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Omega-3 Fatty Acids



n-3 fatty acids (popularly referred to as w-3 fatty acids or omega-3 fatty acids) are a family of unsaturated fatty acids that have in common a final carbon–carbon double bond in the n-3 position; that is, the third bond from the methyl end of the fatty acid. Nutritionally important n-3 fatty acids include a-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), all of which are polyunsaturated.

The human body cannot synthesize n-3 fatty acids de novo, but it can form "long chain" 20-carbon unsaturated n-3 fatty acids (like EPA) and 22-carbon unsaturated n-3 fatty acids (like DHA) from the "short chain" eighteen-carbon n-3 fatty acid a-linolenic acid. The short chain n-3 fatty acids are converted to long chain forms (EPA, DHA) with an efficiency of approximately 5%[1][2] in men, and at a greater percentage in women.

The health benefits of the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids — DHA and EPA omega-3 — are the best known. On September 8, 2004, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave "qualified health claim" status to EPA and DHA n-3 fatty acids, stating that "supportive but not conclusive research shows that consumption of EPA and DHA [n-3] fatty acids may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.

The Canadian Government has recognized the importance of DHA omega-3 and permits the following biological role claim for DHA: "DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid, supports the normal development of the brain, eyes and nerves.

It has been reported that conversion of ALA to EPA and further to DHA in humans is limited, but varies with individuals.[15] Women have higher ALA conversion efficiency than men, probably due to the lower rate of utilization of dietary ALA for beta-oxidation. This suggests that biological engineering of ALA conversion efficiency is possible.

Currently there are many products on the market which claim to contain health promoting 'omega 3', but contain only a-linolenic acid (ALA), not EPA or DHA. These products contain mainly higher plant oils and must be converted by the body to create DHA and therefore considered less efficient. DHA and EPA are made by microalgae that live in seawater. These are then consumed by fish and accumulate to high levels in their internal organs. DHA also can be produced directly from microalgae to provide a vegetarian source.

Omega-3 fatty acids are found to provide beneficial effects for:
  • cancers - Several studies report possible anti-cancer effects of n-3 fatty acids (particularly breast, colon, and prostate cancer). Omega-3 fatty acids reduced prostate tumor growth, slowed histopathological progression, and increased survival. Among n-3 fatty acids [omega-3], neither long-chain nor short-chain forms were consistently associated with breast cancer risk. High levels of docosahexaenoic acid, however, the most abundant n-3 PUFA in erythrocyte membranes, were associated with a reduced risk of breast cancer. A 2007 systematic review of n-3 fatty acids and cachexia found evidence that oral n-3 fatty acid supplements benefit cancer patients, improving appetite, weight and quality of life. A 2009 trial found that a supplement of eicosapentaenoic acid helped cancer patients retain muscle mass.
  • cardiovascular disease - American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and a second JAMA review that both indicated decreases in total mortality and cardiovascular incidents (i.e. myocardial infarctions) associated with the regular consumption of fish and fish oil supplements. In the March 2007 edition of the journal Atherosclerosis, 81 Japanese men with unhealthy blood sugar levels were randomly assigned to receive 1800 mg daily of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) with the other half being a control group. The authors indicated that this was the first demonstration that administration of purified EPA improves the thickness of carotid arteries along with improving blood flow in patients with unhealthy blood sugar levels.
  • immune function - In a study regarding fish oil published in the Journal of Nutrition in April 2007, sixty four healthy Danish infants from nine to twelve months of age received either cow's milk or infant formula alone or with fish oil. It was found that those infants supplemented with fish oil had improvement in immune function maturation with no apparent reduction in immune activation.
  • brain - Long-chain n-3 fatty acids may help prevent psychotic disorders in high-risk children and adolescents. A novel n-3 fatty acid ester known as E-EPA may be involved in countering memory impairment and depression.
  • inflammation - Research in 2005 and 2006 has suggested that the in-vitro anti-inflammatory activity of n-3 acids translates into clinical benefits. Cohorts of neck pain patients and of rheumatoid arthritis sufferers have demonstrated benefits comparable to those receiving standard NSAIDs.

The Omega-3 and Omega-6 ratio - Clinical studies indicate that the ingested ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 (especially Linoleic vs Alpha Linolenic) fatty acids is important to maintaining cardiovascular health. However, two studies published in 2005 and 2007 found that while Omega-3's are extremely beneficial in preventing heart disease in humans, the Omega-6 levels (and therefore the ratios) were insignificant.

Both Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids are essential, i.e. humans must consume them in the diet. Omega-3 and Omega-6 compete for the same metabolic enzymes, thus the Omega-6:Omega-3 ratio will significantly influence the ratio of the ensuing eicosanoids (hormones), (e.g. prostaglandins, leukotrienes, thromboxanes etc.), and will alter the body's metabolic function. Generally, grass-fed animals accumulate more Omega-3 than do grain-fed animals which accumulate relatively more Omega-6. Metabolites of Omega-6 are significantly more inflammatory (esp. arachidonic acid) than those of Omega-3. This necessitates that Omega-3 and Omega-6 be consumed in a balanced proportion; healthy ratios of Omega-6:Omega-3 range from 1:1 to 4:1. Studies suggest that the evolutionary human diet, rich in game animals, seafood and other sources of Omega-3, may have provided such a ratio.

Daily values - As macronutrients, fats are not assigned recommended daily allowances. Macronutrients have acceptable intake and acceptable macronutrient distribution range instead of recommended daily values. The acceptable intake for Omega-3 is 1.6 grams/day for men and 1.1 grams/day for women.

The American Heart Association has set up dietary recommendations for Omega-3 due to its cardiovascular benefits. According to the AHA, individuals with no history of coronary heart disease or myocardial infarction should consume oily fish or fish oils two times per week. Those who have been diagnosed with coronary heart disease after infarction should consume 1 g EPA and DHA per day from oily fish or supplements. Individuals who wish to lower blood triglycerides should consume 2-4 g of EPA and DHA per day in the form of supplements.

Omega EFAs from Fish - The most widely available source of EPA and DHA is cold water oily fish such as salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies and sardines. Oils from these fish have a profile of around seven times as much Omega-3 as Omega-6. Other oily fish such as tuna also contain Omega-3 in somewhat lesser amounts. Consumers of oily fish should be aware of the potential presence of heavy metals and fat-soluble pollutants like PCBs and dioxin which may accumulate up the food chain. After extensive review, researchers from Harvard's School of Public Health reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association (2006) that the benefits of fish intake generally far outweigh the potential risks. As fish oil supplements are bought for their healthful Omega-3 fatty acid content, it is therefore vital that manufacturers and suppliers of these products ensure that they do not contain high levels of dioxins and other toxins. Even some forms of fish oil may not be optimally digestible. Of four studies that compare bioavailability of the glyceryl ester form of fish oil vs. the ethyl ester form, two have concluded that the natural glyceryl ester form is better, and the other two studies did not find a significant difference. No studies have shown the ethyl ester form to be superior although it is cheaper to manufacture.

Omega EFAs from Krill - Krill oil is a relatively new source of Omega-3 fatty acids. Various claims are made in support of krill oil as a superior source of Omega-3 fatty acids, such as that krill are not susceptible to contamination like fish and contain a special antioxidant called astaxanthin. The best source of krill is obviously from the pristine and unpolluted waters of the Antarctic Ocean where no commercial activity yet exist. In addition, it is important to determine the method of krill harvesting due to their potent digestive enzymes. Exposure to air/oxygen can cause the krill to disintegrate quickly thus losing their value as a source for the quality of their oils

Green-lipped mussel - Green-lipped mussel from New Zealand also known as Perna canaliculus is another source of Omega-3 fatty acids. Research suggests that green-lipped mussels contain a distinct blend of Omega-3 fatty acids in comparison to other sources of Omega-3s. Most published studies report green-lipped mussels’ health benefits with inflammation.

Botanical sources - Flax seeds produce linseed oil, which has a very high Omega-3 content. Six times richer than most fish oils in Omega-3, albeit in the short chain form lacking EPA and DHA, flax (Linum usitatissimum) and its oil are perhaps the most widely available botanical source of Omega-3. Flaxseed oil consists of approximately 55% ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). Flax, like chia hispanica, contains approximately three times as much Omega-3 as Omega-6. However, the Center for Science in the Public Interest reports that "the omega-3s that FDA considers healthful (DHA and EPA) are not found in plants such as flax seed. Purslane contains more Omega-3 fatty acids (alpha-linolenic acid) in particular than any other leafy vegetable plant. Purslane has .01 mg/g of Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA); this is an extraordinary amount of EPA for vegetable sources.

Eggs - Eggs produced by chicken fed a diet of greens and insects produce higher levels of Omega-3 fatty acids (mostly ALA) than chicken fed corn or soybeans. In addition to feeding chickens insects and greens, fish oils may be added to their diet to increase the amount of fatty acid concentrations in eggs. The addition of flax and canola seeds to the diet of chickens, both good sources of alpha-linolenic acid, increases the omega-3 content of the eggs. However, the Center for Science in the Public Interest reports that "the omega-3s that FDA considers healthful (DHA and EPA) are not found in plants such as flax seed." It also reports that "Eggs contain too much saturated fat and cholesterol to meet FDA’s definition of healthy." The addition of green algae or seaweed to the diet boosts the content of DHA and EPA omega-3 content, which are the forms of omega-3 that are approved by the FDA for medical claims. A common consumer complain is that "Omega-3 eggs can sometimes have a fishy taste if the hens are fed marine oils.

Meat - The Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio of grass-fed beef is about 2:1, making it a more useful source of Omega-3 than grain-fed beef, which usually has a ratio of 4:1. In most countries, commercially available lamb is typically grass-fed, and thus higher in Omega-3 than other grain-fed or grain-finished meat sources. In the United States, lamb is often finished (i.e. fattened before slaughter) with grain, resulting in lower n-3. The omega-3 content of chicken meat may be enhanced by increasing the animals' dietary intake of grains that are high in Omega-3, such as flax, chia, and canola. Kangaroo meat is also a source of Omega-3 with fillet and steak containing 74 mg per 100g of raw meat.

Seal oil - Seal oil is a source of EPA, DPH, and DPA. According to Health Canada, it helps to support the development of the brain, eyes and nerves in children up to 12 years of age. However, like all seal products, it is not allowed for import into the European Union

Other sources - Milk and cheese from grass-fed cows may also be good sources of Omega-3. One UK study showed that half a pint of milk provides 10% of the recommended daily intake (RDI) of ALA, while a piece of organic cheese the size of a matchbox may provide up to 88%". The microalgae Crypthecodinium cohnii and Schizochytrium are rich sources of DHA (22:6 Omega-3) and can be produced commercially in bioreactors. This is the only source of DHA acceptable to vegans. Oil from brown algae (kelp) is a source of EPA. Persian Walnuts are one of few nuts that contain appreciable Omega-3 fat, with approximately a 1:4 ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6. Acai palm fruit also contains n-3 fatty acids.

Compare between Phospholipid and Triglyceride Omega EFAs (click here)


Image of the Krill Oil container and krill oil vegetable soft gel capsules

Sizes are 30, 60 and 90 caps per bottle


The above information is provided for general educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace competent health care advice received from a knowledgeable healthcare professional. You are urged to seek healthcare advice for the treatment of any illness or disease.
Health Canada and the FDA (USA) have not evaluated these statements. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
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