What are Omega – 3 Fatty acids?
The human body requires essential fatty acids derived from two polyunsaturated fats – linolenic ( omega -6 oils) and alpha-linolenic acid ( Omega -3 oils ) .These fatty acids are referred to as “Essential Fatty acids “’ because they are truly essential to normal cell structure and body function. Both essential fatty acids function as components of nerve cells, cell membranes, and hormone like substances known as prostaglandins.
Prostaglandins and Essential Fatty acids are important for example –
• Regulate steroid production and hormone synthesis
• Regulate response to pain Inflammation and swelling
• Regulate the flow of substances in and out of the cell
• Regulate nerve transmission
• Are the primary energy source for Heart muscle
• Mediate Immune response
• Dilate or constrict blood vessels –hence have an effect on circulation
Examples of Omega 6 oils are Safflower , grape seed, sunflower and corn oils . These oils can be converted within the body to pro- inflammatory prostaglandins that can promote inflammation and disrupt cellular function .
Examples of Omega 3 oils are, Fish , Krill and flax seed oils . These are converted in the body to anti-inflammatory prostaglandins or less inflammatory compounds and can promote cellular health and function .
They are called Omega- 6 or Omega- 3 depending on the amount of carbon ring structure to the fatty acid. One can even have Omega -9 Fatty acids with nine carbon rings !
The issue is in our society that most people consume more omega -6 than omega 3 oils and foods that contain Omega -6 Acids, like red meat. This creates an imbalance within the body’s tissues leading to cellular disruption and pro –inflammatory diseases.
Why is it important to consume the right amount of Omega -3 in one’s diet?
Since Omega -3 ‘s have been found to be” anti-inflammatory in nature” and assist with cell membrane health then consuming less 3’s than 6’s can lead to a variety of health disorders .
Generally the ratio of Omega -6 to Omega -3 should be in the ratio of about 4:1 but most Australians have a ratio close to 20:1. This is a gross imbalance that contributes to health issues such as but not limited to –
• Osteo Arthritis and Rheumatoid arthritis
• Autoimmune diseases and inflammatory disorders
• Dementia and Neurological disease
• Cancer and
• Behavioural disorders and Mental illness
• Dermatitis and Eczema
• Hormonal disruption and Hypertension
This list is only a small part of the disorders that can be affected by imbalance in essential fatty acid ratios .
What are the benefits of consuming Omega -3 fatty acids?
They all contribute to the proper functioning of cells and organs of the body and as listed above help with healing many disorders . Omega -3 ‘s contribute to correct balance ratios required by the body to maintain health of the cells.
Are there any negative effects from consuming Omega – 3 fatty acids ?
None, except those who are taking blood thinners should take small amounts of fish oil with caution . Occasionally consumers will complain of a fishy aftertaste or reflux but that is now alleviated with enteric coated capsules which dissolve in the lower intestine . Of course if too much fish oil is consumed at one time ,then since it is an oil , then nausea may occur due to the liver being overburdened at that time. This is more likely to happen to seniors whose digestion is often impaired .
Benefits of Omega -3 consumption in Depression
Since it is hard to get a lot of Omega -3 in our diet unless we are consuming oily fish every day then it makes good sense to supplement in small daily doses . The amount taken will vary as to whether one just wants to consume for good health which may be 2 ( 1000mg ) capsules a day or 15 capsules a day for treating inflammatory disease like Arthritis or Autoimmune disorders. ( in which case liquid oil is generally used instead of capules ie 15ml day )
According to Dr Michael Murray N.D , a Health researcher and Naturopathic Physician , “Fish oils have a role to play in treating or preventing depression and to have positive effects for patients with depression as well as in Bipolar disorder.”
The importance of Omega -3 fatty acids to brain function relates to their role in Phospholipid composition of the nerve cell membranes . Studies have shown that
Fish oils influence –
• The fluidity of brain cell membranes ( what they allow in and out of the cell either toxins or nutrients )
• Neurotransmitter synthesis and binding and signal transmission
• The activity of Key enzymes that break down neurotransmitters like serotonin , dopamine and adrenalin . ( it is thought that Depression is a result of not enough serotonin or dopamine in the brain )
These have been described as above but in my clinic Omega –3’s supplements are prescribed quite often for a variety of disorders but they take time to work . For example in treating dermatitis one would allow 8 weeks for some effect to take place and use in high doses. Once a healing effect has taken place then dosage can be reduced to maintain that healing . For depression they would be used in conjunction with other supplements as part of a supplement program.
References: Michael Murray N.D – Encyclopaedia of Nutritional supplements –Prima Press and www.doctormurray.com