Omega-3 fatty acids are essential nutrients that help to lower cholesterol in the blood, specifically LDL (bad cholesterol). The acids also contribute to brain and circulatory health, but our bodies have a very limited ability to manufacture this on their own. These acids – largely found in plants and animals – that have many health benefits. Most of these health benefits come from animal or fish-based EPA and DHA fatty acids, not the plant-based ALA.
Many people are confused about the best way to get enough of these of fatty oils. If you can’t get your daily-recommended intake from food alone, you can take a supplement. When selecting a supplement, you will want to select an animal-based variety, such as fish oil. Depending on your personal health and habits – such as high cholesterol, whether or not you are pregnant or breastfeeding, or don’t eat fish/seafood – your recommended daily intake can vary from 250mg to 4000mg daily. On average, the American Heart Association recommends a daily intake of 250mg.
Never Miss a Beat!
Subscribe to Our HealthBeat Newsletter!
Get Healthy Tips Sent to Your Phone!
How Do These Fatty Oils Help Our Brains?
The benefits of “fish oil” are seen during fetal development in the womb. During pregnancy, “fish oil” fatty acids transfer from the mother’s blood to the developing fetus, through the placenta. Therefore, the intake transferred to a baby depends on the amount of DHA ingested by the mother. Basically, a developing fetal brain can starve for DHA, prior to being born. This shows to have an impact on both the child’s vision and intelligence during the developmental childhood time in life.
Studies have shown that the intake of these fatty acids can greatly influence mood, behavior, and personality. Because the need for DHA does not diminish over time, it is important to include foods rich in fatty oils in your diet to ensure that the following DHA-deficient conditions don’t surface later on:
- Memory loss
- Bipolar disorder
- Attention deficit disorder
- General learning difficulties
- Bad moods
Additional Benefits of Omega-3 Fats
Omega-3 may be beneficial to your heart health. One study found that patients supplementing their diets with fish oils significantly reduced their risk of a subsequent heart attack, stroke, or death. In another study, researchers reported that those who consumed fish at least once per week had a 50 percent reduced risk of dying from a sudden cardiac event compared to those who do not eat fish. Omega-3 oils both control and balance your cholesterol triglyceride levels. Consuming omega-3 fats also have other heart benefits that most people might not know.
Omega-3 fatty acids can help:
- Prevent or counteract cardiac arrhythmia
- Prevent both thrombosis and blood clots
- Reduce or prevent both fatty deposits and fibrosis of the inner layer of your arteries
- Counteract inflammation that causes a “hot” feeling, pain, swelling, or discomfort
In both adults and children, omega-3 supplements and consumption have shown to improve many areas of health, including:
- Coronary heart disease and stroke
- Essential fatty acid deficiency in infancy, e.g. retinal and brain development
- General brain function, including memory and Parkinson’s disease
- Autoimmune disorders, e.g. lupus and nephropathy
- Crohn’s disease
- Cancers of the breast, colon, and prostate
- Rheumatoid arthritis
While the benefits of fish oil aid us from fetal development through our senior years, it’s important to be aware of proper consumption guidelines. If you’re interested in providing omega-3s to children, it’s best to speak with your pediatrician to ensure that the supplements or foods are safe for consumption by children.
As an adult, be sure you discuss all vitamin and nutritional supplements you take with your doctor, just to make sure that nothing will interfere with any of your pre-existing medical conditions or prescribed medications.
Connect with UPMC
The UPMC Department of Neurosurgery is the largest academic neurosurgical provider in the United States. We treat conditions of the brain, skull base, spine, and nerves, including the most complex disorders. We perform more than 11,000 procedures each year, making our team one of the most experienced in the world. Whether your condition requires surgery or not, we strive to provide the most advanced, complete care possible. Our surgeons are developing new techniques and tools, including minimally invasive treatments. Find an expert near you.