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The alpha and omega

Omega oils found in foods and supplements can bring you real health benefits when taken regularly

Omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are essential to health and wellbeing and our bodies cannot produce them," says Elaine Joyce of Ylang Ylang health store in Westport, Co Mayo. "They have to be obtained from diet and supplements. Omega-3 fats are derived from eating fatty fish, flax seeds and oil, eggs, walnuts and tofu. Omega-6 are derived from safflower and sunflower seed oil, nuts, seeds and soya beans. Omega-3s have anti-inflammatory benefits and help cardiovascular health and foetal growth, whereas omega-6s help lower cholesterol and support skin and female health."

"The best source of omega-3 is oily fish which provides the most beneficial and active fatty acids, commonly referred to as EPA and DHA, responsible for 95% of the health benefits associated with omega-3," says Galway-based nutritional therapist Olive Curran who works for PPC. "An IPSOS/MRBI survey found that 89% of Irish people are not consuming sufficient oily fish in their diet, so there is often a need to supplement with a high quality fish oil. Omega-3 is also present in the form of Alpha Linolenic Acid (ALA) in seeds such as flaxseed and hempseed and their oils plus nuts such as walnuts. Healthy omega-6 fats are present in foods such as nuts, seeds, healthy oils such as flaxseed oil, hempseed oil, blackcurrant seed oil, grapeseed oil and evening primrose oil. Corn, safflower, sunflower, soybean, and cottonseed oils are also good sources of linoleic acid, but are refined and may be deficient in some nutrients."

Brilliant brain

"Fish oils contain two types of omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA which are critical for normal brain function and development throughout life," says Elaine Joyce. "Low levels of omega-3s may lead to brain ageing and contribute to problems in brain function. EFAs help to preserve brain cell membrane health and facilitate communication between cells. They are vital for brain development in the foetus and in old adults when the brain starts to deteriorate."

"DHA is a primary structural component of the brain and specifically of the cerebral cortex, the area of the brain responsible for memory, language, abstraction, creativity, judgement, emotion and attention," says Olive Curran. "People who don’t get enough omega-3s in their diet can become demotivated, disinterested, forgetful and may experience low mood, while serious deficiency can lead to an increased risk of developing conditions such as ADD, dyslexia, depression and Alzheimer’s. Even taking omega-3 for a couple of weeks can improve memory and cognitive ability, concentration, lead to better sleep and a stronger immune system."

Health heart

"The benefits of the EFAs in omega-3 oils for the heart is that they may lower triglyceride levels, slow the build-up of cholesterol and plaque in the arteries, and they may lower blood pressure," says Elaine Joyce. "A diet rich in EFAs has been linked with a reduced risk of stroke and heart attack."

"There is more scientific evidence behind the cardiovascular health benefits of fish oil than any other nutritional supplement," says Olive Curran. "Omega-3s have been found to reduce blood pressure and triglycerides and improve blood circulation. Omega-3 has also been shown to increase HDL ‘good’ cholesterol, thereby helping to reduce cholesterol levels, as HDL removes bad cholesterol from the body. Omega-3s also play an important role in thinning the blood and reducing inflammation throughout the body."

Beating inflammation

"Essential fatty acids may be very beneficial to conditions brought about by inflammation," says Elaine Joyce, "for example arthritis and cardiovascular health. Inflammation in the body can lead to heart disease, strokes, and damage to blood vessels. EFAs have strong anti-inflammatory benefits and have been known to help reduce symptoms of inflammatory disease such as rheumatic arthritis."

"Getting the right balance of essential fatty acids is vital in managing inflammation," says Olive Curran. "The omega-6 fat arachidonic acid present in meat and deep fried foods mostly sends pro-inflammatory messages, whereas omega-3 helps calm inflammation by sending anti-inflammatory messages. So it is best to lessen your intake of red meats, processed meats, vegetable oils, highly refined foods, deep fried foods, and fast food."

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