you don’t like fish supplements work just as well

Fish, mussels, oysters and clams, as well as sea vegetables can offer a nice dose of these nutrients. ALA is found in lots of plants, nuts and seeds. Recent surveys in the USA show that consumption of EPA and DHA were below recommended levels in all age groups.

A recommended daily intake for these omega-3s is 250mg a day. Two servings of fatty fish a week should help to provide the body with better levels of EPA and DHA.

For those that dislike seafood, then a fish oil supplement may provide the answer.

Not all fish oils are created equally though. Be sure to get one that uses natural antioxidants to preserve it (unfortunately these omega 3s like to go off easily) than artificial preservatives.

Small fish, like anchovies and sardines are lower in the food chain so their toxin (including mercury) accumulation is usually lower, so perhaps find a source that is from these small fish.

Finally, look out for sustainably sourced options to ensure we can continue to enjoy omega-3 health for generations to come.

You can check out your omega 3:6 ratio at a REVIV Plus clinic near you. Alternatively you can assess the impact that omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids may have on your health, by exploring your inner biology with a REVIV genetic service, exploring your genetic variations with a specialist doctor to help you optimise and maintain your health.

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