Nutrition Articles

The Mega Benefits of Omega 3s

These Healthy Fats Belong in Everyone's Diet

By Liza Barnes, Health Educator         
Page 1 of 2
In a college nutrition class I took back in the 90s, I overheard a classmate boasting to a small group about how she only ate fat-free food. Most of America was still in the clutches of the fat-free craze, and my classmate’s views weren’t at all uncommon. Dietary fat was being blamed for heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and many other impairments of health. But instinctively, I thought that banning fat was a bad idea—I just didn’t have the facts to back up my theory. Now, a decade later, research is proving my hunch—that some types of fat can actually prevent disease and improve health. The key lies in a general understanding of fats, and in knowing which fats to emphasize in your diet.

The Fat Family Tree

The family of fat is very complex, so to make it less confusing, picture it as a family tree. At the top, there are two different families of fat—saturated fat and unsaturated fat. Saturated fat (butter is one example) is packed with hydrogen atoms, making it solid at room temperature. Unsaturated fat (like olive oil) contains fewer hydrogen atoms, so it is liquid at room temperature. The family of unsaturated fat includes two children: monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat. In the polyunsaturated fat family, you'll find omega-6 fatty acids and omega-3 fatty acids, and it is the omega-3 family that has been making headlines in the nutrition world.

3 Types of Omega 3s

There are actually three types of fatty acids that are collectively referred to as omega 3s: ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), EPA (eicosapentaenoic), and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). Besides being hard to pronounce, they are extremely important to your health. Omega 3s are "essential" fatty acids, because they are necessary for health and must be included in your diet (because the human body cannot manufacture them on its own). But what exactly are they used for, and what do they do for human health?

Mega Health Benefits of Omega 3 Fats

Extensive research indicates that omega-3 fats reduce inflammation, helping to prevent inflammatory diseases like heart disease and arthritis. In addition to warding off inflammation, omega 3s are also essential to the brain, impacting behavior and cognitive function, and are especially necessary during fetal development. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMM), omega 3s may also:
  • Improve artery health by helping to reduce plaque buildup and blood clots in arteries that lead to the brain.
  • Improve cholesterol by lowering triglycerides and elevating HDL (good cholesterol) levels. These benefits come primarily from DHA and EPA. Learn more about fats that fight cholesterol.
  • Improve joint health by reducing joint tenderness and stiffness associated with arthritis and osteoarthritis.
  • Improve bone health by positively impacting the body's calcium levels, reducing the incidence of bone loss.
  • Improve mental health by helping to insulate nerve cells in the brain, allowing these nerve cells to better communicate with one another. People who are deficient in omega 3s may suffer from depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, eating disorders, and ADHD.
  • Improve skin health by helping to alleviate symptoms related to skin disorders like acne and psoriasis.
  • Improve bowel health by reducing inflammation of the bowels, helping alleviate symptoms of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
  • Improve lung health by reducing inflammation in diseases like asthma. To read more on this topic, click here.
  • Improve menstrual health by reducing the pain associated with PMS and menstruation.
  • Help prevent cancer. Colon, breast, and prostate cancers have all been correlated with low intakes of omega 3s.
Continued ›
Page 1 of 2   Next Page ›
Got a story idea? Give us a shout!

About The Author

Liza Barnes Liza Barnes
Liza has two bachelor's degrees: one in health promotion and education and a second in nursing. A registered nurse and mother, regular exercise and cooking are top priorities for her. See all of Liza's articles.

Member Comments

  • What an interesting article, so well explained! I knew about the benefit of Omega 3 but to learn details about how to picture the different fat is refreshing. You are a good teacher, thanks for this article, very much appreciated. - 3/29/2016 4:35:54 PM
    I recently discovered about Omega 3 from Clary Sage Seed Oil. After research, I found out it provides the best Essential Fatty Acid for our body. This vegan & natural product is simply AMAZING!! Really a life changer. Omega 3 from Clary Sage Seed Oil taste great (I sometimes put it in my salad).
    This site was very helpful with all the information - https://vegan-ome
    I hope you'll enjoy it as much as I do :)
    - 1/29/2015 6:15:46 AM
    Very informative, I had been taking Omega 3 supplement http://visiongrou
    ga3.html as an alternative anti inflammatory and helps a lot without worrying any harmful side effects. Than you for this post! it is very simplified.. very easy to understand the information being provided. - 10/19/2014 8:13:11 PM
  • SIOL55
    Great info but how about Fish Oil and Krill Oil capsule? How much per day? - 4/29/2014 7:13:51 AM
    I'm contacting you because I have read you article about Omega. Shortly my story: I have psoriasis and five years ago it really flared up in my joints so I couldn't exercise anymore and two years ago patches started appearing on my skin and under nails. But about a year ago I started taking a new natural omega product that was suggested to me and now for all practical purposes my psoriasis is gone. I would like to know how you measure omega 6 and 3 ratio due to its importance? I use a blood test which shows the ratio and several other data analyzed by leading laboratories. For example my first test ratio was 8,4:1, second after four months 3,4:1 and third a year later 1,6:1. It`s would be nice to heard your opinion.

    - 3/17/2014 10:21:12 AM
    Great Article! One of the few great ones I've read. I take Laminine Omega. It is patented and has Omega fatty Acids 3 (EPA and DHA), 6, and 9 + CoQ10(Extended Release), Vitamin K2... It is made in USA; head office is in California. That's why
    delivery and handling is free in the States. Delivery varies from 3 to 8 days.
    I found this online and have been ordering it online as well
    m/q8fjc93 . You click Join if you want to be a member and get the member's price Or click retail order if you don't want to be a member.

    One more thing, LPGN sources its fish oil from Engraulis Ringens, a member of the anchovy family, found in the Humboldt Current off the coast of South America near Peru, where the waters are clean and clear. Phytoplankton that the Engraulis Ringens species consumes in this region is rich in DHA and EPA, giving the fish the highest naturally occurring ratios of DHA and EPA of any other fish species. The fish oil also
    undergoes molecular distillation, and is tested before and after the process to remove gunk and toxins and ensure the safety of the oil. - 3/17/2014 2:53:53 AM
  • Great article
    - 5/9/2013 8:52:17 PM
  • Great article! I would love to be able to add Omega-3 to the SP nutrition tracker!

    Please? - 7/25/2012 11:55:34 PM
  • While it is true that there are 3 main Omega3s that are in the standard American diet, there are actually over 11 different types. Please! for the science geeks amongst us be a bit more accurate! :)

    Also, please not that in addition to SOY being bad for folks with breast or reproductive area cancers, it is also VERY BAD for people with THYROID issues. So many of us have thyroid issues and do not know that soy is poison!! for them. - 4/9/2012 12:16:53 AM
  • don't forget your chia seed or Salba if you prefer the trademarked light coloured seed. nearly 5,000 mg per oz of Omega 3 fatty acid and you don't need to grind it. - 11/27/2011 3:14:30 PM
  • Finally and article that has a great explanation and one I know I'll remember most of. Thank you so much. Donna - 11/27/2011 9:18:42 AM
  • This is one of the best written articles i have read.So easy to understand .THANK YOU . - 11/27/2011 9:00:54 AM
    One of the best written articles. The analogy to family tree clarifies this immensely. The writer must be a teacher! (Skilled one.) - 11/27/2011 7:25:43 AM
  • Thanks for this. I recently was alerted to the fact that I was deficient in DHA and EPA.
    I am vegetarian for 22 y and while I get some ALA I don't even eat yolks which are enriched -so I miss out. I found a vegetarian source of DHA and hope that it is sufficient.
    Thanks for the great article.
    - 6/21/2011 8:10:50 PM
  • I love the family tree analogy -- thanks for the clarity! - 6/21/2011 4:45:13 PM

x Lose 10 Pounds by June 12! Sign up with Email Sign up with Facebook
By clicking one of the above buttons, you're indicating that you have read and agree to SparkPeople's Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy and that you're at least 18 years of age.