Omega-3-fatty Acids: Some Important Information

What are omega-3 fatty acids?

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids. They are poly-unsaturated fatty acids which are considered very much important for cardiovascular health and also in many other aspects such as prevention of certain cancers. Essential fatty acids (EFA) are fatty acids (molecules) that can not be synthesized by human body and must be supplied in diet or by supplementation, if dietary intake is inadequate. The essential fatty acids are vital for normal metabolism in human body and health. Other than family of omega-3 fatty acids, there are also other types of essential fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids perform several important metabolic functions in humans.

For human nutrition there are three important omega-3 fatty acids namely alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acids (DHA). The rich sources omega-3 fatty acids are fish oil and some plant oils such as flaxseed oil, also known as linseed oil.

United States FDA, status for DHA and EPA is “qualified health claim”, which indicate that there are supportive evidence (research) that consumption of EPA and DHA can reduce risk of CHD (coronary heart diseases), but conclusive research/evidence is still lacking. The Canadian government accepted that ” DHA or docosahexaenoic acids (an omega-3 fatty acid), supports the normal development of the brain, eyes as well as nerves”.

The discovery of health (especially of cardiovascular health) benefits of omega-3 fatty acids (such as DHA and EPA) were made when researchers studied Inuit tribe of Greenland, in 1970s. It is well known that the people of Inuit tribe of Greenland consume large quantity of fats and read meat (meat is staple diet for them), but actually have no cardiovascular diseases. Researchers found that, the virtually non existence of cardiovascular disease among Inuit tribe’s people was due to consumption of high level of omega-3 fatty acids which prevent cardiovascular disease by reducing blood pressure, atherosclerosis, triglycerides etc.

In most countries omega-3 fatty acids are sold as dietary supplements, but in US and EU some highly purified and more effective omega-3 fatty acids are sold as prescription medicines. Many nutritionists and doctors prefer use of highly purified products of omega-3 fatty acids, may it as dietary supplement or as prescription medicine.

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