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Omega-3 acids – properties and effect on the body.

What are omega-3 fatty acids? Types of omega-3

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids that play a key role in the functioning of the heart, brain and maintaining visual health. They are essential for the body, which does not synthesize them itself, so they must be supplied with the diet. The richest sources of omega-3 fatty acids are fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines and some vegetable oils, including linseed oil, evening primrose oil and walnut oil. Omega-3s are also found in smaller amounts in products such as chia, flaxseeds and nuts. Regular consumption of foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids contributes to improved cognitive function, cardiovascular health and better vision.

Omega-3 fatty acids are a group of polyunsaturated fatty acids that are crucial for many life functions and must be supplied with the diet because the human body cannot synthesize them on its own. These essential fats perform important functions in the nervous system, influence heart, brain and eye health, and modulate inflammatory responses in the body.

Chemical Structure of Omega-3 Acids

Omega-3 are polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), characterized by the presence of the last double bond at the third carbon atom from the end of the chain. Belong to them:

    • α-linolenic acid (ALA): It is an acid with a chain length of 18 carbons, designated as 18:3, n-3. It is one of the most common omega-3 acids in the diet, but as SC-PUFA (short-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids) it is not produced by the human body on its own. ALA acts as a precursor for longer omega-3 fatty acids, although research indicates limited effectiveness of this conversion.

    • Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA): Labeled 20:5, n-3, EPA is the longer chain in the omega-3 group.

    • Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA): With 22 carbons in the chain and designated 22:6, n-3, DHA is one of the key structural components in the brain and retina.

The importance of diversity of sources

The variety of sources of omega-3 fatty acids highlights the importance of a varied diet in providing all essential fats. Because different species of fish and plants contain different proportions of EPA and DHA, it is important to consume a wide range of omega-3-rich foods to provide the body with optimal health benefits.

Quality and processing

The quality of fish oil, which is one of the most popular sources of omega-3, depends on the purity of the waters from which the fish are caught, as well as the methods of processing the oil. Modern extraction methods, such as molecular distillation, are designed to minimize impurities and maximize the purity and effectiveness of the final product.

Consumption recommendations

Optimal omega-3 intake varies depending on age, health and other individual factors. General guidelines recommend consuming at least 250-500 mg of EPA and DHA per day for adults to support overall heart and brain health.

What does omega-3 help with? Properties and operation

Omega-3s have a significant impact on health, but the benefits of consumption vary depending on the type of acid. Consuming ALA has not shown the same health benefits as consuming longer chains of EPA and DHA. Therefore, since 2012, it has been recommended that the label "source of omega-3 fatty acids" be used only for foods rich in long chain PUFA (LC-PUFA).

Omega-3 fatty acids, due to their polyunsaturated structure and unique chemical properties, are widely used in promoting health and preventing diseases. Here are the main benefits of regularly consuming omega-3:

Cardiovascular health support

EPA and DHA have a proven effect on lowering the level of triglycerides in the blood, which is important in reducing the risk of heart disease. Additionally, these fatty acids may help stabilize heart rhythm, lower blood pressure, and prevent blood clots by improving the elasticity of blood vessel walls.

Anti-inflammatory effect

Omega-3s are known for their anti-inflammatory properties, which are key in managing chronic inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid disease, inflammatory bowel disease and psoriasis. The mechanism of action of omega-3 is to modulate the production of eicosanoids - hormone-like substances that play a role in inflammatory processes.

Support brain function and neurological health

DHA is the main component of neuronal cell membranes in the brain, where it supports cognitive functions, memory and learning abilities. Regular consumption of omega-3 may also help prevent or manage symptoms of depression, anxiety and other mood disorders due to its effects on neurotransmission and neuroprotective functions.

Support for eye health

DHA is also an important component of the retina, and sufficient intake is associated with a lower risk of developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and other visual disorders.

Impact on pregnancy health and child development

Omega-3 consumption during pregnancy is associated with better development of the brain and nervous system in the fetus. Additionally, women who take adequate amounts of omega-3 may experience a lower risk of premature birth.

Potential anti-cancer effect

Preliminary research suggests that omega-3s may play a role in preventing certain types of cancer, including breast and prostate cancer, although more research is needed to fully understand this link.

Modulation of the immune response

Omega-3 fatty acids may also improve the function of the immune system by regulating the immune response, especially in the context of autoimmune and allergic reactions.

Omega-3 deficiency – what are the symptoms?

Omega-3 fatty acid deficiency can lead to a variety of symptoms that can affect your overall well-being, health, and mental and physical functioning. Mentioning these symptoms is key to early recognition and appropriate response, both through diet and potentially through supplementation.

Physical symptoms:

  • Dry, flaky skin – Omega-3s are crucial for skin health, influencing its elasticity and hydration. Deficiency may result in dry skin, psoriasis or eczema.
  • Weakened eyesight – DHA is essential for retinal function, and its deficiency may contribute to vision problems, especially in low light.
  • Chronic fatigue – The lack of omega-3 fatty acids may lead to a general feeling of fatigue and lack of energy, which is related to lower efficiency of metabolic processes.

Health symptoms:

  • Heart problems – Omega-3s contribute to the regulation of heart rhythm and triglyceride levels. Deficiencies may increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
  • Cognitive disorders – DHA deficiency may result in a decline in cognitive functions, memory problems, and even contribute to the development of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's disease.
  • Increased risk of inflammation – Omega-3s are known for their anti-inflammatory properties. Their deficiency may result in greater susceptibility to inflammation and related diseases, such as autoimmune diseases.

Emotional and mental symptoms:

  • Mood disorders – Omega-3 fatty acids influence brain neurochemistry by regulating neurotransmitter levels. Deficiencies can lead to depression, anxiety and other mood disorders.
  • Changes in behavior – In children, omega-3 deficiencies may manifest themselves in behavioral problems, learning difficulties and developmental delays.

Long-term effects of deficiency:

  • Increased risk of chronic diseases – Long-term omega-3 deficiency may contribute to the development of various chronic diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease and some cancers.

Tips for those interested:

People who suspect an omega-3 deficiency should consider taking blood tests to assess their levels of these fatty acids and consult a doctor or dietitian to adjust their diet or start taking supplements.

What contains the most omega-3 fatty acids?

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for health, but our body cannot produce them, which means they must be obtained from the diet. Here is an overview of the richest sources of these valuable fats:

Marine sources:

  • Oily sea fish: These are some of the richest and most available sources of omega-3 fatty acids, especially EPA and DHA. This group includes:
    • Salmon
    • Sardines
    • Mackerel
    • Herring
    • Tuna
  • Cod liver oil: It is particularly rich in omega-3 and vitamins A and D, making it a valuable addition to your diet.

Plant sources:

  • Linseed: It is one of the best plant sources of ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), which the body can convert into EPA and DHA, although with limited effectiveness.
  • Chia: Chia seeds are another excellent source of ALA and also contain fiber, protein and other micronutrients.
  • Italian nuts: They are rich in ALA and other heart-healthy fats.
  • Vegetable oils: Rapeseed oil and linseed oil are good sources of ALA.

Dietary supplements:

For people who cannot get enough omega-3 in their diet, dietary supplements may be an effective solution. Available on the market are:

  • Fish oil supplements: These are the most popular and usually offer both EPA and DHA.
  • Algae oil supplements: They are suitable for vegans and vegetarians, provide mainly DHA and are an alternative to fish oil.

Consumption tips:

  • Balanced diet: To obtain maximum health benefits, it is recommended to consume a variety of sources of omega-3 to optimally meet the need for EPA, DHA and ALA.
  • Quality and freshness of products: Pay attention to the quality and freshness of both fish and vegetable oils, as these fats are susceptible to oxidation, which may reduce their health value.

Labeling and product selection:

When choosing products rich in omega-3, it is worth paying attention to certificates confirming sustainable fishing and the quality of the raw material in the case of supplements to ensure security and effectiveness of supplementation.

Is it worth supplementing omega-3?

The decision to supplement with omega-3 fatty acids may depend on many factors, including diet, health and individual needs. Here are some key aspects to consider when deciding on omega-3 supplementation:

Advantages of omega-3 supplementation:

  • Improving cardiovascular health: Regular consumption of omega-3 in the form of supplements can help reduce triglyceride levels, improve the elasticity of blood vessels and stabilize the heart rhythm.
  • Support for brain health and cognitive function: DHA is a key component of the brain and its adequate supply is important for cognitive functions, memory and learning ability.
  • Health-promoting anti-inflammatory effects: EPA and DHA can modulate inflammatory processes in the body, which is beneficial for autoimmune diseases and other inflammatory conditions.
  • An alternative to a diet rich in fish: For people who, for various reasons (e.g. taste preferences, allergies, vegetarianism) do not eat fish, supplementation may be an effective way to replenish these important fatty acids.

Potential disadvantages of omega-3 supplementation:

  • Risk of contamination: Some supplements may contain fish contaminants, such as heavy metals or dioxins, which is especially important in the context of long-term use.
  • Drug interactions: Omega-3s may interact with some medications, including anticoagulants, which may increase the risk of bleeding.
  • Excess omega-3: Although rare, excess omega-3 fatty acids can lead to negative health effects, including immune system dysfunction and an increased risk of bleeding.

Recommendations:

  • Consultation with a doctor: Before you decide to supplement omega-3, it is worth consulting a doctor or dietitian who will help assess your individual needs and advise on the appropriate dosage.
  • Choice high-quality supplements: Pay attention to certificates and tests confirming the purity and effectiveness of supplements, and prefer products from reputable manufacturers.

Which omega-3 acids should you choose?

Choosing the right omega-3 supplement can be crucial to maximizing your health benefits and avoiding potential risks. Below are tips to help you choose the best form of omega-3 fatty acids tailored to your needs.

Types of omega-3 fatty acids:

  1. Fish oil: It is the most popular source of EPA and DHA and comes in the form of capsules or fluid. Perfect for people looking to improve heart health and brain function.
  2. Cod liver oil: In addition to EPA and DHA, it also contains vitamins A and D, making it a good choice for supporting immunity and bone health.
  3. Algae oil: It is the only plant source of DHA and often also contains EPA. Perfect for vegetarians, vegans and people avoiding fish products for health or ethical reasons.
  4. Vegetable oils (e.g. linseed, chia): They are a source of ALA, which the body can convert into EPA and DHA, although this process is inefficient. Recommended for people looking for an alternative to animal products.

Factors to consider when choosing:

  • Cleanliness and safety: Choose supplements with certificates of purity, such as the IFOS (International Fish Oil Standards) purity mark, which guarantee low levels of contaminants.
  • Extraction method: Prefer products obtained by methods that maintain the integrity of the fatty acids and minimize the presence of impurities, such as molecular distillation.
  • Supplement form: Softgel capsules are popular, but people with swallowing difficulties may prefer liquid forms of supplements.
  • EPA and DHA concentration: Pay attention to how much actual EPA and DHA a serving of the supplement provides, which is important in assessing its effectiveness.

recommendations:

  • Consultation with a specialist: Before starting supplementation, consult your doctor who will help you adapt the supplementation to your individual health needs.
  • Diet and supplementation: Remember that supplements do not replace a varied diet. Whenever possible, try to get the omega-3 fatty acids you need from natural food sources.

Can you overdose on omega-3?

Although omega-3 fatty acids are a key component of a healthy diet, there are specific risks associated with excessive consumption. An overdose of omega-3s can lead to several undesirable health effects that are worth knowing when planning your supplementation.

Potential effects of excess omega-3:

  • Blood clotting disorders: EPA and DHA have anticoagulant properties, which means that in excessive amounts they may increase the risk of bleeding, especially in people taking anticoagulant medications.
  • Gastrointestinal disorders: High doses of omega-3 fatty acids may lead to stomach problems such as heartburn, nausea and diarrhea.
  • Lowering the immune level: Although omega-3s are beneficial for the immune system, too high doses can overly suppress inflammatory responses, weakening the body's ability to fight infections.
  • Increased risk of contamination: Excessive consumption of fish oil supplements, especially lower quality ones, may increase exposure to environmental contaminants such as heavy metals.

Recommended doses:

  • adults: The recommended dose of omega-3 with EPA and DHA ranges from 250 to 500 mg per day, which is considered safe and effective for most adults. For people with certain health conditions, such as heart disease, doses may be higher, but should always be determined under medical supervision.
  • children: Doses for children should be proportionately lower and adapted to their age, weight and health condition.

When to be careful:

  • Taking medicines: Consulting a doctor is essential for people who are on ongoing treatment to avoid negative drug interactions.
  • Diseases and medical conditions: People with blood diseases, liver problems, or gastrointestinal disorders should be especially careful with omega-3 supplements.

Monitoring and managing your intake:

Regular blood tests can help monitor omega-3 levels and other health indicators, which is especially important when supplementing at high doses long-term.

New research on omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are the subject of intensive scientific research due to their numerous health benefits. Recent discoveries shed new light on their potential medical applications and mechanisms of action. Here are some of the most important conclusions from the latest research on omega-3 fatty acids:

Protection against chronic diseases

  • Studies have shown that regular consumption of omega-3 fatty acids can significantly reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases by improving the blood lipid profile, lowering blood pressure and preventing arrhythmia.
  • Additionally, research suggests that omega-3s may play a role in preventing and managing type 2 diabetes by improving insulin sensitivity and reducing inflammation.

Impact on mental health

  • More and more research indicates the beneficial effects of omega-3 fatty acids sanity, including reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety. Scientists are also investigating the potential of omega-3 in the treatment of neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's disease.
  • A study published in Molecular Psychiatry found that EPA and DHA supplementation can support neurogenesis in the hippocampus, which is crucial for cognitive and emotional function.

Counteracting inflammation

  • Omega-3s are valued for their ability to modulate the immune response and counteract inflammatory processes. Research indicates that they can effectively reduce levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines, which has implications for the treatment of conditions such as rheumatoid disease and other inflammatory conditions.

Impact on maternal health and child development

  • Research into the effects of omega-3s on pregnancy and child development has shown that adequate levels of these fatty acids can contribute to healthier brain and eye development in the fetus and reduce the risk of premature birth.

Prospects for future research

  • Scientists continue to explore potential new uses for omega-3 fatty acids, including their role in treating cancer, improving skin health, and even their potential impact on longevity. Work is also underway to improve supplement formulas to increase their bioavailability and effectiveness.

Omega-3 and depression

Recent research published in Molecular Psychiatry titled "Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids protect against inflammation through production of LOX and CYP450 lipid mediators: relevance for major depression and for human hippocampal neurogenesis" by Alessandra Borsini and colleagues provides promising evidence that how omega-3 fatty acids can protect the brain from inflammation and reduce symptoms of depression through their unique actions at the molecular level.

In detail, the study showed that EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) - the two main components of omega-3 fatty acids - can prevent the reduction of neurogenesis and the increase in apoptosis induced by pro-inflammatory cytokines. The researchers used human hippocampal progenitor cells, exposing them to EPA or DHA and then to the cytokines IL1β, IL6 and interferon-α. It turned out that pretreatment of cells with EPA and DHA effectively protected them against the negative effects of cytokines.

However, the most groundbreaking discovery was the detection that in this process, EPA and DHA produced specific lipid mediators, such as HEPE, HDHA, EpETE and EpDPA, first identified in hippocampal cells. These bioactive lipid mediators may play a key role in neuroprotection and counteracting inflammatory processes, which may be important for the development of new antidepressant and anti-inflammatory therapies.

Moreover, in a clinical study involving patients with depressive disorders who took EPA or DHA supplementation for 12 weeks, a significant alleviation of depression symptoms was found in both groups, which was associated with an increase in the level of the same lipid mediators in the blood plasma.

These findings highlight the importance of further research into the role of omega-3 fatty acids and their metabolites in the modulation of inflammatory processes and neurogenesis, which may contribute to a better understanding of the mechanisms of treatment of depression and other neurological disorders.

The entire research can be found at: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41380-021-01160-8, which provides full insight into the methodology, results and discussion of the therapeutic potential of omega-3 acids and their metabolites.

Important in the context of dietary supplements!

Above Artykuł describes the results of medical research and pharmacological applications. 

The European Union has very strict rules on what producers of dietary supplements can talk about their products, especially regarding health and healing claims. Under EU regulation (in particular Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006 on health claims on food) there are restrictions on the health claims that can be made on the packaging of food products, including dietary supplements.

Therapeutic claims that suggest that a product can prevent, treat or cure human disease are generally reserved for pharmaceutical products and require appropriate registration and approval by the appropriate regulatory authorities such as the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

Regarding anti-inflammatory claims, EU regulation allows certain health claims for nutrients, including omega-3 fatty acids, but these must be scientifically proven and approved by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Many omega-3 claims have been assessed by EFSA, but approvals for some specific claims, especially those suggesting clear health benefits or medicinal effects, are very tightly regulated.

For example, certain claims regarding EPA and DHA (the two main omega-3 ingredients) and their impact on maintaining normal blood pressure levels or normal heart function have been endorsed by EFSA. However, claims that could be interpreted as implying a medicinal effect or that they may treat specific medical conditions are generally not allowed on dietary supplement labels.

In summary, although omega-3 supplements may have health benefits, claims on their packaging in the EU must comply with applicable regulations and be duly approved by EFSA. They cannot suggest a direct therapeutic effect or attribute to the products properties that are reserved for medicines.

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