Everything you want to know about omega-3
It’s most likely no news to you that there are a number of benefits to eating oily fish. The substance that is responsible for most of its positive effects is its content of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega 3 fatty acids are undeniably one of the topics in nutrition research that has received the most attention. Its biological role was noted when it was observed that the population in Japan and Greenland, where fish make up a large part of the diet, had a very low incidence of cardiovascular disease.
In this article you will get answers to the following questions:
- What are omega-3 fatty acids?
- What effect do they have on our health?
- How much omega-3 should you consume daily?
What are omega-3 fatty acids?
There are two major fatty acids that your body cannot produce itself, making them vital fatty acids that need to be obtained via the diet. These fatty acids include the omega-3 fatty acids and the omega-6 fatty acids. These fatty acids are the original substances for different types of so-called eicosanoids which then have different functions in the body.
In many respects, omega-3 and omega-6 have directly opposite effects, and it’s primarily the ratio between them that determines the end result.
Salmon is a good source of omega-3.
Omega-3 in our diet
When studying the diet of hunters and gatherers, it has been shown that we consumed about as much omega-3 as omega-6. Today, the western diet consists of significantly more omega-6 fatty acids, partly due to lower fish consumption. Omega-6 fatty acids give rise to a number of substances that contribute to cardiovascular disease, the development of allergies and various types of inflammatory diseases.
At present, it is not clear which ratio between these two fatty acids is optimal from a general health perspective, but it is generally accepted among researchers that we should strive to increase our intake of omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids have been shown to have a number of positive benefits on our health.
Omega-3 and cardiovascular disease
The positive effect on the heart and vessels was first noticed by the Inuit in Greenland. The most significant effect is the ability of omega-3 fatty acids to reduce the risk of arrhythmia, but they have also been shown to affect platelet aggregation, decrease blood fats, increase HDL cholesterol (also called good cholesterol), reduce LDL cholesterol (also called bad cholesterol) and decrease blood pressure.
Lowering blood fats
Omega-3 has several positive effects on our blood fats, above all lowering the level of triglycerides. Studies have shown that omega-3 has the ability to lower triglycerides by about 24%.
Omega-3 and atherosclerosis
The main positive effects that omega-3 has on atherosclerosis are mainly due to the lowering of blood fats. In studies where subjects ate more fatty fish, a reduction in platelet aggregation has been noted, which is one of the processes that initiates the development of blood clots.
Increased fat burning
In connection with weight loss programs, supplements of omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to cause a reduction in insulin levels, glucose and triglycerides in the blood. All of these are effects that benefit fat burning.
How much omega-3 should you consume daily? Since omega-3 and omega-6 compete with each other, it is primarily the ratio between them that is decisive. If you consume a lot of omega-6 fatty acids via your diet, you should make sure you intake a lot of omega-3 fatty acids. As mentioned, the optimal ratio is not clear, but the recommendation is to get 2.5-3 grams of omega-3 per day. This is equivalent to about one serving of salmon or 2 omega-3 capsules a day.
Fatty fish may contain a higher degree of harmful substances such as dioxins and PCBs. In general, farmed salmon contain less environmental toxins. In omega 3 supplements, however, the oil is purified of these toxins.
Omega 3 fatty acids are oxidized and rancidize easily, which has negative health effects. To achieve long shelf life and prevent oxidation, vitamin E is added to the fish oil. When you buy fish oil, you should therefore make sure that the product contains vitamin E.
As omega-3 may reduce the blood's ability to coagulate, warnings are given due to an increased risk of bleeding. However, this effect is not clear in humans, and even high doses of omega-3 have been shown to affect coagulation ability to a very small extent. The American Heart Association (AHA) also recommends a total intake of 1 gram of EPA plus DHA per day, based on clinical trials.
The beneficial omega 3 fatty acids have a number of positive effects, above all for the heart and veins.
- Omega-3 contributes to an improved blood lipid profile and reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Omega-3 also seems to be beneficial for fat burning, especially in conjunction with a weight loss program.
- You should consume 2.5-3 grams of omega-3 per day. This is equivalent to about one serving of salmon or 2 omega-3 capsules a day.
Yashodhara BM, Umakanth S, Pappachan JM, Bhat SK, Kamath R, Choo BH. Omega-3 fatty acids: a comprehensive review of
their role in health and disease. Postgrad Med J. 2009 Feb;85(1000):84-90.