Ladies and gentlemen, step right up and learn about a magical elixir! This amazing nutrient can truly do it all! It can lower your cholesterol, reduce high blood pressure, protect you from heart attacks, ease joint pains, fight wrinkles and skin ailments, and improve your memory. Why, it will even boost your mood!
Years ago, a snake-oil salesman might've hawked omega-3 fatty acids in just this way. Though there isn't really any magic to omega-3, research is finding that they do have some pretty potent health properties.
Omega-3 fatty acids are a collection of polyunsaturated fatty acids, including eicosapentaenic acid (EPA) and docosahexanoic acid (DHA), found in fish, and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is found in plants. Unlike the saturated fats in foods like butter and meat, which can raise levels of unhealthy (LDL) cholesterol, polyunsaturated fats are healthier because they help lower cholesterol levels and reduce inflammation throughout the body.
EPA and DHA are called essential fatty acids because the body doesn't produce them. That's why it's important to get omega-3 fatty acids from food or from supplements. You can find omega-3 fatty acids in many different sources, including flaxseed, canola oil, walnuts and soybeans, but fatty coldwater fish like salmon, herring and tuna seem to be the best ones [source: Mayo Clinic]. Just make sure that you don't overdo it on large fish like shark, tilefish and tuna, which tend to be high in mercury. Pregnant women should definitely avoid fish with high mercury levels.
In this article, you'll see what the research has to say about omega-3 fatty acids, and you'll find out which health benefits from this essential nutrient actually live up to the claims.