You’ve probably heard a lot about the many benefits of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. But, do you actually know what they are and why they’re so beneficial?

Also known as omega-3s, these essential fatty acids collectively include alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Together they play critical roles in the maintenance of metabolic function, brain health, and normal cognitive function from childhood through adulthood. Like other dietary fats, omega-3s are also necessary for proper absorption of fat-soluble micronutrients like vitamins A, D, E, and K.

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Since the body doesn’t naturally produce omega-3s, they must be obtained from the diet through consumption of everyday foods, some of which include oily cold-water fish (salmon, tuna and sardines), flaxseeds, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts,  and high-quality soy foods.

And, interestingly enough, research studies have continuously revealed incredible health-enhancing effects of these omega-3-rich foods. While some of the research is still in infancy stages, here are eight of the most compelling benefits of omega-3s.

Help Lower Cholesterol Levels

Although the development of high cholesterol is complex and genetically influenced, you can successfully lower it naturally and quickly by incorporating omega-3s into your daily diet. Omega-3 fatty acids are known to elevate HDL cholesterol, which is especially beneficial because this “good” cholesterol is responsible for removing LDL (“bad”) cholesterol from arterial walls. Buildup of LDL cholesterol leads to plaque formations in your arteries that cause heart attacks and strokes so less is better.

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Stabilize Blood Sugar Levels

Excess dietary sugar tends to build up in the bloodstream setting off a chain of adverse effects that could ultimately lead to  the development of diabetes. When consumed as part of a well-balanced diet, omega-3s can aid in lowering and stabilizing blood sugar (glucose) levels, which helps in both the prevention and management of diabetes. Adding these fats to carb-rich foods may also reduce the likelihood of unhealthy spikes in blood sugar by slowing the rate at which they are digested and absorbed in the body.

Related Article: How Healthy Eating Habits Can Ward Off Type 2 Diabetes

Lower the Risk of Various Cancers

A growing body of evidence suggests that routine consumption of omega-3s may hinder cancer development and tumor growth, especially in the colon, pancreas, prostate, and breast. In addition, when combined with chemotherapy, consumption of omega-3 fatty acids has been shown to improve treatment outcomes among cancer patients by boosting the overall responsiveness of cancer cells to ionizing radiation.

Related Article: The Anti-Cancer Diet: A Practical, Common Sense Approach to Prevention

Reduce High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure (hypertension) greatly increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, and kidney failure. While the development of high blood pressure is closely linked to sodium-intake and genetic factors, consuming omega-3s as part of a low-sodium diet may support healthy blood flow thereby reducing blood pressure. Remarkably, the blood pressure lowering benefits of these fats is most pronounced in people with diagnosed hypertension or borderline high blood pressure.

Related Article: Effective Strategies for Avoiding Hypertension

Improve Behavioral Issues Associate with ADHD

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common behavioral disorder among children and teens loosely characterized by overactivity, inattention, and, oftentimes, impulsiveness. Studies show that deficiencies in omega-3 fatty acids may trigger or worsen signs and symptoms of ADHD and even decrease the effectiveness of stimulant therapy. On the flip side, regular consumption of omega-3s can help alleviate associated behavioral issues, especially in cases where stimulant therapy is unsuccessful.

Lessen Signs and Symptoms of Depression

Deficiencies in dietary omega-3s may play a pivotal role in neuropsychiatric disorders, including depression. In fact, when consumed regularly, they have been shown to reduce many of the signs and symptoms of depression in both adults and children. Omega-3 fatty acids specifically influence transmission of dopamine and serotonin in the brain. Collectively, these chemicals play key roles in regulating relaxation and sleep patterns, mood, and cognitive function.

Related Article: Anxiety and Sleep Deprivation: How to Sleep Better

Promote Healthy Weight Management

Fatty foods have traditionally been given a bad reputation when it comes to weight loss, as they’re relatively high in calories. But, contrary to popular belief consuming foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids can actually promote weight loss and long-term weight management by helping to prevent excess accumulation of body fat, especially in the visceral (belly) area. Such foods can also reduce stored belly fat by increasing the rate at which it is mobilized and used for energy.

Related Article: Belly Fat: Five Ways to Lose the Pooch

Potent Antioxidant and Anti-Inflammatory Agents

Inflammation triggered by oxidative stress drives the progression of a number of lifestyle-related chronic diseases including  obesity, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and arthritis. Omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) are known to have powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, especially in the presence of disease. When it comes to reducing oxidative stress and associated inflammation, marine foods (oily cold-water fish) are by far the most beneficial sources of omega-3s.

Related Article: What Free Radicals Really Do To Your Body

Though the many health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids are abundantly clear, it’s important to consume them in moderate amounts. Due to their relatively high calorie counts, excessive intake of these fats can in fact lead to unnecessary weight gain. Luckily, when it comes to omega-3s a little goes a very long way. You can reap their full benefits by including a single serving of salmon or tuna, a tablespoon of flaxseeds or chia seeds, and a 1/4 a cup of walnuts or pumpkin seeds into your daily eating regimen. That’s it!

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