A Look at Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Heart Health

By: Adam Short


According to research data published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, individuals that include regular daily intake of Omega 3 can reduce the risk of heart attack (coronary thrombosis) by up to seventy percent. Such encouraging news has generated a good deal of interest in Omega 3 of late.

What is Omega 3?

Omega 3 is, in fact, a polyunsaturated fatty acid which, as it passes through the limentary canal (digestive tract through the human body), breaks down existing cholesterol and deposits a minutely thin barrier to prevent its reformation. Omega 3 works to fight again the principal cholesterol culprit that causes clotting of the blood. These clots then block blood vessels causing heart attacks or, if they reach the brain, strokes.

Omega 3 is most commonly associated with the oils found in fish. Best known sources are mackerel, trout and salmon although the oils can be extracted from white fish; and the liver of the Cod is particularly rich as well.

The American Heart Association recommends a daily intake of 1000 mg. of Omega-3 for measurable health benefits in cardiovascular care. There are various ways of including Omega 3ís in your diet so you need not worry if you are not a big fan of fish.

Sources of Omega-3ís

The most obvious method, eating suitable fish regularly, isnít practical for everybody, as again Ė not everyone enjoys fish, some people are even allergic to it and, of course, vegetarians and vegans donít eat fish. Fortunately there are a wide range of supplements on the market for those people.

The most common form of supplement is the capsule formulated from concentrated oils derived from those fish that have the high Omega 3 levels. Generally, the tablet will contain something around fifty percent from that source (fish) with the balance made up of other sources of fatty acids.

Omega 3 fatty acids are not restricted to fish oils - they can also be found in a number of plant extracts as well. The best source of Omega-3 is alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) which includes flaxseed (linseed) oil, rapeseed (canola) oil, chia seeds, walnuts and walnut oil, the Mediterranean plant, purslane, grass-reared meat, and dark green leafy vegetables. These items are widely found in health food stores and in natural health markets.

The good news of Omega 3 health benefits goes global

Omega 3ís can also be found in a wide range of other foods including vegetables and processed foods; however, the levels are negligible and provide no significant health benefits. Vegetarian Omega-3 supplements are available, usually as flaxseed (linseed) oil.

EPA and DHA Omega 3 are found almost exclusively in aquatic plants and animals. They are synthesized by phytoplankton, which are consumed by fish, mollusks and crustaceans and thus concentrated in the aquatic food chain.

Alternative sources of Omega-3 ALA and Omega-3 EPA and DHA are being studied for viability. ALA from perilla is already available in some countries and krill, shrimp-like creatures abundant in the Antarctic Ocean, are being targeted by a Canadian company as a future Omega-3 source. Krill oil contains 25% Omega-3 EPA and DHA. Genetic modification is also being explored, with one experiment inserting genes which will produce long-chain Omega-3 polyunsaturates into existing oilseed varieties. Another uses gene transfer technology to directly convert Omega-6 polyunsaturates to their Omega-3 counterparts.

As the health reputation of the Omega-3s grows, food manufacturers have explored the opportunity of fortifying everyday foods with Omega-3s. Omega-3 eggs are increasingly available; for example, bread fortified with 13mg of Omega-3 DHA per slice is now available in New Zealand and Australia. Malaysia has a cracker fortified with vitamins, minerals and both Omega-3 and Omega-6 EFAs and a similarly fortified margarine serves as a fine accompaniment.

In Sweden, a low fat liver pate is enriched with Omega-3, iron and vitamins. The Spanish can buy fruit juices fortified with milk, fiber, vitamins and Omega-3, and probiotic meal replacement bars, soups and milkshakes with Omega-3s. Finns market a blackcurrant juice with added Omega-6 and Omega-3 as ALA. This list is by no means comprehensive, particularly as it does not include the increasing number of infant milks, foods and supplements with added Omega-3 DHA.

As the advantages of regular intake of Omega 3 become more accepted in North America, the food processing and pharmaceutical industries will, no doubt, put more effort and funding into making these various supplements more readily available. The benefits of Omega 3 will continue to grow in importance as the population ages and looks for ways to maintain healthy and active lifestyles. Currently, Omega 3ís are easy enough to buy from online companies and specialized pharmacies but it surely wonít be long before Americans will be able to choose the supplement that suits them best from the shelves of local supermarkets and convenience stores.

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Learn more about the health benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids at omega-3-info.com.

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