Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids that are important for a number of physiological processes. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health points out that most Americans consume too few omega-3 fatty acids and too many omega-6 fatty acids. A diet high in omega-3 fatty acids is linked to several cardiovascular health benefits and may prevent cardiovascular disease, the No.1 killer of American women.
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Consumption of the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid, or EPA, and docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke. It also lowers the risk of death among people with pre-existing cardiovascular disease. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine reports that omega-3 fatty acids lower triglyceride levels, reduce blood pressure and may prevent atherosclerosis.
Benefits for Pregnant Women
Pregnant and nursing women need to consume omega-3 fatty acids to support their own health as well as their baby's growth and development. DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid found at high levels in the brain and eyes. In addition, high omega-3 intake may prevent pre-eclampsia, reduce the risk of premature labor and increase birth weight. The American Pregnancy Association notes that omega-3 fatty acids may also reduce the risk of postpartum depression in women.
Early studies supported by the National Institutes of Health have shown that omega-3 fatty acids improve the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis by reducing stiffness and joint pain. Ongoing work is examining the potential role of omega-3 in asthma, neurological degeneration, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, lupus, osteoporosis and the prevention of organ rejection. However, these studies are ongoing and have not yet shown conclusive results supporting a link to omega-3 fatty acids.
The best dietary sources of omega 3 fatty acids include cold-water fish and organ meats. Alpha-linolenic acid is found in leafy green vegetables, nuts and vegetable oils such as canola, soy and flaxseed. Individuals who do not consume fish at least twice weekly may need an omega-3 supplement. As with any new supplement, consult your health care provider before taking omega-3.