Posted by & filed under The OmegaBlog.

It seems you can’t watch TV or surf the Internet — let alone have a chat with your doctor — without hearing about omega 3’s. Even so, there’s still a lot of confusion and misunderstanding — and you may be wondering, how do omega 3’s help?

Let’s get the easy stuff out of the way first. Omega 3’s are special types of unsaturated fatty acids that occur naturally in certain types of fish and plants. The specific source matters: omega 3 levels are especially high in fish that consume algae as a major portion of their diet — or more specifically, fish that eat fish that eat algae. Some of the fish that are highest in omega 3’s are salmon and halibut.

Meanwhile, a different type of omega 3 (more about that in a minute) is present in plant products such as flax seed, walnuts and soybeans. In general, the omega 3’s derived from algae and the fish that eat it have greater health benefits than that derived from plants.

Omega 3’s first came into the public consciousness in the 1970s, after a Danish study of Inuit communities in Greenland found that the Inuits had significantly fewer blood clots than Danes. One hypothesis for the difference was that the prevalence of fish in their diet improved their cardiovascular health. But exactly how do omega 3’s help?

An emerging consensus

Over the past four decades a clear consensus has emerged in the medical community that the high content of omega-3 fatty acids in fish is good for the heart and other aspects of human health. In fact, more recent studies have actually expanded the understanding of these health benefits. For example, one study examined Yup’ik Eskimos in Alaska, who consume on average 20 times more omega 3 fats from fish than people in the continental United States. That study’s findings suggest that a high intake of these fats helps prevent obesity-related chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.

Other studies have shown that omega 3’s can lead to improved health of eyes, the brain and in brain development of children. What’s more, the Mayo Clinic recently reported: “Omega-3 fatty acids are thought to provide a wide range of health benefits, including a lower risk of coronary heart disease and improvement in cholesterol. There have also been promising results from studies looking at omega-3 for cancer, depression, and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).”

So how do omega 3’s help? In short, the evidence is clear: omega 3’s can contribute to heart health, and much more. But the next thing to learn about is which types of omega 3’s are the best.