Omega-3 fatty acids are among the long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids. They are part of the biomembranes of the body’s cells and are precursors of biologically active substances (eicosanoids).
The most important fatty acids for humans are docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).
What are Omega-3 fatty acids?
Our body cannot produce these essential fatty acids or only to a limited extent, that is why we need to consume them through our food.
It is known that fish is an important source of nutrients for the body, as it contains, among many other things, the important omega-3 fatty acids in a concentration as high as any other food.
Experts recommend eating at least one or two servings of fish per week to promote a healthy lifestyle.
What are the essential fatty acids DHA and EPA?
These two fatty acids are only found in fish and in no other food.
They contribute to maintaining normal cardiac function, and DHA also helps maintain your vision and a normal brain function.
Another essential fatty acid is alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).
APA contributes to the maintenance of normal blood cholesterol levels.
Unlike DHA and EPA, ALA is also found in plants, in nuts and seeds, some edible oils or in soybeans.
Fortunately, because the body can convert part of its energy into DHA and EPA, people who do not want or cannot eat fish can meet their dietary needs for essential fatty acids with ALA.
What is the difference between Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids?
Other types of essential fatty acids that we consume are linoleic acid and arachidonic acid, the so-called omega-6 fatty acids, which are contained in sunflower oil, margarine or in animal products.
Since omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids compete for the same enzyme system, an imbalance can cause the body to process only omega-6 fatty acids and displace omega-3 fatty acids aside.
A consequence of this is that more leukotrienes occur, which can cause inflammation or allergies.
Omega-3 fatty acids as a dietary supplement
The intake of Omega-3 fatty acids can also be given in the form of nutritional supplements.
For symptoms and diseases caused by acute fatty acid deficiency, supplements are an easy and convenient option.
Even those who eat fish rarely or not at all can easily regulate their intake of omega-3, for example, with fish oil capsules.
Vegetarians can use flaxseed oil instead.
What foods contain Omega-3?
Fish: Haddock, tuna, mackerel, salmon, trout, sardine.
Edible oils: Canola oil, hemp oil, flax-seed oil, walnut oil.
Nuts and seeds: Chia seeds, flax seeds, nuts, almonds.
What are some of the benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids?
- It positively affects keeping your heart and blood vessels fit and efficient until old age, or if hypertension, cracked blood vessels and heart attacks threaten.
- Omega-3 is also important for the brain to function well, especially in children, and helps keep them focused.
- Omega-3 fatty acids have an anti-inflammatory effect. Your supply of omega-3 significantly decides if your skin is soft and healthy or inflamed (for example, acne, atopic dermatitis) if your intestine is healthy or inflamed (for example, ulcerative colitis) or if your joints are intact and mobile or inflamed (for example, rheumatism, arthritis).
- Omega-3 fatty acids even affect your mood: An optimal supply of omega-3 can improve depression (even severe), as it improves the effects of serotonin, which is the happiness hormone.
This is just the tip of the iceberg
Do Omega-3 fatty acids have cardiovascular benefits?
Previous studies indicated some, although limited, cardiovascular benefits of omega-3 fatty acids.
According to a Medline Plus publication, Omega-3 fatty acids reduce triglycerides (which is a type of blood fat), reduce the risk of irregular heartbeats, decrease plaque buildup in the arteries and help lower the blood pressure.
However, the review of current data by the Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use of the European Medicines Agency (EMA), showed that 1 g of DHA and EPA per day does not protect patients from a heart attack from additional cardiovascular problems.
A study published by the JAMA Network, suggests that dietary supplements containing omega-3 fatty acids do not prevent heart attacks or strokes.
Also in this particular target group, there was no difference in the frequency of heart attacks, strokes, cardiovascular deaths or cancer among patients using fish oil or placebo.
Omega-3 fatty acids help control cholesterol
Dietary supplements that contain omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish oil or flaxseed oil capsules, are often promoted to keep blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels at an optimal point.
At the same time, its consumption should contribute to normal brain, vision, and cardiovascular function.
It is not clear to what extent they can affect the Reverse Transport of Cholesterol (RTC).
The RTC describes a mechanism by which excess cholesterol from peripheral tissues is transported to the liver for hepatobiliary excretion, thus inhibiting the formation of foam cells and the development of atherosclerosis.
A study published by the US National Library of Medicine points to Omega-3 fatty acids could beneficially affect RTC, mainly by influencing the remodeling of high-density lipoproteins and promoting the excretion of hepatobiliary sterols.
Omega-3 fatty acids regulate blood pressure
Linolenic acid increases blood flow while lowering blood pressure, as well as reducing blood lipids.
A study by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the USA showed that vascular channels are long-chain omega-3 fatty acid receptors, and these fatty acids, unlike their ethyl ester derivatives, activate the channels and reduce blood pressure.
This finding has practical implications for the use of omega-3 fatty acids as nutraceuticals for the general public and also for critically ill patients receiving formulas enriched with omega-3.
It helps decrease the risk of cancer
Omega-3 fatty acids have a positive effect on the cell structure of the body.
This could reduce the risk of developing cancer cells.
The preclinical evidence reveals that omega-3 fatty acids and their metabolites may modulate the underlying secondary complications cancer fundamental ways, indicating that this is a promising field to explore knowledge.
May help the health of the fetus during pregnancy
It is not fully demonstrated whether taking dietary supplements containing EPA and DHA during pregnancy or breastfeeding affects the health or development of the baby.
However, some studies show that taking these supplements could increase the amount of time the baby is in the womb and raise a little the baby’s weight at birth, which could be beneficial.
It stabilizes mood and deep sleep
Omega-3 fatty acid helps improve melatonin levels.
This hormone regulates the sleep cycle, therefore, a low level of omega-3 will lead to a low level of melatonin.
The result is sleep disorders and depressive moods.
But with a sufficient amount of fatty acid, sleep can be stabilized, just as hormones and mood swings will balance.
Does it have side effects?
Among the side effects of Omega-3 fatty acids is that nausea and vomiting can occur.
In diabetics, blood sugar control can be difficult and the immune system can be adversely affected, which can lead to increased susceptibility to infections, especially in the elderly.
Therefore, in the case of an existing infectious disease, only an additional dose should be administered after consulting your doctor.
In particular, the EPA may cause an increase in the level of bad cholesterol (LDL).
This is particularly problematic for certain disorders of lipid metabolism.
Special care should be taken when taking it with medication.
The use of high-dose products may increase the effects of anticoagulant medications such as acetylsalicylic acid (ASA).