Essentials for a Healthy Heart and Brain!

Most of us have heard the terms ‘fatty acid’ and ‘omega 3’ and that they are good for our health.  But what is a fatty acid, exactly?  What about the other fatty acids?  How much of these do we need in our diets to live a long, healthy life?

 

In simple terms, the chemical structure of a fatty acid is described as a chain of carbon atoms attached to each other singly and in pairs.  The beginning of the chain is alpha, the end is omega.  The ‘3’ comes from finding the first double bond of the molecule 3 atoms from the end of the chain; omega-6 is 6 atoms from the end, and in omega-9 it’s 9 atoms away.

 

Fatty acids are important for all systems of the body to function normally, including our skin, respiratory and circulatory systems, our brain and other organs.  Within our bodies, omega-3 fatty acids chemically convert to the compounds DHA and EPA.  These are highly unsaturated fats very important in vision and brain development in infants, children and adults.  Blue green algae is a good source of supplemental DHA and EPA.

 

However, there are 2 essential fatty acids (EFA) that our bodies do not produce independently, so we must get these nutrients through our foods.  These 2 fatty acids are the omega-3 fatty acid and omega-6 fatty acid.

 

Omega-3 fatty acid (Alpha-linolenic acid) is important for healthy brain function and may help fight against cardiovascular disease.  Thus, the American Heart Association and the World Health Organization recommend a diet that includes 2 servings a week of fatty fish, like salmon, sardines or tuna.

 

Research is abundant on other health benefits of omega-3.  Omega-3 may help prevent and fight against asthma, arthritis and osteoporosis, high cholesterol and high blood pressure, attention and depressive disorders, decreasing liver fat, even some cancers.  Some of the richest food sources for omega-3 can be found in raw seeds and grains, hemp and wheat germ oils, raw walnuts and walnut oil, and flaxseeds and flaxseed oil.

 

Omega-6 fatty acid (Linoleic acid) combined with omega-3 helps with many of the benefits described above and most us get more of this omega than our bodies need.  We need about twice the amount of omega-6 than omega-3 in our daily diet.   If you eat a diet of fast foods, frozen entrees and high calorie snacks, it’s possible to get 15 times, or more, what we need!  Research and studies at Washington DC’s Center for Genetics, Nutrition and Health suggest this high ratio is detrimental and may ‘cancel out’ the health benefits of the other omegas.

 

Naturally occurring sources of omega-6 are seeds, nuts and grains, and green leafy veggies like broccoli, lettuce and kale.  Cold pressed oils like sesame, hemp, chia, safflower and sunflower are rich in omega-6.

 

Finally, Omega-9 (Oleic acid) is a non-essential fatty acid that is produced in the body when there is enough omega-3 and 6.  This fatty acid promotes heart health, balances cholesterol levels and improves immune function.  Also found in seeds, nuts and oils, omega-9 is found abundantly in olives and avocados.

 

By: Teri, Wellness Team Member

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