Certain fats are essential for health and are among the most powerful medicines, acting as natural painkillers and more potent antidepressants than conventional drugs. These are the omega-3 fats, and they are known to control our mental and physical health, and protect against depression, aggression, and inflammatory diseases, including heart disease and arthritis.
These essential fats benefit health so dramatically because they are turned by the body into a group of compounds called prostaglandins that seem to control just about everything, from hormonal balance to how the brain reacts and responds.
There are two families of essential fats: omega-3 and omega-6. Both of these omega-fats are needed by the body, but most people obtain enough omega-6 in their diet and not enough omega-3.
The most potent dietary source of omega-6 is called GLA, which is highly concentrated in evening primrose oil and borage oil. It can also be made in the body from sunflower and sesame seed oils.
Omega-3 fats are found in high quantities in oily fish or cod liver oil. Some omega-3 fats are also found in flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, and other nuts and seeds, but this oil is prone to oxidation and makes food go rancid quickly, which is why it is removed from many foods that need to have a long shelf life. This and other factors mean that many people are more deficient in omega-3 than omega-6 fatty acids.
When more omega-6 fats and less omega-3 fats are consumed, it also means the greater is the inflammatory effect of a meal. This is because omega-6 fats, found in processed foods, margarines, and more commonly used seed oils such as sunflower oil, have the ability to turn into inflammatory fats in the body. On the other hand, food sources of omega-3 fats switch off inflammation by turning into anti-inflammatory compounds in the body, which counteract disease, as proven by numerous studies.
Here are just a few research findings that highlight ways in which omega-3 oils protect health:
Oily fish (herring, sardines, mackerel, salmon, tuna and trout) are by far the best sources of omega-3 fats, and as a bonus they are also high in protein, Vitamin E and selenium. Nuts and seeds also contain smaller amounts of this healthy fat, but in the form of ALA, which has to be converted into EPA and DHA by the body.
Supplementation is another way of boosting your intake of these essential nutrients. When buying an omega-3 supplement, look for one that provides good levels of the three forms of omega-3: EPA, DHA and DPA, and one that has been purified to remove contaminants and toxins such as heavy metals.
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