Essential fatty acids

Vitamins, minerals, essential amino acids and essential fatty acids are all among these substances, which we must eat constantly in order to maintain good health. Various plants produce polyunsaturated fatty acids. We get them through our diet, either directly through fruits and vegetables or indirectly through the meat or eggs of animals, birds or fish that have eaten plants containing polyunsaturated fatty acids.

Difference between Omega-3s and Omega-6s

Essential polyunsaturated fatty acids belong to one of two "families", the Omega-6 family or the Omega-3 family. The two families differ not only in their chemistry, but also in their natural occurrence and biological function. Terrestrial plants typically produce omega-6 fatty acids. We usually find them in cooking oils such as corn oil, soybean oil and sunflower oil. The best oil of this type that I have found is Enova oil. Omega-3 fatty acids, on the other hand, originate mainly from marine plankton ending up in the marine food chain. The most important source of Omega-3s is high-fat fish from deep cold ocean waters.

DHA, docosapentaenoic acid, one of the most abundant of the Omega-3 fatty acids, is essential to the brain, other nerve tissue and the light-sensitive cells in the retina of the eye. In all these functions, the presence of the Omega-3 fatty acid in the cell membrane has a strong impact on the cell's ability to transmit electrical impulses.

Omega 3 is important to so many human systems that listing all the research on omega 3 would take a whole book. An excellent resource for documentation about the health benefits of omega 3 can be found at http://omega-research.com.

Don't be misled by manufactures propaganda. A good Omega 3 supplement will have at least 500 mg of EPA and DHA per 1000 mg portion. Additionally the product should be molecularly distilled to remove any pollutants. High priced products from some "health" stores often have much lower concentrations of the EPA and DHA than much lower priced products from stores such as Wal-Mart, Costco, Walgreens, your grocery store etc.

Omega 3 Essential for health or marketing hype?

The answer is both. Health Canada says,"omega-3 fatty acids are unique types of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA's) that are essential to human health and are of dietary importance since our bodies do not produce them. Typical North American intakes of EPA/DHA are approximately 100-150 mg daily - one-tenth of what is considered necessary for the maintenance of optimal health.

A series of experiments were performed which demonstrate that diets that are low in n-3 fatty acids (Omega 3) lead to low brain DHA and also lead to losses in nervous system function. Omega 3 has also been shown to decrease arthritis, slow the onset of Alzheimer's, and improve function in many systems in our body. Recent research has found many benefits associated with adequate omega 3 consumption. Our bodies do not produce these essential fatty acids so they have to be consumed in the diet. Like many other vitamins and minerals they have to be replenished or they become depleted.

Food manufacturers are quick to jump on any angle that that gives them a marketing edge. In our sound-bite, buzz-word filled society it is fairly easy to take advantage of consumers by making claims that may be true but give very misleading information. Most articles about Omega 3 tend to lump all omega 3s into one category ignoring that there are 3 distinctly different forms of Omega 3. The three main forms of Omega 3 are ALA, EPA and DHA which each has a different function in our bodies. Most food manufacturers misuse this poor understanding by the public to sell products. Just a couple examples highlight the problem.

The Omega 3 eggs are the best current example. People buy them at a higher price thinking they are doing a good thing. The chickens eat flax seed, which is ALA (the least effective form of Omega 3.) People are not getting the benefit they are expecting and in the process are getting a lot of dietary Cholesterol. (Up to 211 mg of cholesterol per single large egg.) Omega 3 Eggs claim to have 150 mg of Omega 3. This is in-fact substantially higher than other eggs, which have 38 mg but is nowhere close to the recommended 1000 mg per day. Neither are good sources of the right form of Omega 3. These are by no means the worst offenders but they are in the news and make good examples of truth being twisted for corporate profit.

References

Workshop on the Essentiality of and Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) for Omega-6 and Omega-3 Fatty Acids http://ods.od.nih.gov/news/conferences/w6w3 abstracts.html

Novel Food Information: DHA-Enanced Milk, and Dairy Products Made From This Milk http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/gmf-agm/appro/dec104 e.html

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