Although omega-3 fatty acids have been known as essential to normal growth and health since the 1930s, awareness of their health benefits has dramatically increased since the 1990s.
The health benefits of the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, primarily EPA and DHA are the best known (EPA & DHA are two components of omega 3 that most of our research has been targeted at). These benefits were discovered in the 1970s by researchers studying the Greenland Inuit tribe. The Greenland Inuit people consumed large amounts of fat from fish, but displayed virtually no cardiovascular disease. The high level of omega-3 fatty acids consumed by the Inuit reduced triglycerides, heart rate, blood pressure, and atherosclerosis.
Why is it important?
Omega 3, at times is made out to be a miracle substance. It can help with symptoms and conditions from Alzheimer’s to pain to your memory and attention. Scientific evidence is mounting to show that Omega 3 is beneficial for everyone at every age. Some of the more interesting research is listed below and remember, this is just a snapshot of how Omega 3 can improve the quality of life, in general.
Research shows that omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation and may help lower risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and arthritis. Omega-3 fatty acids are highly concentrated in the brain and appear to be important for cognitive (brain memory and performance) and behavioural function. In fact, infants who do not get enough omega-3 fatty acids from their mothers during pregnancy are at risk for developing vision and nerve problems. Symptoms of omega-3 fatty acid deficiency include fatigue, poor memory, dry skin, heart problems, mood swings or depression, and poor circulation.
Among omega-3 fatty acids, it is thought that EPA in particular may possess some beneficial potential in mental conditions, such as schizophrenia. Several studies report an additional reduction in scores on symptom scales used to assess the severity of symptoms, when additional EPA is taken. Studies have suggested that EPA may be efficacious in treating depression. One 2004 study, took blood samples of 100 suicide attempt patients and compared the blood samples to those of controls and found that levels of eicosapentaenoic acid were significantly lower in the washed red blood cells of the suicide-attempt patients. A 2009 metastudy found that patients taking omega-3 supplements with a higher EPA: DHA ratio experienced less depressive symptoms.
Research suggests that EPA improves the response of patients to chemotherapy, possibly by modulating the production of eicosanoid.
In a study published in 2011, EPA was shown to be significantly more effective than placebo for treating hyperactivity and attention symptoms, both together and separately.
Omega 3 & fertility: What’s the link?
Omega 3 EFA’s (essential fatty acids) help the body to regulate hormones, increase the blood flow to the uterus, reduce sensitivity to the hormone prolactin (which can suppress ovulation), increases cervical mucus, which is needed to help the sperm reach the egg, helps to regulate your cycle. Having a sufficient level of these fats in your system is thought to help prevent miscarriage and premature delivery. Premature birth occurs in as many as 6 – 10% of births and increases the risk of physical and learning disabilities.
Some research has shown that women who regularly consume omega-3 fats may have better fertility outcomes. Their rates of conception are higher, miscarriage rates tend to be lower, and the risk of premature birth is also reduced.
DHA, one of the fatty acids contained in Omega 3, has a significant impact on the viability and health of sperm. When there are not enough fatty acids present, cholesterol replaces the needed fatty acids in the sperm membrane. This prevents sperm from proper maturation. This, in turn, helps create more free radicals, which damage any healthy sperm that may be present. By increasing the intake of essential fatty acids through the consumption of fish or fish oil supplements, the resulting sperm are healthier, have better motility, and the chances of a successful conception increase. According to a new study, DHA is very important in the formation of the acrosome, an arc-like structure on the top of sperm, which is critical in fertilization because it houses a variety of enzymes that sperm use to penetrate an egg.
Even if you don’t suffer from infertility, therapeutic dose fish oil is probably the most important supplement you can take during pregnancy for several reasons, but most importantly for the development of the child’s brain. Long-chain Omega-3 fatty acids are critical for foetal brain development to provide your child the best possible mental advantage coming into this world. The foetus’ need for DHA is greatest in the last trimester of the pregnancy as foetal brain cells are being created at a prodigious rate (more than 250,000 nerve cells per minute). If you don’t have adequate supplies of DHA in your body, your foetus’ brain is going to have trouble keeping up with the growing demand for DHA building blocks. Thus, pregnancy is a critical time to take fish oil supplements.
Fish oil can also help pregnant women avoid two serious conditions that can occur during pregnancy: pregnancy-induced hypertension (pre-eclampsia) and gestational diabetes. Ideally, as a minimum, omega 3 should be taken at least three months before pregnancy.