If you know anything about the health benefits of seafood, the first thing that probably comes to mind are Omega-3 fatty acids. And if you know anything about Omega-3's, then you know just how vital they are to our health. As for myself, I always heard that Omega-3's were good for you, but not until I did some research of my own did I begin to see just how good they really are.
First off, what is an Omega-3 fatty acid anyways? Well, Omega-3's are a family of polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are very small carbon compounds, two of which are considered essential nutrients, meaning they must be obtained from natural food sources or supplements (natural food sources being the preferred way). Linolenic acid and alpha-linolenic acid (alpha-linolenic is naturally derived from Linolenic acid in the body), are the two essential acids that we all need to ensure we are taking in with our diet. They are referred to as ALA, while the other two Omega-3 acids important in human nutrition are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), both of which are heavily found in fish and fish oil. Although the body will convert ALA into EPA and DHA, nutritionists agree that the best Omega-3 supplements contain all three amino acids.
In fact, the absolute best source for obtaining EPA and DHA Omega-3's are from fish oil, which poses a problem for vegetarian's to say the least. No worries all you vegetarians out there, for you can now obtain EPA and DHA Omega-3's from a non-animal source recently discovered by scientists. Guess what it is? It's nothing more than algae. Yep, that's right. The super-wondrous blue-green algae has done it again. The fish get their DHA and EPA from the algae. It makes sense when you stop to think about it. Small fish eat algae, which are in turn, eaten by larger fish. One of the most pure sources of blue-green algae in the world is sold by a company called Pure Vision, whose E3Live blue-green algae is organically harvested on Upper Klamath Lake in Oregon.
As for ALA Omega-3 acids, they are mostly concentrated in nuts, seeds and oil, and are primarily found in flaxseed oil. In fact, flaxseed oil is six times richer in Omega-3's than most fish oils, which are in turn, about seven times more potent to eating fish. If you eat fish, cold water species such as Wild Salmon, Herring, Mackerel, Anchovies and Sardines have the greatest concentrations of EPA and DHA. While risks of heavy metal poisoning are not unwarranted, a 2006 test of 42 different fish oils on the market exceeded safety guidelines. The FDA recommends to not exceed 3 grams of Omega-3's per day from fish or fish oil and 2 grams of Omega-3 fatty acids per day from nutritional supplements. It is also recommended to not take Omega-3 supplements that also contain the primary Omega-6 fatty acid. Although this Omega-6 fatty acid is also vital to the body, it competes for the same enzymes that Omega-3 needs to convert EPA and DHA, thus resulting in adequate levels of these two Omega-3's. Besides, Omega-6 supplementation is not nearly as needed as Omega-3, for the average human diet takes in more Omega-6. Also, many store-bought foods are fortified with essential fatty acids these days now that the vast benefits are more widely known and understood.
What are these benefits you ask? Well, aside from the normal development of brain tissue in children, Omega 3's have been linked with a lower risk of coronary heart disease, improved blood circulation, dispelling varicose veins, lower blood pressure, alleviating rheumatoid arthritis and cardiac arrhythmias and reducing the risk of stroke. Fish oil is often given to autistic people, many of whom show greater overall health and increased eye contact, and is also used to treat psychological disorders, for which many studies have shown promising results.
Omega-3 fatty acids enhance brain cell membranes by fortifying myelin sheaths, which increases communication between neurons and promotes neuronal growth. It is no coincidence then that Omega-3 fatty acids make up approximately 8% of the human brain. A study at the University of Minnesota confirmed that patients with Schizophrenia and Huntington's disease who were given Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation showed significant increases in brain tissue as opposed to patients who did not receive the supplements.
Regarding essential development of brain tissue, as well as muscle tissue, DHA fatty acids are crucial. That means pregnant women should be taking an adequate amount of DHA for their developing infant. Again, there are legitimate concerns of mercury poisoning. However, doctors say that no more than 12 ounces of seafood per week will keep pregnant mother's in the safe zone. If you are pregnant, speak with your doctor first before eating seafood.