Omega-3 Fatty Acids

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They're not a silver bullet, but they're close! Omega-3s are great for your health — find out why they are, and where to find them.

Omega-3 fatty acids are healthy, polyunsaturated fats that are found mainly in fatty fish, soybeans, and some nuts and seeds. Omega-3s are essential for normal physiological functions and, like other fats, can help satiate your appetite and stabilize blood-sugar levels. They can also reduce heart disease risk by decreasing overall inflammation, lowering triglycerides, and much more.

Omega-3s play a big role in heart health. We don’t yet know exactly why fish oil, which is rich in omega-3s, is so great for the heart, but it may be because it helps reduce inflammation and high blood pressure, decreases triglycerides, raises good HDL cholesterol, and makes blood thinner and less sticky so it’s less likely to clot — all major risk factors for heart disease. Because omega-3s help reduce inflammation, they are also the healthiest fats for people with arthritis or other inflammatory diseases and they help reduce the frequency, duration, and severity of migraine headaches.

If you have macular degeneration — a condition in which the macula of the eye deteriorates, which leads to central blindness — omega-3s may also help. Some of the cells of the retina, the part of the eye that receives light and images, contain docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a specific type of omega-3 fat found in fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines. DHA helps protect light receptor cells in the eye from damage by sunlight and free radicals. A diet heavy in omega-3-rich foods can help protect against age-related macular degeneration.

Omega-3s help protect your mood and memory too. Research has shown that people who ate fatty fish at least once a week had a 10 percent slower decline in memory compared with those who didn’t eat fish. And omega-3s make up part of the structure of the membranes in the brain and help regulate mood.

Studies have not shown clearly the effects of omega-3s on people with diabetes, but they have shown that omega-3s from fish oil may delay the development of glucose intolerance in people without diabetes. Also, because so many people with diabetes develop heart disease, a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids is often recommended.

And if you want to preserve your beautiful skin, omega-3s will help: They maintain cell membranes, allowing water and nutrients in, and protect skin from sun damage.

The best food sources of omega-3 fatty acids are wild salmon (fresh, canned), herring, mackerel (not king), sardines, anchovies, trout, Pacific oysters, omega-3-fortified eggs, ground flaxseed, walnuts, butternuts (white walnuts), seaweed, walnut oil, canola oil, and soybeans.