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ESSENTIAL FATTY ACID OMEGA 3 EXPLAINED

fish oil omega 3

The majority of the Australian population are not meeting the recommended intake of Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids

Since 1995 there has been a significant increase in the consumption of Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s), however, the recent National Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey found that only 20 percent of the Australian population met the recommended Omega-3 EFA’s intake and only 10 percent of women in Australia of childbearing age met the recommended docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) intake, a key component of Omega-3 EFA’s.1

The role of Essential Fatty Acids (EFA's) in Human Health

EFA’s are primarily consumed from the diet and are involved in many biological functions for example maintaining the brain and nerve function, cardiovascular system. EFA’s are also produced as by-products of gastrointestinal bacterial metabolism which modulate immune cell function, shape gut microbiota composition, and systematically influence the health and disease states. Furthermore, EFA’s aid in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, which are also critical in human health and chronic disease.2

Fatty Acids
Figure 1: Biological function of Essential Fatty Acids

EFA’s are classified into three groups, namely, saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Polyunsaturated fatty acid group comprise of Omega-6 and Omega-3. Linoleic acid (LA) and arachidonic acid (AA) are the major components of Omega-6, whilst Omega-3 comprises of Alpha-Linoleic Acid (ALA), Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA), Docosapentaenoic Acid (DPA), and Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA).1,2

Essential Fatty Acids Classification Summary
Figure 2: Essential Fatty Acids Classification Summary

The relevance of making a distinction between Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids and other Essential Fatty Acids

It is important to highlight the relevance of making a distinction between Omega-3 EFA’s and other dietary fatty acids because the majority of health benefits have been attributed to Omega-3 EFA’s.1

An imbalanced of EFA’s content, with a higher proportion of saturated fat and Omega-6 relative to low Omega-3 is typical of today's western diet. This imbalance is compounded by a concurrent decrease in dietary fibre — an important precursor for EFA’s production. The consumption of an evolved modern western diet over the past century correlates with an increased incidence of chronic disease.1,3

Essential Fatty Acid Balance
Figure 3: Essential Fatty Acid Balance 

Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) is likely the most prevalent essential fatty acid abnormality affecting the health of individuals prone to inadequate intake

EPA is anti-inflammatory and should balance the levels of pro-inflammatory essential fatty acids such as AA. Although EPA can be produced from some plant-based foods high in ALA, dietary intakes of this fatty acid are generally poor. The conversion of ALA to EPA also requires the action of the delta 6 desaturase enzyme that may be low due to inadequate zinc, magnesium, or vitamins B3, B6, and vitamin C.3,4

In addition, high levels of saturated, monounsaturated, trans fatty acids, and cholesterol also slow the conversion of ALA to EPA. Arthritis, heart disease, and accelerated ageing may result from direct or indirect effects of unchecked inflammatory response.3,4

Highlighting the conversion of ALA to DHA
Figure 4: Highlighting the conversion of ALA to DHA in the human reticular compartments.

The growth and development of the central nervous system is particularly dependent upon the Docosapentaenoic and Docosahexaenoic Acids (DHA)

Docosapentaenoic and Docosahexaenoic Acids (DHA) are very long chain, highly unsaturated fatty acids. DHA characteristically occurs in glycosphingolipids, particularly important in the brain, which plays a pivotal role in neuronal development, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, failures in the development of the visual system and other developmental spectrums. Since DHA is extremely important in early development, it is worth highlighting that the levels in breast milk are correlated with the mother’s intake of Omega-3, which are rich sources of both of these fatty acids.3

Omega 3 table
Figure 5: Omega 3 EFA’s summarised below by category, function, and clinical application

Amongst the numerous health benefits associated with Omega-3, the overwhelming majority of benefits are attributed in cardiovascular disease. The GISSI prevenzione trial highlights that supplementation of 0.85g of EPA and DHA per day in men who had a previous myocardial infarction resulted in 20% reduction in total death, 30% reduction in cardiovascular death and 45% reduction in sudden death.

Furthermore, despite mixed results in the literature, there is emerging evidence for the benefits of Omega-3 EFA’s in “Biological Mood Disorders” explained in the review by Parlettaetal.1

The minority of Australians who are consuming the recommended intake of Omega-3 EFA’s are from Omega-3 (marine triglyceride) supplements

As discussed, EPA and DHA are the key components of Omega-3 EFA’s which claim to have the health benefits. They are also known as marine triglycerides and are abundant in fish and other seafoods. According to the most recent data from the National Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey the minority of Australian consuming large amounts of Omega-3 EFA's are from Omega-3 supplements.

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References

  1. Meyer BJ, Australians are not Meeting the Recommended Intakes for Omega-3 Long Chain Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids: Results of an Analysis from the 2011-2012 National Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey. Nutrients. 2016; 8 (3): 111
  2. Michelle SW. Xiang, Jian K. Tan, Laurence Macia, Chapter 11 - Fatty Acids, Gut Bacteria, and Immune Cell Function, Editor(s): Vinood B. Patel, The Molecular Nutrition of Fats, Academic Press, 2019: 151-164
  3. Lord r. Bralley A, Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid-Induced Antioxidant Insufficiency, Integrative Medicine, 2003: Vol 1: No 1
  4. Lord R. Bralley A, Laboratory Evaluations for Integrative and Functional Medicine, 2008: 2nd Edition
  5. Michelle SW. Xiang, Jian K. Tan, Laurence Macia, Chapter 11 - Fatty Acids, Gut Bacteria, and Immune Cell Function, Editor(s): Vinood B. Patel, The Molecular Nutrition of Fats, Academic Press, 2019: 151-164
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