Most people reading this post will probably have heard of Omega-3s – perhaps without knowing what they are or can do. To answer that question right away: they are fatty acids shown to have powerful health, weight loss and fitness benefits.
The three major omega-3s fatty acids are alpha-linolenic acid (or ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (or EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (or DHA).
All three are what are known as polyunsaturated fatty acids (or PUFAs). These are commonly called the “healthy fats”; they not only don’t hurt your health, but help to strongly support it…
In the case of Omega-3s, they just might be the healthiest fats of all!
Both EPA and DHA are found in many fish and seafood sources, while ALA is found primarily in plant oils. ALA is considered an essential fatty acid – not produced by the body, therefore required from food or supplement sources.
We therefore include ALA sources on our list of 5 Superfoods that Earn Their Name.
EPA and DHA, on the other hand, are (technically) not essential, but let’s elaborate on that…
That classification is because – in theory – the body can actually use ALA to make them. In practice, however, the amounts and metabolic conversion rates required for complete health benefits from ALA are typically too great.
It is therefore smart to keep your health bases well-covered, seeking food and/or supplement sources for all Omega-3s.
As mentioned above, there’s a lot of buzz surrounding Omega-3s, even dating back to their discovery in 1929 (source). Today it surrounds their potential role in aiding weight loss, promoting optimal health and improving fitness outcomes.
Let’s dive into the science and research behind what makes these fatty acids so powerful.
Omega-3s for Weight Loss
Within your body, metabolism is “measured” by metabolic rate, a.k.a. the rate at which your body burns calories. Someone with a higher metabolic rate is able to burn more calories daily compared to someone with a slower rate…
For effective weight loss, one potential method is to boost metabolic rate, resulting in more calories burned per day. Research has suggested taking fish oil – the most common method for omega-3 supplementation – increases metabolic rate in healthy adults (source).
Specifically, one study looking at a group of older healthy women found that supplementing with 3 grams of fish oil per day for 12 weeks resulted in an increase in their metabolic rate by about 14%. Other notable outcomes were a 27% increase in fat-burning during exercise and a 19% increase even at rest…
Another interesting effect fat intake has been associated with is decreased hunger and increased satiety levels. This means measured fat intake results in feeling less hungry less often, as well as feeling fuller for longer (source).
Physiochemically, this works by way of compounds called triacylglycerols. Derived from the above fatty acids, these compounds enter the small intestine, releasing cholecystokinin (CCK) and other gastrointestinal peptides. Benefits associated with sheer fatty acid chain length, resulting in longer, slower absorption…
Whatever the precise mechanism, however, it’s quite clear. When it comes to successful weight loss, Omega-3s present categorically Good News.
The evidence suggests Omega-3s can assist with increasing your metabolism rate, decreasing hunger levels and increasing your sense of satiety…
In fact, we’re just about ready to make Omega-3s Number 12 on our 11 Steps to Permanent Weight Loss!
Beyond weight loss, however, there’s much more to the Omega-3 story.
So: moving on…
Omega-3s and Health
Omega-3 intake has also been a hot topic for general health in recent years, and it’s not due to controversy.
Quite the contrary: it’s due to consensus…
At this point, Omega-3s present significant benefits for a variety of contemporary health concerns.
Specifically, regular intake of Omega-3s conveys benefits for psychological and brain health as well as reducing risk of heart disease.
Let’s examine these one at a time…
Omega-3s for Brain and Mental Health
It’s no secret: depression remains among the most common and damaging mental disorders in the world today. Many would agree the numbers – some 300 million cases worldwide in 2017 – constitute a legitimate epidemic.
Consequently, there’s a continuous effort to better understand the major underlying causes of the condition. Also growing urgently, however, is a prevailing interest simply in any steps we can take…and sooner rather than later.
In terms of these immediate interventions, studies show Omega-3s can help reduce symptoms of both depression and anxiety in adults. Further research suggests that EPA, specifically, is the Omega-3 primarily responsible for reducing these symptoms most effectively (source).
While more extreme cases may naturally warrant prescription-level intervention, this is still very valuable and encouraging information. After all, the more multifaceted the approach, the greater the chances of effective, efficient and successful treatment!
Working in tandem with psychological state – and at least as important – is the physical function of the brain. Here it appears DHA has a significant role to play in both early brain development and its lifelong protection…
Interestingly, research strongly suggests DHA intake during pregnancy promotes greater intelligence, motor skills and hearing development in children (source).
Beyond birth, this research also suggested DHA supplementation in preschool children carried benefits for preventing ADHD and enhancing academic performance.
In adulthood, DHA has also shown considerable success in reducing symptoms associated with concussion and other brain trauma (source).
Furthermore, and as a final note on the topic of brain health: Omega-3s offer benefits even in the golden years. Specifically, they show great promise in potential protection against cognitive decline and the impact of diseases such as Alzheimer’s (source).
Regardless of when you (or even your parents) began using them, the evidence is crystal clear. Omega-3s offer lifelong benefits for brain health!
Omega-3s for Heart Health
As devastating as afflictions of both mind and brain can be, the fact remains…
Heart disease continues to claim the most lives worldwide.
Thankfully, over the years research has gradually revealed the nutritional patterns associated with reducing your risk of heart disease. Throughout various geographical regions and cultures, common parameters like lower sodium and saturated fat intake have been positively identified. Having correspondingly higher intakes of polyunsaturated fats such as Omega-3s provides benefit as well.
One notable observation first occurred in the 1950s (source). People living both on and around the Mediterranean Sea typically followed a diet rich in fish and plant oils…
These same people exhibited far less heart disease and lived longer, more productive and robust lives as a result.
Nowadays, of course, many refer to the Mediterranean Diet as the world’s healthiest eating pattern…
A diet rich in those native foods just so happens to contain high amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids.
Research links Omega-3 intake with reducing triglyceride levels (on the order of 30%) while elevating HDL cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol).
Great news, as more modern measurements actually find favorable triglyceride-to-HDL ratio superior for heart health assessment vs. total cholesterol (source).
When it comes to your cardiovascular condition, the evidence is in
(and all the way from Ancient Greece) …
Omega-3 intake does translate to a healthier, happier heart!
Omega-3s for Fitness
Even for those already working on avoiding the risks above with sound nutrition and exercise, Omega-3s can help considerably.
This is especially true for those of us just embarking on a program of exercise…
To explain: whenever performing a workout or athletic activity, your body will naturally experience a phase of inflammation. This is a normal, integral part of productive exercise – your body receives stress stimulus, it responds, and you make progress!
Acute and short-lasting inflammation is therefore perfectly normal, while chronic inflammation will actually work against your progress. In either case, the discomfort produced by challenging workouts can easily lead you to avoid the gym altogether…
Not a great scenario for your health and fitness goals!
Fortunately, numerous studies have linked higher Omega-3 intake with reducing exercise-induced inflammation (source). They’ve also proven effective in reducing the soreness resulting from conventional strength training (source).
This means Omega-3s can help active individuals engage in their workouts more regularly, recover more effectively and progress faster.
For those newer to the gym, they also represent a helping hand. By reducing break-in soreness and inflammation Omega-3s help you enjoy workouts more, building a bridge to healthy habits that last!
Whole Food or Supplements?
At this point it’s indisputable:
Omega-3 intake is strongly associated with improved health outcomes across a variety of parameters.
Cardiovascular health, inflammation management, optimal bodyweight and exercise performance are all intertwined as some of the most important for us…
The addition of Omega-3s in our daily nutrition helps to make all of them better.
While research explores varying dosages – determining best amounts, maximum effect, etc. – some common sense can easily help you today.
Consider starting with the inclusion of cold-water fatty fish (salmon, halibut, tuna, mackerel) 2-3 times per week.
Add nuts and seeds (such as flax, chia seed and walnuts) as a way to “supplement” as well.
Please remember our initial statement about this, however: most available research recommends against relying completely on these plant-based sources…
If certain of the whole-food sources mentioned above are a poor match for you, supplementation may prove the better route. Current recommendations by the FDA suggest supplementing with amounts around 3 grams daily for best results.
Whichever way you end up taking your Omega-3s, please make sure you do…
It’s one of the simplest steps you can take to achieve your best bodyweight, health and fitness!