The Many Benefits of Omega 3
Health Benefits of Omega 3
The benefits of omega 3 fatty acids first came to the attention of the scientific community back in the 1970's. While studying a population of Greenland Inuit...sometimes referred to as Eskimo's. Researchers observed that this community of people had a significantly lowered incidence of certain chronic disease conditions when compared to European populations.
These conditions included...Coronary heart diseaseDiabetesRheumatoid Arthritis and...Psoriasis...an autoimmune disease, inflammatory in nature affecting the skin and sometimes the joints
The researchers noted that the Inuit people consumed a diet very high in fat...everyday. The fat in their diet came from the regular consumption of Salmon, Seal and Whale.
The researchers concluded that these particular food sources were rich in omega 3 fats and they attributed the health benefits observed in the Inuit population to the presence of omega 3 in their diet.
Decades have come and gone since then with a steady and significant amount of scientific research being accumulated along the way which now comprises an impressive body of scientific data that clearly shows significant benefits of omega 3 in the health of humans.
In the United States the Food and Drug Administration now allows food labeling that extols certain benefits of omega 3.
For example in 2004 the FDA published the following as an allowable claim on food items that contain the components in omega 3 fat that are thought to confer health benefits.
"Consumption of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease."
Now, what is EPA and DHA again?
Omega 3 is a specialized form of polyunsaturated fat that consists of three main components in fish oil and can be synthesized in your body to a limited degree from ALA. Each component has a unique chemical structure and metabolizes differently in your body.
The three components in fish oil are...Docosahexaenoic Acid DHAEicosapentaenoic Acid EPADocosapentaenoic Acid DPA
Omega 3's are known as essential fatty acids because they are very important for certain body processes and must be acquired from your diet.
Alpha-Linolenic Acid or ALA can be obtained from certain seeds, seed oils and other plant sources. Your body can synthesize EPA and DHA from available ALA but only in very small quantities as the conversion process is very inefficient.
For the best biologically available sources of EPA and DHA, particular fish species and fish oil is usually recommended.
The benefits of omega 3 on human health most commonly refer to the inclusion and benefit of the EPA and DHA components in your diet. It is unclear whether ALA on its own confers specific health benefits although it is very likely that it does. ALA is certainly used as a precursor molecule that allows your body to make EPA and DHA and this could be where the observed benefits lie.
Likewise, the exact benefits of DPA are currently uncertain but it should be noted that the Inuit diet contains a rich source of it in seal oil.
| Where does Omega 3 come from?
When most people think of omega 3's they usually think 'fish', but have you ever wondered how it ends up in the fish?
EPA and DHA are actually synthesized by ocean plants called phytoplankton which form the base level in the marine life food chain. Fish consume the plankton...some species of larger fishes consume smaller fishes with the resulting accumulation of EPA and DHA in the flesh of the fish...growing in concentration as you move up the food chain.
ALA is land plant based in origin; for example, flax seeds, walnuts, soy beans.
So let's check in on some specific research supported heart health benefits of omega 3.
Primary cardiovascular disease prevention
A number of large studies looking at populations who regularly eat fish report a statistically significant lower rate of death from heart disease. Fish oil is also associated with improved blood vessel function and a decreased resting heart rate.
Secondary cardiovascular disease prevention
Omega 3 reduces the risk of heart attack both non fatal and fatal and the incidence of sudden death in people with histories of heart attacks.
Initial studies report reductions in chest pain - known as angina associated with fish oil intake
Acute coronary syndrome - sudden onset of 'new' or previously undiagnosed angina
Early evidence suggests that in individuals who have low levels of EPA and DHA an increased risk of developing acute coronary syndrome exists.
Atherosclerosis - hardening of the arteries
Some research indicates that a daily intake of fish or fish oil supplements reduces the risk of developing atherosclerotic plaques in the arteries of the heart
High blood pressure
A number of clinical trials in humans report small reductions in blood pressure with intake of omega-3 fatty acid.
The known anti-inflammatory effect of omega 3 suggests that this quality may help protect against heart disease. The process of inflammation in the coronary arteries is now accepted as a risk factor for the development of acute coronary thrombosis and arterial plaque.
Hypertriglyceridemia - elevated triglyceride level
There is strong scientific evidence that points to a significant reduction in blood triglyceride levels with regular inclusion of omega 3 fatty acids.
Cardiac Arrhythmias - abnormal heart rhythms
There is evidence that omega-3 inclusion in your diet may decrease the risk of irregular heartbeats. Certain types of cardiac arrhythmias are associated with sudden cardiac death.
An anti thrombotic agent interferes with the formation of blood clots. Acute myocardial infarction is either due to a ruptured plaque in the wall of the coronary artery or the formation of a blood clot or thrombus. These processes can also act together. Omega 3 fatty acids are recognized as having antithrombotic qualities.
An anti-atherogenetic agent prevents the process of atherogenesis which is the accumulation of plaques on the inside wall of an artery. Omega 3 fatty acids have an anti-atherogenic action.
Fat forms an important part of your cell membrane structure. Researchers have found that if your body cannot access sufficient quantities of omega 3 fats to use in the construction of cell membranes then it will substitute with available saturated fat. In this case the resulting cell walls are less elastic. With respect to the heart and circulatory system which requires a great deal of flexibility in its cell structures, reduced cellular flexibility can play a part in the development of cardiovascular disease.
The benefits of omega 3 don't stop at cardiac health either. Specific benefits in Autoimmune diseases, which are rife these days such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus among others...and as an essential component of brain health in young and old alike have also been noted.
There is more than sufficient evidence to encourage you to make some changes in your diet and to include two servings of oily fish per week. Don't forget daily supplementation to ensure that you get all the health benefits of omega 3.
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