Omega-3 fatty acids

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Herring, one of the best sources of Omega 3 fatty acids

Omega 3 fatty acids (also called ω−3 fatty acids or n−3 fatty acids) are fats commonly found in marine and plant oils. They are polyunsaturated fatty acids.

The potential health benefits of n-3 fatty acids supplementation are controversial. They are considered essential fatty acids, meaning that they cannot be synthesized by the human body but are vital for normal metabolism. Though mammals cannot synthesize n−3 fatty acids, they have a limited ability to form the long-chain n−3 fatty acids.

Common sources of n–3 fatty acids include fish oils, algal oil, squid oil, and some plant oils such as echium oil and flaxseed oil.

Health benefits

The health benefits of the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids — primarily EPA and DHA are the best known. These benefits were discovered in the 1970s by researchers studying the Greenland Inuit Tribe. The Greenland Inuit people consumed large amounts of fat from fish, but displayed virtually no cardiovascular disease. The high level of omega-3 fatty acids consumed by the Inuit reduced triglycerides, heart rate, blood pressure, and atherosclerosis.

Best fish to eat as a source of Omega 3 fatty acids

The most widely available dietary source of EPA and DHA is cold water oily fish, such as salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies, and sardines. Oils from these fish have a profile of around seven times as much n−3 as n−6. Other oily fish, such as tuna, also contain n−3 in somewhat lesser amounts. Consumers of oily fish should be aware of the potential presence of heavy metals and fat-soluble pollutants like PCBs and dioxins, which are known to accumulate up the food chain. After extensive review, researchers from Harvard's School of Public Health in the Journal of the American Medical Association (2006) reported that the benefits of fish intake generally far outweigh the potential risks.

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