Omega 3’s are part of a group of fats known as polyunsaturated fatty Acids. Our bodies can’t make omega 3’s so we must get them from our diets. The 3 most important types of Omega 3 fatty acids are ALA, EPA and DHA, especially EPA and DHA. This is important because they form a fundamental part of our cell membranes, and therefore ensure that our cell receptors work properly, this means that without omega 3’s our cells cannot communicate with each other properly.
Omega 3’s also have a key role in how our genes express themselves, as well as producing hormones that control blood clotting, inflammation and the ability of our arteries to contract and relax, as well as affecting the cholesterol profile of our blood. This means a huge number of health factors in our bodies. Research at Harvard has shown that insufficient Omega 3 is the cause of up to 96,000 deaths a year in the USA alone. One of the major areas of Omega 3 benefits is heart health.
Omega 3’s can stabilise heart arrhythmia’s, lower blood pressure and heart rate, as well as improving the function of blood vessels in the heart. They can also lower triglyceride levels in the blood more effectively than statins. Circulating levels of blood triglycerides have been shown to be a major factor in the development of heart disease They can also increase levels of HDL (the good cholesterol) and increase the size of LDL particles (the bad cholesterol) to make them less likely to get stuck in artery walls and cause atherosclerotic legions.
An Italian study found that heart attack survivors who took fish oil supplements subsequently had a much lower risk of another heart attack, stroke, or death. Inflammation is one of the biggest threats to our health in today’s world of high stress, environmental pollution, and high processed food diets. Inflammation is directly responsible for diseases like arthritis, Chron’s and ulcerative colitis, eczema, psoriasis, lupus and other autoimmune conditions. Studies have shown that supplementation with high doses of omega 3 fish oils can reduce inflammation, improve symptoms and decrease the need for medication in these conditions.
Also as scientists are developing a better understanding of disease, they are finding correlations between inflammation and other chronic diseases such as depression, cancer and dementia. EPA and DHA can increase cerebral blood flow and keep brain dopamine levels high, which can have positive effects on mood and the function of our brain. DHA is vital for synapse in the brain, allowing our brains to make new connections that allow us to learn and form new behaviours patterns, even in adulthood.
Low omega 3 levels have been linked to suicide and symptoms of depression, and supplementing with omega 3 has been shown to reverse this. Omega 3 has also been shown to reduce the risk of developing dementia, improve the symptoms of early stage dementia, as well as reducing the inflammatory immune response in the brain, and so protecting brain cells from damage.
Studies have shown that omega 3 may be effective against some forms of cancer. Research has shown that people with diets rich in EPA and DHA are less likely to develop prostate cancer. Higher EPA and DHA intake is also associated with a 25% reduction in breast cancer. A recent study has also shown better treatment results for patients with certain skin cancers that had higher omega 3 levels.
From the Womb to the second year of life a child goes through rapid development of their brain, eyes and nervous system, which requires a constant supply of omega 3, especially DHA. From pregnancy through to breastfeeding the child is completely dependant on their mother for this vital supply of omega 3, so it’s really important for pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers to make sure they have a good intake of omega 3.
As the child develops, omega 3 has a significant impact on learning and behaviour. Studies have shown that children with learning difficulties and ADHD are more likely to have low levels of omega 3. Low levels of DHA have also been associated with poorer reading ability and worse memory in school age children. Also a recent study in the American Journal of Nutrition has shown children aged from 3 -5 years performed better on tests of Intelligence, rule learning and vocabulary when they were given omega 3 supplements.
Research into the causes of diabetes and our understanding of the disease are increasing. Insulin sensitivity and inflammation are now seen as big causal factors. Increasing evidence is showing that omega 3 supplementation can help improve insulin sensitivity and reduce the incidence of type 2 diabetes. In some cases Insulin resistance has been reversed by omega 3 supplementation.
Omega 3 is fantastic for athletes, and anyone who is trying to keep fit. It has been shown to increase blood flow to the muscles during exercise, which can help to increase performance and reduce the build up of lactic acid that leads to fatigue and cramping. It also improves recovery from training and can reduce the severity and duration of DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). It can also help to build muscle mass by increasing insulin sensitivity, thus allowing more anabolic nutrients into muscle cells and switching on the body’s muscle building pathway known as mTor.