The benefits of Omega-3
It was back in the 70's when two Danish doctors (Bang & Dyerberg) created a link between Omega-3 fatty acids and health by studying the differences between danes' and eskimoes' health and food patterns. Because of their work, we have learned Omega-3's are good and necessary fatty acids for the body. But what are Omega-3 fatty acids and why are they so important for our health? And what do we actually use them for?
What are Omega-3's?
Omega-3 fatty acids are a group of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) that are of vital importance to the body. With other types of fat, the body is capable of producing them from other fats or raw materials but with Omega-3 it is different; all types of Omega-3 fatty acids must come from our food.
To understand how Omega-3's work in our body, it is key to learn, there are different types in the family of Omega-3 fatty acids. Here we have listed the most common:
Eicosapentaenoic acid (known as EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
Both come mainly from fish and are sometimes called 'Marine omega-3's'.
Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
Comes mainly from vegetable oils and nuts but can be found in many other foods.
How do we use them?
Once absorbed in the body the fatty acids EPA and DHA are converted into so called eicosanoids and used as an integral part of our cell membranes, where they affect the function of the cell receptors in the membranes. This means they provide the starting point for producing the hormones that regulate blood clots, contract and relax artery walls and inflammation. They also bind to receptors in the cells that regulate genetic function. ALA is converted to different eicosanoids than EPA and DHA and the internal balance between the different eicosanoids is key to a number of reactions in our metabolism.
What are they good for?
Due to the effects in our bodies, Omega-3 fatty acids has been linked to help prevent heart disease and may help to control a number of other conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.
The strongest link to a health benefit is to be found in the research about heart disease. Here research has found that Omega-3's help the heart to beat steadily and not veer into a potentially dangerous erratic rhythm. In other studies the fatty acids has shown to help prevent heart attack survivors to suffer another heart attack or stroke.
Fish is key to the healthy Omega-3's
Fish is one of the foods with the highest natural content of Omega-3 fatty acids and with a low fat and high protein composition by nature, it is not only a great source of the fatty acids but also a very healthy source.
There is also a key difference in the different types of Omega-3's; one cannot replace the other and one cannot cover all needs. Although it is possible to convert plant based Omega-3's to fish based, it is rarely efficient and it is important to include the marine Omega-3's in a healthy, balanced diet.
Leaf A. Prevention of sudden cardiac death by n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. J Cardiovasc Med. (Hagerstown): https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17876194
Bang H.O.og Dyerberg J. (1971) Plasma lipid and lipoprotein pattern in Greenlandic west-coast eskimoes. The Lancet: http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(71)91658-8/abstract
Omega-3 fatty acids and cardiovascular disease. Journal of the American College of Cardiolog: http://www.onlinejacc.org/content/54/7/585