Omega-3 fatty acids are an integral part of cell membranes throughout the body and affect the function of the cell receptors in these membranes.
They provide the starting point for making hormones that regulate blood clotting, contraction and relaxation of artery walls, and inflammation. They also bind to receptors in cells that regulate genetic function.
What are the key Omega-3s and what are the differences?
- Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA) is a short chain Omega-3 fatty acid. It is found in a variety of plants and seed oils including rapeseed and linseed, some nuts and green leafy vegetables. The human body cannot make ALA, it is obtained through our diet.
- Eicosapentaeonic Acid (EPA) is a long chain Omega-3 fatty acid. The most common source of EPA is oily fish. Our body can produce EPA out of ALA, but the conversion rate is very low.
- Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) is a long chain Omega-3 fatty acid. It is also mostly found in oily fish. Our body can convert EPA to DHA to a limited extent.
EPA and DHA
EPA and DHA are generally considered the most important omega-3 fatty acids. They are especially abundant in brain cells, nerve synapses, eye retinas, adrenal glands and sex glands.
You can get adequate amounts of these forms of omega-3s by eating a variety of foods, including the following:
- Fish and other seafood especially cold-water fatty fish, such as salmon, trout, mackerel, tuna, herring, anchovies, oysters, caviar and sardines.
- Nuts and seeds - for example flaxseed, hemp seed, chia seeds, and walnuts.
- Plant oils such as flaxseed oil, soybean oil, and canola oil.
- Fortified foods including certain brands of yogurt, juices, milk, soy beverages, and infant formulas.
- Enriched eggs
- Kidney beans & Edamame beans
If you don’t eat fish for dietary reasons or personal preference, you can still benefit from Omega 3s by either incorporating ALA rich foods into your diet or opting for a plant-based supplement to meet your needs, seafood-free.
Health Benefits of Omega-3s
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is a multi-system condition characterised by prolonged periods of fatigue, as well as physical and cognitive symptoms, that can’t be explained by any underlying medical condition. Omega-3s supplements for CFS are aimed at supporting energy production at a cellular level and supporting a healthy inflammatory balance.
Depression and Anxiety
Depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the world. Symptoms include sadness, lethargy and a general loss of interest in life. Anxiety, also a common disorder, is characterized by constant worry and nervousness.
Studies indicate that people who consume omega-3s regularly are less likely to be depressed. What's more, when people with depression or anxiety start taking omega-3 supplements, their symptoms have been shown to improve. EPA seems to be the most effective at fighting depression.
Good sleep is one of the foundations of optimal health. Omega 3 DHA stimulates melatonin - the key hormone that facilitates sleep. Melatonin works with the body’s circadian rhythms to help the body prepare for sleep by sending signals to the body that it is time to rest, helping you relax, diminishing levels of other hormones that stimulate alertness, lowering body temperature and blood pressure. Research shows low levels of DHA are linked to melatonin deficiency associated with sleep problems in children and obstructive sleep apnoea in adults, as well as many diseases, including obesity, diabetes and depression.
- Reducing high levels of Triglycerides – triglycerides are a type of fat found in your blood. After you eat, your body converts the calories that you don't need into triglycerides and stores them in your fat cells to be used for energy later. Whilst you do need triglycerides to supply your body with energy, elevated levels may lead to heart disease, especially in people with low levels of "good" cholesterol and high levels of "bad" cholesterol. Omega-3s can significantly reduce high levels of triglycerides.
- Blood pressure: Omega-3s can reduce blood pressure levels in people with high blood pressure
- Cholesterol: Omega-3s can raise “good” HDL cholesterol levels. For some people, omega-3s can also lower “bad” LDL cholesterol.
- Blood clots: Omega-3s can keep blood platelets from clumping together. This helps prevent the formation of harmful blood clots
- Plaque: By keeping your arteries smooth and free from damage, omega-3s help prevent the plaque that can restrict and harden your arteries
Inflammation is a natural response to infections and damage in your body. Therefore, it is vital for your health. However, inflammation sometimes persists for a long time, even without an infection or injury. This is called chronic inflammation. Long-term inflammation can contribute to almost every chronic Western illness, including heart disease and cancer. Notably, omega-3 fatty acids can reduce the production of molecules and substances linked to inflammation, such as inflammatory eicosanoids and cytokines. Studies have consistently observed a connection between higher omega-3 intake and reduced inflammation.
DHA, a type of omega-3, is a major structural component of the retina of your eye. When you don't get enough DHA, vision problems may arise. Getting enough omega-3 is linked to a reduced risk of macular degeneration, one of the world's leading causes of permanent eye damage and blindness.
Brain Health During Pregnancy and Early Life
Omega-3s are crucial for brain growth and development in infants. DHA accounts for 40% of the polyunsaturated fatty acids in your brain. Getting enough omega-3s during pregnancy is associated with numerous benefits for your child. For example, it has been shown that Omega-3s can reduce symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), a behavioural disorder characterized by inattention, hyperactivity and impulsiveness. Several studies note that children with ADHD have lower blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s can help to improve inattention and task completion. They also decrease hyperactivity, impulsiveness, restlessness and aggression.
Omega-3s can help reduce the symptoms of diseases classed as autoimmune diseases (when the body’s immune response is over activated) including type 1 diabetes, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease and psoriasis.
Cramps, backaches, breast tenderness, and headaches are some of the common PMS symptoms that actually cause physical pain. What they have in common is the relation to prostaglandin production and balance. Prostaglandins are hormone-like chemicals derived from fatty acids that have a number of different roles in the body. They help promote smooth muscle contraction and blood vessel dilation – essential for a normal menstrual cycle. Omega-3s can help your body produce anti-inflammatory prostaglandins.
Recent research suggests that people who consume the most omega-3s have up to a 55% lower risk of colon cancer. Additionally, omega-3 consumption is linked to a reduced risk of prostate cancer in men and breast cancer in women.
Bone and Joint Health
Osteoporosis and arthritis are two common disorders that affect your skeletal system. Studies indicate that omega-3s can improve bone strength by boosting the amount of calcium in your bones, which should lead to a reduced risk of osteoporosis. Omega-3s may also treat arthritis. Patients taking omega-3 supplements have reported reduced joint pain and increased grip strength.
DHA is a structural component of your skin. It is responsible for the health of cell membranes, which make up a large part of your skin. A healthy cell membrane results in soft, moist, supple and wrinkle-free skin.
EPA also benefits your skin in several ways, including:
- Managing oil production and hydration of your skin.
- Preventing hyperkeratinization of hair follicles, which appears as the little red bumps often seen on upper arms.
- Reducing premature ageing of your skin.
- Reducing the risk of acne.
- Omega-3s can also protect your skin from sun damage. EPA helps block the release of substances that damage the collagen in your skin after sun exposure.
Following an in depth consultation Claudia, your BioMed Health Practitioner, may recommend taking Omega-3s supplements as part of your Personalised Health Plan.