Omega-3 fatty acids have been a part of our diet since the beginning of humanity, but it has been only in the last 80 to 100 years that we have almost excluded this vital fatty acid. This is due mostly to our lack of access to natural sources of omega-3s and dominant intake of omega-6s in our diet, the latter being an essential fatty acid as well.
The trouble with the typical American diet, however, is that we consume too many omega-6 fatty acids compared to omega-3s. The typical ratio these days is 20 omega-6s to 1 omega-3, and that’s way too high. While we need omega-6 fatty acids (they are essential), the ratio shows that we’re getting far too many of them in our diet at the expense of omega-3s. The bull’s eye ratio to shoot for is around four omega-6s to one omega-3.
Omega-3s are essential fatty acids that are a collection of several nutrients, but two important omega-3 fatty acids are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexanoic acid (DHA). Omega-3s can help maintain a healthy cardiovascular system as well as maintain healthy joints and EPA and DHA are especially successful at this.
DHA and EPA are omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna, lake trout, and herring, and in algae. And they have plenty of health benefits. For example, the American Heart Association recommends one to two servings of fish per week for all adults. Furthermore, it’s believed that EPA plus DHA can provide cardiovascular protection.
Additionally, the FDA has allowed the following claim on foods and supplements high in omega-3s: Supportive, but not conclusive, research shows that consumption of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.
But the American Heart Association and the FDA are not alone. The University of Maryland Medical Center spells out the benefits of omega-3s as well:
- Omega-3s can support a healthy heart and blood vessels.
- Omega-3s can help maintain blood pressure already in the normal range.
- Omega-3s may support healthy joints, bones and skin.
DHA, particularly, is essential for proper adult brain function. It is also essential for the development of the nervous system and for visual abilities during the first six months of life. And while it’s true that our bodies naturally produce small amounts of DHA, we still must be intentional to get the full amount that we need from our diet or from supplements.
So, don’t miss out on DHA—or EPA, for that matter—two amazing (and essential) omega-3 fatty acids.