The Importance of Omega-3s

Greetings Healthy Boilers,

As we approach March – which is recognized annually as “National Nutrition Month” – it’s a good time to take a look at what you’re putting in your body when it comes to supplements. Have you ever purchased a dietary supplement? Chances are you have. Americans spend billions of dollars a year on dietary supplements even though we can get most supplementary benefits through food without needing to purchase anything additional. It can become confusing trying to determine what supplements are truly needed and what we can acquire through a healthy diet.

One supplement that is prevalent on the market today is Omega-3s. Also, keep in mind that good nutrition is a component of the Healthy Boiler Program’s physical health and behavioral health pillars. As you learn more in this blog about the benefits of Omega-3s, you will get a glimpse of how they specifically contribute to those particular pillars. 

Omega-3 fatty acids

First, let’s discuss what an Omega-3 fatty acid is. An Omega-3 fatty acid is a part of the unsaturated fat group. Unsaturated fats are good for the body and contain heart healthy benefits, such as improving cholesterol. This is the opposite of saturated fats which can raise cholesterol and clog arteries. To break it down even further, there are two types of unsaturated fats: monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat. According to the American Heart Association, most of the fats you eat should be monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fat for good health. Polyunsaturated fat is an essential fat, meaning your body does not make it, you must get it through diet or dietary supplements.

Let’s dig even deeper into Omega-3s. There are 3 types of Omega-3 fatty acids, Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). EPA and DHA come from marine sources. As recommended by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), getting Omega-3s through marine sources is the ideal way to obtain these fatty acids because your body acquires more in this form. Not a fish person? Then you can get your Omega-3s through ALA which comes from plant sources. ALA can still play an important role in your body’s health; however, you may need to eat more to receive the benefits.

Benefits of Omega-3s

So, how can Omega-3 fatty acids benefit you? Studies suggest positive effects on different parts of the mind and body. Research-based positive benefits, all which support pillars of the Healthy Boiler Program, include:

  • Heart: Omega 3s can reduce heart disease, prevent stroke, reduce blood pressure, raise HLD (your good cholesterol) and lower triglycerides. (HB physical health pillar)

 

  • Inflammation: Omega 3s are shown to lower levels of inflammation and reduce inflammatory responses, which can be associated with many conditions and diseases including rheumatoid arthritis. (HB physical health pillar)

 

  • Brain: Omega-3s may reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. It may also reduce the risk of development and progression of Alzheimer’s disease and age-related macular degeneration. (HB behavioral health and physical health pillars)

 

  • Pregnancy: Omega-3s can help with infant cognitive development, improve infant sleep patterns, help promote longer gestation times and may reduce development of postpartum depression in mothers. (HB behavioral and physical health pillars)

After reviewing some of the benefits of Omega-3s, consuming an adequate amount may be something you would like to incorporate into your diet. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 250-500 mg of EPA and DHA are recommended daily. Eating two, 4-oz servings per week of oily fish will give you a healthy amount of EPA and DHA fats. The recommended amounts for ALA differ by gender and increase for women during pregnancy:

  • Men 19 years and older: 1,600 mg
  • Women 19 years and older: 1,100mg
  • Pregnant women: 1,400 mg

Omega-3 sources

The following marine and plant sources provide Omega-3s:

  • DHA and EPA marine sources: salmon, tuna, blue fish, black cod, rainbow trout, mackerel, herring, sardines, shrimp, catfish, fish oil, cod liver, algae and anchovies.
  • ALA plants sources: chia seeds, hemp seeds, ground flaxseed, flaxseed oil, walnuts, soybeans, soybean oil, canola oil, kale, brussels sprouts and spinach.
  • You can also find Omega 3s in some fortified sources, which include milk, peanut butter, yogurt, orange juice, eggs or margarine.

Here are some practical ways to incorporate Omega-3s into your diet:

  • Add fish to salads or bake fish in the oven with vegetables
  • Cook meals using oils such as soybean or canola
  • Add walnuts or ground flax seed to yogurt, oatmeal, smoothies or cereal
  • Add walnuts or pumpkin seeds into salads
  • Use canned tuna on whole wheat bread or English muffin

Adding omega-3 supplements

So, when is an Omega-3 dietary supplement needed? It is always best to consume them through food sources when possible, but if you are not able to get the recommended amount via diet, then taking a supplement may be beneficial to you. Fish oil supplements are typically made from anchovies, herring, menhaden and salmon. The EPA and DHA concentration vary by species and season. When looking for a dietary supplement, make sure it is from a credible source. You can look for certificates from independent testing organizations to ensure quality. Also, make sure it is a combination of DHA and EPA. These fatty acids each provide different health benefits. If you are vegetarian or vegan and need a supplement, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends an algal oil supplement. Keep in mind that supplements may interact with medication. Be sure to ask your primary care provider or pharmacist if it is safe for you take an Omega-3 supplement. Remember, the pharmacists at the Center for Healthy Living (CHL) on Purdue’s West Lafayette campus offer medication therapy management and are happy to help discuss your current list of medications as well as any supplements, vitamins, etc.

Research on the benefits of Omega-3s is ongoing, however most studies seem promising! It won’t hurt to review your current diet and find areas where you may want to add in some Omega-3 sources. You can also make an appointment with a health coach or dietitian at the CHL for extra support and guidance when it comes to any nutrients in your diet.

To schedule an appointment with a pharmacist, health coach or dietitian (in-person or via telephone), call the CHL at 765-494-0111 or use the patient portal.

Be Kind. Be Well. Boiler Up!

Author: Katie Gestosani, One to One health coach and registered dietitian

Purdue’s Center for Healthy Living on the West Lafayette campus is managed by One to One Health, a private, physician-led company.

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