Omega-3 fatty acids are essential poly-unsaturated fats that help you to maintain a healthy lifestyle. These fats are primarily found in oily fish and some nuts and seeds such as flaxseed or walnuts. They play an important role in supporting your immune system, while also helping to maintain normal vision and brain function. Omega-3's have also been seen to help support a healthy heart and cardiovascular system, as well as aid in childhood development.
Omega-3 fatty acids are considered essential because they cannot be produced by the human body, whilst also performing vitally important roles in brain, heart, and immune system functions. This means humans must consume Omega-3’s from their diet. The American Heart Association recommends Adults eat two servings of fatty fish a week or supplement at least 1 gram of Omega-3s daily to help with general health and wellbeing (Kris-Etherton, et al 2003).
Chemically Omega-3 fatty acids are defined by their placement of a double bond, three carbons away from the omega carbon of the fatty acid chain. Three main dietary Omega-3s exist; Alpha Lipoic acid (ALA), Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), each with differing double bond placement and chain length, however they all share the Omega-3 double bond. Typically, ALA is found in plant based foods such as flaxseed oil and walnuts, whereas EPA and DHA are typically found from fatty fish sources.
Traditionally the Human diet would consume equal amounts (1:1 ratio) of Omega-3s and their close chemical cousin Omega-6. However, modern diets are becoming heavily overwhelmed with Omega-6 fatty acids, which raises concerns to scientists about the imbalance of the Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio (Simopoulos, 2002). Currently, some modern diets are consuming up to 30 times more Omega-6 than Omega-3s which can increase your chances of immune or cardiovascular disease and even cancers (Simopoulos, 2006: Okuyama, et al 2006).
A high Omega-6 diet increases the chances of disease through proinflammatory pathways. In a classical inflammatory response, both Omega-3’s and Omega-6’s are converted into inflammatory compounds by the COX2 enzyme (Smith, 2008). However, Omega-6’s and Omega-3’s produce different inflammatory compounds at different speeds and intensities, with Omega-6’s producing a quicker and higher inflammatory response (Wada, et al 2007). Typically in a diet which consists of a 1:1 ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6, both will compete for the COX2 enzyme evenly, helping to produce a stable inflammatory response (Simopoulos, 2003). However, it is hypothesized that in a high Omega-6 diet, the inflammatory response is perturbed resulting in excessive and chronic inflammation throughout the body. This is what researchers believe to be the main cause of the increase in the likelihood of immune or cardiovascular disease and even cancers (Simopoulos, 2008).
Overall, it is important to note that Omega-6s are still essential for general health and wellbeing in the body, thus they must still be consumed in the modern diet. However, understanding how having a 1:1 ratio of Omega-6’s to Omega-3’s can benefit compared to a current modern diet.Purchase Here
- Kris-Etherton, M., Harris, W., Appel, L., & the AHA Nutrition Committee. (2003). Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Cardiovascular Disease. Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology. 2003;23:151–152. https://doi.org/10.1161/01.ATV.0000057393.97337.AE
- Simopoulos, A.P. (2002). The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids, Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy, Volume 56, Issue 8, Pages 365-379, https://doi.org/10.1016/S0753-3322(02)00253-6.
- Simopoulos, A.P. (2006). Evolutionary aspects of diet, the omega-6/omega-3 ratio and genetic variation: nutritional implications for chronic diseases. Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy. 60 (9): 502–07. doi:10.1016/j.biopha.2006.07.080
- Okuyama, H., Ichikawa, Y., Sun, Y., Hamazaki, T. & Lands, W. E. M. (2006). ω3 Fatty Acids Effectively Prevent Coronary Heart Disease and Other Late-Onset Diseases – The Excessive Linoleic Acid Syndrome. In Okuyama, H. (ed.). Prevention of Coronary Heart Disease. World Review of Nutrition and Dietetics. Vol. 96. pp. 83–103. doi:10.1159/000097809
- Simopoulos, A.P. (2003). "Importance of the Ratio of Omega-6/Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids: Evolutionary Aspects". In Simopoulos, Artemis P.; Cleland, Leslie G. (eds.). Omega-6/Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acid Ratio: The Scientific Evidence. World Review of Nutrition and Dietetics. Vol. 92. pp. 1–22. doi:10.1159/000073788
- Smith, W. (2008). "Nutritionally essential fatty acids and biologically indispensable cyclooxygenases". Trends in Biochemical Sciences. 33 (1): 27–37. doi:10.1016/j.tibs.2007.09.013
- Wada, M., Delong, C. J., Hong, Y. H., Rieke, C. J., Song, I., Sidhu, R. S., Yuan, C., Warnock, M.; et al. (2007). "Enzymes and Receptors of Prostaglandin Pathways with Arachidonic Acid-derived Versus Eicosapentaenoic Acid-derived Substrates and Products". Journal of Biological Chemistry. 282 (31): 22254–66. doi:10.1074/jbc.M703169200