What is Omega-3?
Omega-3’s are a special type of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), they are know as one of the “good” fats. The most important components of Omega-3 PUFA’s are commonly known as EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), and DPA (docosapentaenoic acid), all of which are found naturally in the human body at birth. One of the critical functions of Omega-3 is found in the body’s most basic unit – the cell.
Human cells absorb various raw materials, process them and then send this processed material to the required destination within the body. The outer membrane of these cells acts as a gateway allowing the raw material in and the processed material out. This outer membrane requires a constant turnover of PUFA’s to remain functional. Omega-3’s are an essential part of this replenishment. A shortage of Omega-3 reduces the ability of cells to efficiently perform their function, leading to nutrient starvation and chronic and debilitating diseases. Omega-3 is also converted into another class of chemical called eicosanoids; the most critical of which are prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are important for the regulation of inflammation, pain, swelling, blood pressure, heart function, gastrointestinal function and secretions, kidney function and fluid balance, blood clotting and platelet aggregations, allergic response, nerve transmission; steroid production and hormone synthesis.
If the diet is inadequate, the Omega-3 prostaglandins produced are either lacking or unbalanced, leading to dysfunction of these vital bodily activities. The Omega-3 fatty acids keep the blood vessel walls smooth and elastic. A smooth and supple condition of the vessel wall reduces the blood pressure necessary to force blood through small blood vessels, delivering oxygen to where it is needed and preventing circulatory problems, for example those resulting from diabetes. As well, Omega-3 reduces the risk of blood vessel blockages that are often the cause of heart attacks and strokes.
Many studies have found the Omega-3’s anti-inflammatory action offers great relief for those suffering from arthritis. Omega-3 has also been found to modulate the movement of cholesterol through he blood system. Some researchers have reported that Omega-3 tends to change the balance of cholesterol in the blood by lowering the “bad” and raising the “good” cholesterol. Omega-3 PUFA’s will remarkably lower plasma tryglycerides even in “healthy” people. Many studies also indicate that the DHA component of the Omega-3 family is essential to early childhood brain development while the DPA component is found in significant quantities in mother’s milk.
Omega-3’s are therefore believed to be essential to good health and normal development of both the unborn and the newly born. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, are therefore, deemed “essential” for our health and wellness. In fact, Health Canada – Nutrition Recommendations for Canadians states, “Omega-3 polyunsaturates are essential nutrients for maintaining good health, normal growth and development.”