In the times of hunter-gatherers the diet had enough omega-3 fatty acids. Today, the menu of people in industrial countries contains much less of omega-3 than a century ago and lots of harmful chemicals in the environment that evoked the inflammatory response and increased rates of many health problems. There is very strong evidence for that.
The fat food we eat contains fatty acids that our body uses for different biological processes and as an important source of fuel because, when metabolized, they yield large quantities of adenosine triphosphate (ATP).
Essential fatty acids
Three omega-3 fatty acids are important for normal metabolism:
- alpha-linolenic acid (α-linolenic acid – ALA) – comes from plant sources
- eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) – comes from animal sources
- docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) – also comes from animal sources
The actions of the omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids are best characterized by their interactions. Humans are not able to synthesize omega-3 fatty acids, but can obtain the shorter-chain omega-3 fatty acid ALA from food and use it to form the more important long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and then from EPA, the most crucial, DHA.
Primary sources of omega-3 fatty acids are marine algae and phytoplankton. Common sources of plant oils containing the omega-3 ALA fatty acid include walnut, edible seeds, clary sage seed oil, algal oil, flaxseed oil, and hemp oil, while sources of animal omega-3 EPA and DHA fatty acids include fish oils, egg, squid, and krill.
Why some fatty acids named Omega-3?
The name comes from the chemical structure. Omega-3 fatty acids belong to the polyunsaturated fatty acids type with a double bond (C=C) at the 3rd carbon atom from the end of the carbon chain. The fatty acids have two ends:
- the carboxylic acid (-COOH) end, which is considered the beginning of the chain, thus “alpha”
- the methyl (-CH3) end, which is considered the “tail” of the chain, thus “omega”
Just take a look at the chemical structure of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) that has a chain of 18 carbons with a double bond at the 3rd carbon from the “omega” end.
Chemical structure of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
Fat digestion and absorption
Fatty acids are long hydrocarbon chains that cannot cross the blood–brain barrier; they have to be broken down into small water-soluble molecules. Fats are mainly digested in the small intestine. The presence of fat in the small intestine produces hormones that stimulate the release of pancreatic lipase from the pancreas and bile from the liver which helps in the emulsification of fats for absorption of fatty acids.
Like other nutrients, short- and medium-chain fatty acids are absorbed directly into the blood via intestine capillaries. Fatty acids are distributed to cells to serve as a fuel for muscular contraction and general metabolism. They are broken down to CO2 and water by the intra-cellular mitochondria, releasing large amounts of energy, captured in the form of ATP through beta oxidation and the citric acid cycle.
You should maintain the omega-3/omega-6 balance in your body
Omega-3 and omega-6 are two types of fatty acids that are essential for human health, but they have to be in balance. Today, people consume far too much omega-6 fats and far too low omega-3 fats with their diet and this phenomenon completely destroys that balance. Actually, lack of omega-3 is among the most serious health issues plaguing our world.
The ideal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats is 1:1. It passed the test of time, from generation to generation for thousands of years. Today, however, this ratio averages from 20:1 to 50:1. Many scientists suggest that this profound omega-3/omega-6 imbalance is one of the major reasons of heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, premature aging, and some cancer forms that we experience now. It is because omega-6 fats are overabundant in the typical diet: we use too much of corn, soy, canola, safflower, and sunflower oils which are primary sources of omega-6.
Your health is your responsibility
Remember, your health is your responsibility. Choose wisely what you eat and keep in mind that ALA comes from plant sources, whereas EPA and DHA come from animal sources
- ALA is found in very small amounts in a variety of plant products, and in relatively large amounts in flaxseeds, walnuts, soy, chia and their oils.
- EPA and DHA are found mostly in fatty fish, seafood, in small amounts in eggs, and in very small amounts in seaweed.
Include both sources of omega-3 fatty acids in your diet.
- http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=185895 (Fish Consumption and Risk of Sudden Cardiac Death)
- http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1439-0396.2011.01135.x/abstract (A krill oil supplemented diet reduces the activities of the mitochondrial tricarboxylate carrier and of the cytosolic lipogenic enzymes in rats)
- http://articles.mercola.com/omega-3.aspx (Your Practical Guide to Omega-3 Benefits and Supplementation)