Common dietary advice from health agencies such as the American Heart Association (AHA) is that we as a population need to increase our intake of fatty fish.
But, have you ever stopped to wonder why the general populace is recommended to eat more fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, or rainbow trout?
Besides being an incredible source of protein, fatty fish are also rich in a certain type of dietary fat called omega-3 fatty acids.
What makes omega-3s so important?
What Are Omega-3s?
Omega-3 fatty acids are a collection of essential polyunsaturated fats that must be obtained from diet as our bodies cannot synthesize them -- hence the name, essential.
The three most important omega-3 fatty acids you will encounter are:
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) is a 20-carbon-long omega-3 fatty acid found primarily in fatty fish as well as fish oil.
As an essential fatty acid, EPA plays a number of important roles in the body, none more important than its role as a signaling molecule.
These signaling molecules, referred to as eicosanoids, have been identified as helping to reduce inflammation.
Furthermore, supplementation with EPA has been noted to improve symptoms of depression. Perhaps more interesting is a 2009 meta-analysis which found that EPA but not DHA (another omega-3 fatty acid) seems to be doing the brunt of the “work” when it comes to the impact omega-3 supplementation has on depression.
As we just mentioned, DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is another member of the omega-3 fatty acid family. It has a 22-carbon length chain and serves as a structural component in cell membranes in the nerve cells in your eyes and brain.
In fact, DHA accounts for approximately 40% of polyunsaturated fats in your entire brain!
Due to the importance that DHA plays in cognitive function and structure, it comes as little surprise that the omega-3 is a favorite nootropic amongst biohackers seeking to improve memory, focus, and learning.
DHA is also vital to ensure optimal development of the nervous system of the fetus during pregnancy. Studies show that infants of mothers who DHA had higher mental processing scores, greater psychomotor development, and better eye-hand coordination at 4 years of age.
The member of the omega-3 “big 3” is ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). It has an 18-carbon length chain and is most well known as the form of omega-3 found in plants, such as walnuts, chia seeds, and flax seeds.
Compared to EPA and DHA, ALA is less “essential” as the body will convert ALA into EPA and DHA. However, the catch here is that our bodies are highly inefficient at converting ALA to the other two omega-3 fatty acids. More specifically, only around 5% of ALA gets converted into EPA and a paltry 0.5% into DHA.
Due to this, ALA shouldn’t be relied upon to provide all of your omega-3 requirements.
Why Are Omega-3s Important?
As we stated at the beginning omega-3s are important, first and foremost, because they are essential. This means if you do not get any omega-3s in your diet a lot of dysfunction and disease will occur in the body.
Beyond that, omega-3s have received greater interest as researchers have noted that they may help reduce chronic inflammation, and subsequently, be a key player in warding off various diseases.
The current body of evidence suggests that omega-3s may help lower the risk of cardiovascular disease as well as certain forms of cancer. They may even offer a measure of protection against osteoarthritis and depression.
Moreover, omega-3s also regulates the gene expression of cytokines (important cell signaling proteins) and adhesion molecules (proteins that help cells stick to each other) by interacting with the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR). Subsequently, this helps modulate the immune and inflammatory responses in the body.[7,8,9]
Top 5 Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation has been the subject of intense research in recent years and a number of benefits have been attributed to its use including:
Inflammation is a “four-letter word” these days, but in reality, inflammation is a vital biological process. It is our bodies way of responding to infections and damage within the body.
When inflammation goes from good to bad is when we the inflammatory process doesn’t get a break and we are in an inflamed state long-term.
Being in a state of chronic inflammation has been linked to just about every major chronic disease affecting the civilized world to including diabetes, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce the production of inflammatory substances, such as inflammatory cytokines and eicosanoids.
Decreased Symptoms of Depression
Depression is one of the most common neurological disorders across the globe. While the root of depression is multifactorial, some research indicates that supplementing with omega-3s can help alleviate symptoms associated with the disease.
In fact, one study found that EPA was as effective for combating the symptoms of depression as fluoxetine, a common antidepressant drug.
Improved Eye Health
As mentioned above, DHA serves as a critical structural component in the nerve cells of your brain and eyes. It comes as no surprise that a deficiency in DHA can lead to vision problems.
Research notes that consuming adequate levels of omega-3 fatty acids is associated with a lower risk of macular degeneration, one of the leading causes of blindness.
Support Cardiovascular Health
Heart disease and stroke are the two biggest killers of human beings in the world. The duo tallied a combined 15.2 million deaths in 2016 alone.
Researchers have known for decades that populations who had the highest consumption of fish also had the lowest incidence of cardiovascular-related events. Since that discovery, doctors have emphasized the importance of consuming fish regularly and/or getting enough omega-3s each week.
In fact, studies have shown that omega-3s may help[14,15,16,17]:
- Lower blood pressure in people with hypertension
- Decrease triglycerides
- Increase HDL (“good”) cholesterol
- Reduce the formation of plaque, keeping blood vessels smooth and pliable
Supports Bone and Joint Health
Arthritis and osteoporosis are two of the most common skeletal system disorders as we age. A lifetime of hard and intensive training in the gym also subjects our bones, ligaments, joints, and connective tissues to extra wear and tear.
Research has found that supplementing with omega-3s may reduce joint pain, and it may also help enhance grip strength.
Additional research suggests omega-3s may improve bone strength by increasing bone stores of calcium, thereby lowering the chance for developing osteoporosis.
How Many Omega-3s Do I Need?
The American Heart Association recommends consuming at least two portions of fatty fish per week to ensure you’re getting enough omega-3 fatty acids.
Other health agencies, including the World Health Organization (WHO) and European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), recommend a minimum of 250–500mg combined EPA and DHA per day for healthy adults.
Expectant and breastfeeding mothers are advised to consume an additional 200mg of DHA.
Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of essential fat required for optimal health, wellness, and development. You can get them from fatty fish and certain plant foods as well as fish oil supplements.
If you don’t regularly consume fish, or just don’t find the taste of fish appealing, then supplementing with omega-3s is a must.
1UP Nutrition has created a premium-quality Omega-3 supplement containing High Strength Omega Rich Fish Oil Concentrate that delivers 720mg EPA and 480 mg DHA per serving to support cognitive and cardiovascular health as well as joint function.
- "Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids." Www.heart.org, American Heart Association
- Siriwardhana, N., Kalupahana, N. S., & Moustaid-Moussa, N. (2012). Health benefits of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids: eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid. Advances in Food and Nutrition Research, 65, 211–222. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-416003-3.00013-5
- Sublette ME, Ellis SP, Geant AL, Mann JJ. Meta-analysis of the effects of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) in clinical trials in depression. J Clin Psychiatry. 2011;72(12):1577–1584. doi:10.4088/JCP.10m06634
- Martins, J. G. (2009). EPA but not DHA appears to be responsible for the efficacy of omega-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation in depression: evidence from a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 28(5), 525–542.
- Singh, M. (2005). Essential fatty acids, DHA and human brain. Indian Journal of Pediatrics, 72(3), 239–242.
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- Calder, P.C. Marine omega-3 fatty acids and inflammatory processes: Effects, mechanisms and clinical relevance. Biochim. Biophys. Acta 2015, 1851, 469–484.
- Forman, B.M.; Chen, J.; Evans, R.M. Hypolipidemic drugs, polyunsaturated fatty acids, and eicosanoids are ligands for peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors alpha and delta. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 1997, 94, 4312–4317.
- Jazayeri, S., Tehrani-Doost, M., Keshavarz, S. A., Hosseini, M., Djazayery, A., Amini, H., Peet, M. (2008). Comparison of therapeutic effects of omega-3 fatty acid eicosapentaenoic acid and fluoxetine, separately and in combination, in major depressive disorder. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 42(3), 192–198. https://doi.org/10.1080/00048670701827275
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