Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Overview

Omega-3 refers to a family of essential fatty acids. This family includes alpha-linolenic acid, which is converted in the body to longer-chain omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Fish such as anchovies, salmon, sardines, and trout contain oils high in Omega-3 fatty acids. These fish oils are particularly high in EPA and DHA fatty acids. In recent studies, EPA is recognized for its possible role in improving heart health, as well as mood and skin disorders. DHA is recognized for its role in decreasing the risk of age-related eye disorders, improving heart health, and reducing skin disorders. Research may support that both EPA and DHA reduce triglyceride levels, but don’t have the same effect on LDL levels. Research is working to determine the role of fish oils in preventing other age-related issues. Taking excessive amounts of fish oil can affect the bloods ability to clot, so prudent dosing is important. The source of dietary and supplemental fish oil should also be considered to avoid overexposure to contaminants associated with marine life and other additives, such as vitamins A and D found in cod liver oil.

Absorption

Digestion and absorption of omega-3 fatty acids, takes place in the small intestine. Dietary Origins Cold-water fish such as anchovies, salmon, sardines, and trout are best sources of omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Omega-3 fatty acids may also be found in alfalfa, flaxseed, rapeseed, soybeans, and walnuts. In most cases, people are not able to consume enough fatty acids from dietary sources, and nutritional supplementation is recommended.

Toxicities & Precautions

Omega-3 is a highly unsaturated fatty acid exposed to oxidative damage in the body. Thus, people consuming omega-3 should take adequate amounts of antioxidant nutrients, especially vitamin E, vitamin C, and selenium.

Functions in the Body

Blood Thinning

  • Omega-3 aids in reducing platelet stickiness and acts as a mild blood thinner.

Cellular Structure

  • DHA is the most abundant long chain fatty acid in cells within the brain; it helps with cell wall structural components and cellular membranes.

Development

  • DHA and EPA fatty acids are important in the development of the brain and the retina of the eyes in early growth.

Regulation

  • Precursor for an important group of chemicals, which regulate inflammation, blood pressure, hormone production, and the activity of the immune and central nervous systems.

Symptoms & Causes of Deficiency

Since omega-3 is the precursor for an important group of chemicals, which regulate inflammation, blood pressure, hormone production, and the activity of the immune and central nervous systems, a deficiency of these fatty acids can result in a wide variety of problems related to endocrine, organ, and immune function including inflammation, macular degeneration, elevated triglyceride levels, depression, and risk of heart disease. Deficiency is primarily due to a lack of dietary intake and the fact that omega-3 has been removed from most processed foods in order to lengthen shelf life.

For more information, visit Omega-3 Fatty Acids.

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