Fatty acids (FAs) are lipids (fats) biomolecules that are present in all organisms and perform a variety of functions. There are two types of fatty acids: essential and nonessential. The body can create nonessential fatty acids by converting amino acids from the foods we eat. However, the body cannot create essential fatty acids, where the name “essential”; It can only get them directly from the food we eat. Essential fatty acids (FAs) are a type of polyunsaturated fatty acids. There are two categories of essential fatty acids: omega-3 (alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) for example) and omega-6 (linoleic acid (LA) as example).
The human body can take most of the fats it needs from other fats or raw amino acids and convert them. That isn’t the case for omega-3 fatty acids (also called n-3 fats). These are essential fats—the body can’t make them itself and we must get them from the foods we eat daily or from dietary supplements (such as fish oil). Foods high in Omega-3 include some type of fish, vegetable oils, nuts (especially walnuts), flax seeds, flaxseed oil, and leafy vegetables.
What makes omega-3 fats special? They are an integral part of the cell membranes that surround each cell throughout the body and they affect the function of the cell receptors in these membranes. They provide the starting point for making hormones that regulate blood clotting, contraction and relaxation of artery walls, and inflammation. They also bind to receptors in cells that regulate the genetic function.
Omega-3 fatty acids (ω-3 FAs) are essential fatty acids with diverse biological effects in human health and disease. Reduced cardiovascular morbidity and mortality is an established benefit of their intake. Dietary supplementation may also benefit patients with dyslipidaemia, atherosclerosis, hypertension, diabetes mellitus, metabolic syndrome, obesity, inflammatory diseases, neurological/ neuropsychiatric disorders and eye diseases. Consumption of ω-3 FAs during pregnancy is said to reduce the risk of premature birth and improves intellectual development of the foetus.
Fish, fish oils and some vegetable oils are rich sources of ω-3 FAs. According to the UK Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition guidelines (2004), a healthy adult should consume a minimum of two portions of fish a week to obtain the health benefit, of which one should be oily fish; a portion is around 140g of fish in its edible form. This review outlines the health implications, dietary sources, deficiency states and recommended allowances of ω-3 FAs in relation to human nutrition; there are maximum recommendations for the number of portions some groups should be eating each week.
The following people should eat no more than 2 portions of oily fish a week:
· women who are planning a pregnancy soon.
· pregnant and breastfeeding women.
This is because pollutants found in oily fish may build up in the body and affect the future development of a baby in the womb.
Essential fatty acids are important; they play a key role in various bodily functions, including heart health, cancer prevention, cognitive function, skin health, and obesity prevention.
Omega-3 fats are a key family of polyunsaturated fats. There are three main type of omega-3s:
● Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) which come mainly from fish, they are often called marine omega-3s. Food sources are mackerel, salmon, herring, halibut, sardines, sea bass, tuna, anchovies, swordfish, fish oil and cod liver oil. DHA is important for the development of the retina (eyes) and brain in infants.
● Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), the most common omega-3 fatty acid in most Western diets, found in vegetable oils (flaxseed oil, walnut oil, soybean oil) and nuts (especially walnuts), flax seeds, chia seeds, tofu, leafy vegetables, and some animal fat, especially in grass-fed animals. The human body generally uses ALA for energy, and conversion into EPA and DHA is very limited.
How can omega-3 Fatty Acids help improve my health?
Research showed that omega-3 fatty acids can help improve the cardiovascular health. Most of this research involves EPA + DHA, but ALA also help. Benefits of omega-3 fatty acids in diet include:
● Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.
● Reduced risk of blood clots because omega-3 fatty acids help prevent blood platelets from clumping together.
● Less inflammation. Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) is thought to be involved in the body’s inflammatory response. Omega-3 fatty acids slow production of substances that are released during the inflammatory response.
● Keeping the lining of the arteries smooth and free of damage that can lead to thick, hard arteries. This helps keep plaque from forming in the arteries.
● Lowering triglyceride levels by slowing the rate they form in the liver. High levels of triglycerides in the blood increase the risk of heart disease.
Omega-3 fatty acids may also:
- Raise levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL/“good” cholesterol).
- Lower blood pressure. People who regularly consume fish tend to have a lower blood pressure than those who don’t.
Some studies suggest that people who get more omega-3s from foods and dietary supplements may have a lower risk of breast cancer and perhaps colorectal cancer. Other clinical trials in progress will help clarify whether omega-3s affect cancer risk.
The omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA are also essential for proper foetal development, and supplementation during pregnancy has also been linked to decreased immune responses in infants including decreased incidence of allergies in infants. Omega-3 fatty acid consumption has been associated with an improved cardiovascular function in terms of anti-inflammatory properties, reduced major coronary events, and improved antiplatelet effects in the face of aspirin resistance or clopidogrel hyporesponsiveness. Patients with the acid deficiency have been shown to be deficient in DHA, and supplementing them with EPA+DHA not only reverses this deficiency, but may also improve cognitive functioning in patients with a mild acid deficiency. Further research should be conducted in humans to assess a variety of clinical outcomes that improve the quality of life.
Fatty acids have a wide range of commercial applications. For example, omega-3 fatty acids particularly are commonly sold as dietary supplements (cod liver oil, fish oil). Some skin-care products contain fatty acids, which can help maintain healthy skin appearance and function. They are used not only in the production of numerous ,,food products but also in soaps, detergents, and cosmetics.
Mozaffarian D, Ascherio A, Hu FB, et al. Interplay between different polyunsaturated fatty acids and risk of coronary heart disease in men. Circulation. 2005; 111:157-64.