Omega-3 is called an essential fatty acid due to the fact that the human body is not capable of manufacturing the fats. This means that we must supplement omega-3 through our diet. Both eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are typically found in fatty fish, such as salmon. On the other hand, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is typically found in plant sources, like flaxseed, black cumin seed (Nigella sativa) and soybeans. Because ALA is derived from plant sources, such as flax, vegetarians often depend upon flax seed oil as a source of omega-3 fats even though it does not contain any DHA or EPA whatsoever. The human body is able to convert ALA into EPA then, subsequently, into DHA, but this conversion process is extremely inefficient. This is because the enzyme that turns alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) into eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) is rate limiting, because of the fact that the same protein also chemically binds to omega-6 fatty acids (thus, the problem is worse if your diet is relatively high in omega-6).
Most of the health benefits of Omega fatty acids are well known, although many more are being continually discovered as scientists research the uses to which the substances can be put in our bodies. Omega-3 fatty acids have long carbon chains that are polyunsaturated, i.e. contain multiple double bonds in the hydrocarbon chain. As opposed to saturated fatty acids with no double bonds. They are important components of our neurological systems and help to build up cell membranes, but are probably best known for their effect in protecting us from cardiovascular diseases. Omega-3 fatty acids can help us to maintain a healthy heart, and so enable us to live longer.
Benefits Of Omega-3 Fats
- Reduce inflammation
- Keep platelets less sticky acting like an anticoagulant (blood thinner) and decreasing the risk of blood clot formation, helping to protect against heart attack, stroke and deep vein thrombosis (DVT)
- May protect against the accumulation of a protein thought to be associated with Alzheimer’s
- Lowers the risk of an initial heart attack by 20-40 percent, and the risk of dying suddenly during and post heart attack by 20-40 percent
- Help reduce the risk of cancer and my help to inhibit it’s growth
- Omega 3’s can help us reduce fat and maintain a leaner healthier body
- Contribute to eye health (a significant cause of macular degeneration is the lack of omega 3 oils in the diet.)
- Help fight depression, anxiety
- Help to lessen tendencies toward impulsiveness or aggression
- Help to control hormone levels
- Can help control the inflammation of arthritis, and other inflammatory diseases
Some people, particularly vegetarians and people who are concerned about the mercury and other heavy metal content, choose to take flax seed oil or black cumin seed supplements instead of fish oil. However, while flax seed oil is six times richer than most fish oils in omega-3, the actual omega 3 chemical in flax seed oil is called ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). This chemical, in turn must be converted to other forms to be fully effective in the ways mentioned above, and this process is not very efficient, especially as one gets older. Fish oil contains the end-state chemicals already, so no conversion is necessary.
It is clear that there are strong reasons to supplement with omega 3 fatty acids, and more specific benefits are being discovered every day. As always, you should consult with your health care provider before taking a nutritional supplement, so think about asking her or him about omega 3s today.