Practically every day, a headline will scream about this or that new diet supplement that produces amazing health benefits. These supplements, of course, usually come and go. However, one compound very much in the news these days is likely to be around for a long time. These are the omega-3 fatty acids. Why is this so? Because omega-3 fatty acids are essential for your body in many functions, and they also help reduce a variety of health problems you might experience.

However, unlike some other substances such as cholesterol, your body can't manufacture its own. You have to get omega-3 fatty acids from your diet.

What Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids?

There are three main types of omega-3 fatty acids. They are DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). DHA is consumed in food, and is broken down by the body into the other two. EPA and DHA are especially beneficial for many functions.

Why Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids so Important?

Many reliable studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce your risk of coronary heart disease, certain cancers and arthritis. In addition, fetuses in the womb that don't get the right amounts have been shown to be at increased risk for nervous system or vision problems. Both mother and baby need omega-3 fatty acids, but they're passed from mother to baby during pregnancy.

Many studies have found that omega-3s play a vital role in optimal cognitive functioning as well, including such skills as thinking and memory. If they are lacking, this can show up as poor memory skills, excess fatigue, mood swings and other problems.

There is a positive benefit to getting the proper amounts of omega-3s, however. If you get the appropriate amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, your cholesterol levels and blood sugar levels are generally better, as are other factors. For example, your "good" cholesterol, known as HDL, is generally higher and your triglyceride levels are lower.

How Can You Get Omega-3 Fatty Acids from Your Diet?

It's easy to get omega-3 fatty acids in your diet, in the proper amounts. Official organizations such as the American Heart Association recommend that you eat two servings of fish per week. Species such as herring, salmon, mackerel, halibut and tuna are good choices. Other food sources also contain important omega-3 fatty acids, including something known as krill, similar to shrimp.

Omega-3 fatty acids have benefits that can't be ignored, and this is one reason such diets as the Mediterranean Diet have become so popular. This diet focuses on foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish. It minimizes the use of red meat and also focuses on whole grains, fresh vegetables and fruit, garlic and other foods native to the Mediterranean region. As an example, kiwi contains omega-3 fatty acids, and so do certain nuts such as walnuts and pecans. Flax is another good source.

Contraindications and Risks

As with just about anything, you can overdo omega-3 fatty acids. For example, stroke is a possibility when you consume more than 3 g of omega-3 fatty acids per day. And as with any dietary recommendation, what you need will vary with your circumstances and diet. Just as you should consult with your physician when you begin any regimen or diet, you should consult with your physician when you look to incorporate omega-3 fatty acids into your diet.