Every living cell in the body requires essential fatty acids (EFAs). They are found in high concentrations in the brain, aid in the transmission of nerve impulses, control blood clotting and are essential for rebuilding and producing new cells.
Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats found naturally in a wide variety of nuts, seeds, leafy green vegetables, seaweed and fish. Studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids protect against heart disease, inflammation, certain types of cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and macular degeneration. Omega-3 fatty acids are also critical for proper brain development and neurological function. They are classified as “essential” because they are not made in the body and must come from the diet.
There are several types of omega-3 fatty acids. Two crucial ones, EPA and DHA are primarily found in cold water fish. Plants sources like flax, chia, hemp, and green leafy vegetables are primarily alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and are not in their bioactive form. The body must convert these short-chain ALA omega-3 fatty acids into EPA and DHA. This conversion is dependent on numerous key nutrients in a long sequence of complex, enzymatic reactions. Therefore, it’s important to avoid deficiencies by having a well-balanced diet in order for the conversion to take an anti-inflammatory prostaglandin pathway. For more detailed information regarding Omega-3 convervion pathways into EPA and DHA, visit this post.
The Benefits and Functions of Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids
• Research shows strong evidence that EPA and DHA can help lower triglycerides and blood pressure and that they play an important role in reducing inflammation throughout the body.
• Studies have found omega-3 fatty acids significantly reduce joint pain and stiffness.
• DHA is important for visual and neurological development in infants.
• Some studies show that EPA and DHA can improve cognitive function and may help protect against Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
• Essential fatty acids are required for the production of neurotransmitters.
• Essential fatty acids are the building blocks of hormones and are linked to menopause, PMS and other nervous and endocrine system imbalances.
Symptoms of Essential Fatty Acid Deficiency
• Impaired learning or poor memory
• Rough, dry, flaky skin
• Dry, brittle hair
• Weak or dry looking nails
• Dry eyes
• Irregular menstrual periods
• Mood swings
Sources of Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids
• Flax seeds • Hemp seeds • Chia seeds • Walnuts • Macadamia nuts • Sunflower seeds • Pecans • Avocados • Wheatgrass • Spinach • Kale • Broccoli • Seaweed • Algae • Nori • Spirulina • Wild caught, cold water fish •
Cooking and Storing
Heat destroys EFAs and results in the formation of dangerous free radicals, which can promote inflammation. Therefore, when consuming omega-3 rich nuts and seeds, it’s best to eat them raw and store in sealed containers in the refrigerator or other cool, dark places that are out of direct sunlight.
Flax, hemp, olive, pumpkin and other omega-3 rich oils should never be heated or used for cooking. Instead, use coconut oil which is more heat stable due to its chemical structure, making it less vulnerable to oxidation and free radical formation.