- On June 5, 2019
You get an omega-3! And you get an omega-3! And you get an omega-3! Everybody gets an omega-3! Ahhh, what a heart healthy world it would be if Oprah could give out great sources of omega-3 fatty acids like she gives out cars. Fortunately, there are many ways to get this essential nutrient into your diet without any help from Ms. Winfrey. Read on to learn more about this essential fatty acid and how it is important for everyone at every age!
What is omega 3?
Omega-3 fatty acids are an essential fat that we must get from our diet. There are three main types of omega-3: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA). ALA can be obtained from plant sources such as nuts, seeds, flaxseed, soybean, and canola oils. EPA and DHA can be found in animal sources such as fish.
Omega-3 fatty acids are important for forming cellular membranes as well as their neuroprotective and neural development properties. Additionally, they help make the signaling molecules that regulate blood clotting, contraction and relaxation of artery walls, and inflammation. Due to these functions, omega-3’s may help prevent diseases of the cardiovascular system and other inflammatory conditions. Omega-3 fatty acids are integral for many bodily functions and are necessary as early as fetal growth and continue to be important into older adulthood.
Fetal development and infancy
Omega-3 fatty acids are very important during pregnancy for fetal growth and development. EPA is essential during this time as it supports the heart, immune system, and inflammatory response while DHA is necessary for the development of the brain, eyes, and central nervous system. Many studies have found that omega-3 supplementation was associated with a reduced risk of poor language development while others suggested that adequate intake of omega-3 fatty acids during pregnancy decreased risk of preterm delivery and correlated to a higher birth weight.
The developmental aspects of omega-3 continue to be important into childhood so children should still get an adequate intake of omega-3 rich foods. Other factors that this essential fatty acid may play into are conditions such as ADHD. Many studies suggest that intake of omega-3’s may have a therapeutic effect on children with ADHD as it seems to reduce symptoms and improve behavior. Supplementation has also been correlated with improvements in spelling, attention, hyperactivity, and cognitive problems in 6-13 year olds with ADHD. Omega- 3 fatty acid intake have shown to improve mild depression in children as well.
Young adulthood is a trying time with college and job hunting on the mind. Some studies have found that with omega-3 on the mind, neurocognitive abilities can be enhanced so the brain doesn’t have to work as hard to achieve a better cognitive function. Additionally, it may be beneficial for people with diets low in DHA to take omega-3 supplements to improve their memory.
Adulthood and Older Adults
The need for omega-3 does not stop with the kiddos. This nutrient is just as important for dad and grandpa. As previously discussed, omega-3 fatty acids are important for many reasons including forming the structure of cellular membranes, providing energy, and making the molecules that regulate cardiovascular functions. Overall, research suggests that consuming fish and seafood as part of a balanced diet promotes heart health. Omega-3 supplements appear to improve blood lipids such as triglyceride levels and appear to reduce the risk of cardiac death but their effects on other heart and vascular conditions are unclear and may vary based on dietary omega-3 intakes and the use of other medications. In regards to cognitive function, studies suggest that omega-3 supplementation may improve cognitive function in older adults with mild cognitive impairment and poor memory.
Omega-3 fatty acids are important for their role in cellular structure, neurological development, and cardiac health. People of all ages should take measures to eat foods rich in this essential nutrient. Omega-3 may not be given out as a grand prize on TV but it is still a grand nutrient needed in our diet!
Written by: Taylor Wooten
Dietetic Intern, Southern Regional Medical Center
Bachelor of Science degree in Dietetics, University of Florida
- Derbyshire, E. (2017). Do Omega-3/6 Fatty Acids Have a Therapeutic Role in Children and Young People with ADHD? Journal of Lipids. doi:10.1155/2017/6285218
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- Office of Dietary Supplements – Omega-3 Fatty Acids. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Omega3FattyAcids-HealthProfessional/
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