Omega – 3 is a type of Polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) that is seen in fish, nuts, algae, flax seeds etc that has amazing health benefits. (Polyunsaturated means, several double bonds in the chemical structure between carbon atoms)
There are different types of omega-3s, but the majority of scientific research focuses on three namely – Alpha Linolenic Acid (ALA), Eicosa-Pentaenoic Acid (EPA), and Docosa-Hexaenoic Acid (DHA).
ALA is seen in plant based products such as walnut, flax seeds, canola etc, while EPA & DHA are seen in krill oil, fish, algae etc. EPA & DHA are originally synthesised by micro algae. When fish consume phytoplankton that consumed microalgae, they accumulate the omega-3s in their tissues
Why is Omega 3 important?
ALA is an essential fatty acid – meaning, they cannot be produced by the human body and needs to be supplied from outside food. ALA can be converted into EPA and later to DHA. However, the conversion which occurs mostly in the liver is very inefficient, with reported rates of around 10% conversion .
Therefore, consuming EPA and DHA directly from foods and/or dietary supplements is the only practical way to achieve the required amounts of these fatty acids in the human body.
In terms of health benefits and requirements, EPA & DHA are considered to be superior in function and requirement by the human body
Benefits of Omega 3
- Helps to build cell membranes throughout the body
- Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory in nature. Omega-3 works to lessen the effects of inflammation by blocking multiple inflammation pathways in the cell. Hence, it is particularly helpful for those with Crohn’s disease, Ulcerative Colitis etc
- Omega 3 also helps in maintaining a healthy heart and brain function
- It also helps in reducing the triglycerides level in the human body
- Omega 3, especially DHA is very important for the retinal health and eye sight.
- Adequate amount of Omega 3 is particularly important during pregnancy for foetal development
- Some research suggest Omega 3’s ability to fight diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Dementia
- Omega 3 is also claimed to be helpful for those with NAFLD (Non Alcoholic Fatty Liver)
- Omega 3, especially EPA is claimed to help even fight depression & anxiety
- Omega 3 also claims to reduce your insulin resistance of the cells and also improve metabolism to a great extend.
- There are non conclusive claims of Omega 3 helping in reducing the cancer threat
Omega 3 Supplementation
Fish oil / Cod liver oil is the most common and best form of Omega 3 supplement that directly gives EPA & DHA in required amount to human body.
Vegetarians can have either flax seed based Omega 3 OR Algae based Omega 3. As you know by now, Flax seed based Omega 3 is ALA (not EPA or DHA) and conversion of ALA to EPA & DHA is not very effective in the human body. Hence Algae / Algal oil based Omega 3 is best suited for vegetarians (contains EPA & DHA)
How much Omega 3 is required?
There is no set guideline or official guideline in terms of the exact amount of Omega 3 requirement for human body. Most health organizations recommends a range of 500 mg – 1000 mg of combined EPA and DHA for adults to maintain overall health.
According to American Heart Association, Omega 3 range around 1000 mg is helpful in reducing coronary heart diseases, while around 2000 mg is seen to reduce the triglyceride levels
HOWEVER, how much Omega 3 you eat in a day is also dependent on how much Omega -6 are you having! 🙂
What is Omega 6? How is it related to Omega 3?
Omega 6 is yet another PUFA (Polyunsaturated fatty acid) and is an essential fatty acid too – i.e , they cannot be made within our body and needs to be provided from external food sources. Omega 6 help with brain function, muscle growth, and hormone production, but they also cause inflammation, and they compete with omega 3s in the body.
Omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids compete for the same type of enzymes that are needed for these fatty acids to be converted into their active forms. Therefore, your omega-3 needs may depend on your omega-6 intake. If you consume a lot of omega-6s, you may need to consume even higher amounts of omega-3s. The ideal is to eat just enough omega 6s to function, but no more, and to balance them with lots of omega 3s.
However, the problem is – in today’s life style, an average person’s diet is very rich in Omega 6 fatty acids. A healthy range is to maintain an Omega 6 : Omega 3 range of 1 : 1. (In today’s eating habits, we consume omega 6: omega 3 in a ration of 12 : 1 or even up to 25 : 1.
Scientists believe omega-6s are pro-inflammatory, while omega-3s are anti-inflammatory.
Inflammation is important for your survival as it protect your body from infection and injury, but it can also cause severe damage and contribute to disease when it is excessive. Inflammation is one of the leading drivers of the most serious modern diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, Alzheimer’s and many types of cancer. Scientists believe that a diet high in omega-6s but low in omega-3s increases inflammation, while a diet that includes balanced amounts of each reduces inflammation
Omega 6 is abundant in eggs, poultry, vegetable oils, processed flour, wheat, meat of animals fed on processed grains etc