Overview of the Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are often referred to as “essential” fatty acids (EFAs) because they are needed for human health but are not sufficiently produced by the body alone. The two major health promoting Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). EPA and DHA are naturally found in certain cold-water fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel. They can also be derived in the body from alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is an Omega-3 found in certain seeds and plant-based oils. However, the body is very inefficient at converting ALA into EPA and DHA, which is why these Omega-3s must be obtained in the diet.
Over the last century, the modern diet has become largely depleted of these Omega-3 essential fatty acids and has become overloaded with pro-inflammatory Omega-6 fatty acids, especially arachidonic acid. This heavy imbalance of Omega-6 to Omega-3 fatty acids in the modern diet is thought to lead to an overall inflammatory state that contributes to certain diseases. The increased consumption of vegetable oils and shortenings, beef, and dairy is one of the major reasons for the high amount of Omega-6s in the diet and the imbalance between Omega-6 to Omega-3 fatty acids. The North American population, in particular, has among the lowest dietary intake of Omega-3s found in the world and the highest amount of the pro-inflammatory Omega-6s.
Recent scientific developments have shown that the Omega-3s, in particular EPA and DHA, play a vital role in central nervous system, cognitive, cardiovascular, joint, immune and metabolic function. EPA and DHA not only protect good overall physical and emotional health, but also can reduce the risk of cardiac disease and exert powerful anti-inflammatory effects that can help treat certain diseases. The benefits of EPA and DHA have been studied across a wide range of illnesses, including heart disease, high cholesterol, hypertension, arthritis, back pain, osteoporosis, psoriasis, lupus, Crohn’s Disease, back pain, dry eyes, depression, bipolar disorder, ADHD, and stress-related disorders. The importance of Omega-3s have also been shown to be important in pregnant women and infants, where their depletion may lead to visual or central nervous system problems.
Since some larger fish species may contain high levels of mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxins or other contaminants, achieving an optimal amount of Omega-3s through the intake of fish alone raises a number of safety concerns. Omega-3 supplements (such as Omax3) that are certified free of environmental contaminants offer a safe, alternative way to obtain the health-promoting benefits of EFAs. In fact, highly purified Omega-3 supplements now provide an extremely safe and efficient delivery system for EPA and DHA into the diet.
References for Overview of the Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids
Covington MB. Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Am Fam Physician 2004; 70:133-140.
Simopoulos AP. Omega-3 fatty acids in health and disease and in growth and development. Am J Clin Nutr 1991; 54:438-463.
Simopoulos AP. Essential fatty acids in health and chronic disease. Am J Clin Nutr 1999; 70 Suppl. 3 560S-9S.