What Are Essential Fatty Acids? Omega-3 fats are produced in the leaves of green plants and algae in our oceans. These plants and algae are then consumed by shellfish and cold-water fish, which results in concentrations of Omega-3 in their fat. Omega-6 fats are found primarily in land-based seeds and grains, and are concentrated in the fat of the animals that eat them, such as cows, pigs and chickens. Both Omega-3 and Omega-6 fats are necessary for human cell membranes to function; however keeping the appropriate balance between the two is important, as they compete with one another for metabolic conversion. Because the typical American diet relies on food products made from soy, corn and the animals that feed on them, ratios of Omega-6 to Omega-3 fats in Americans tend to range between 10:1 and 30:1, with an average of around 15:1. As a result, unless you are following a very low fat diet, the ideal ratio of 1 to 1 between Omega-3 and Omega-6 is difficult to obtain. Medical research suggests that excessive levels of Omega-6 fats increase the probability of many dieases, including cardiovascular disease. The American Heart Association (AHA) has recommended that only 5 to 10 percent of your diet be made up of Omega-6 fats. Conversely, increased consumption of Omega-3 fats, particularly eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), has been shown to improve cardiovascular health. Of EPA and DHA, research suggests that EPA is substantially more effective in improving cardiovascular health, including through the reduction of triglycerides in the body. The most widely available dietary source of EPA and DHA is cold-water, oily fish, such as anchovies, salmon, herring, mackerel and sardines. Oils from these fish contain approximately seven times as much Omega-3 as Omega-6. Other oily fish, such as tuna, also contain Omega-3, though in lesser amounts. Consumers of oily fish, particularly larger species, should be aware of the potential presence of heavy metals, such as mercury and lead, and fat-soluble pollutants like PCBs and dioxins, which accumulate up the food chain. The AHA recently issued its first ever statement on triglyceride management, which includes recommendations for eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid (EPA/DHA) intake that are based on an analysis of more than 500 international studies over the past 30 years. In conjunction with other important lifestyle changes, including dietary changes and weight loss, The AHA recommends a daily intake of 500 - 1,000 mg of EPA/DHA for individuals with borderline high triglycerides (150-199 milligrams per deciliter), 1,000 - 2,000 mg for individuals with high triglycerides (200-499 mg/dL), and 2,000 - 4,000 mg for individuals with very high triglycerides (≥500 mg/dL). Optimal triglyceride levels are considered to be 100 mg/dL or lower. According to The AHA, more than 31% of the United States population's triglyceride levels are at least borderline high. In addition to its recommendations regarding triglyceride management, The AHA has recommended that individuals with a history of coronary heart disease (CHD) consume at least 1,000 mg of EPA/DHA daily. CHD is a condition in which plaque builds up inside the coronary arteries over a number of years resulting in a hardening of the arteries, which is referred to as atherosclerosis. CHD is the most common heart disease in the United States and is the number one cause of death in both men and women. In 2010, an estimated 785,000 Americans had a new coronary attack as a result of CHD, and about 470,000 had a recurrent attack. Elevated triglyceride levels have long been associated with CHD. To obtain the AHA recommended 1 gram of Omega-3 fats per day and to help achieve the desired ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 fats, you should avoid cooking oils that are high in Omega-6 fats, such as corn, soybean, sunflower and peanut, and consume foods that are high in Omega-3 fats, particularly cold-water, oily fish, at least two to three times per week. Commercially prepared fried fish such as that served in restaurants and fast food establishments, as well as many frozen, convenience-type fried fish products, should be avoided because they are low in Omega-3 and high in trans-fatty acids. If you have difficulty consuming The AHA's recommended amount of Omega-3 fats through your diet, or if your health care provider has suggested that you consume a higher amount of Omega-3 than can reasonably be obtained through food, you should consider adding a pharmaceutical grade Omega-3 supplement. A pharmaceutical grade Omega-3 supplement will contain at least 1 gram of Omega-3 fats per standard size capsule, and will be predominantly made up of EPA and DHA with little or no saturated fat.
"What Are Essential Fatty Acids"