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Omega-3 Q&A - Part One

 

Q) Which Ones, Who For,  How Much, How Long?

Answer……..

There are only two truly essential Fatty Acids, these are:

1)     Linoleic acid -  omega 6 (Corn oil, Sunflower oil, nuts, cereals, avocado, rapeseed, palm oilhidden oils in crisps for example)

2)     Alpha linolenic acid – omega 3 (Fish oil, Flaxseed oil)

Theoretically all other fatty acids essential for health can be synthesised in the body.

So when we are talking about the important Omega 3 fatty acids, especially EPA and DHA, if this is the case, why do we need to supplement? Well, our bodies are able to convert ALA to EPA and DHA, however this process is very inefficient.

  • You would need to take 20-40g of flaxseed oil /day to oil to deliver just 1g EPA/DHA. This is a huge amount of Flaxseed oil, to produce a relatively small amount of EPA/DHA.
  • Also most health benefits associated with increased intake of EPA/DHA not ALA, which makes things even more difficult, hence the need to supplement with EPA/DHA so there is no need for conversion.

Q) Fats have numerous important roles to play in the Body, what are they?

Answer………

1)     Energy source

2)     Major component of all cell membranes (numerous derivative functions and effects)

3)     Precursors for eicosanoid production (eicosanoids are extremely important in how the body deals with inflammation)

Omega 3 is known as natures anti-inflammatory, generally it is easy to remember the following when thinking about your diet or supplements.

  • Omega 6 are generally pro-inflammatory
  • Omega 3 are generally anti-inflammatory

 

Q) So how much fat do we have in our diet and how much do we need?

Answer………..

Well there are different types of fat which we generally have in our diet, these are terms, or descriptions of major groups of fatty acids

  • Saturated fatty acids such as Butter, Lard, Animal fats, Pork Pies, Bacon – dietary sufficiency, so we generally have enough of these in our diet.
  • Mono- unsaturated fatty acids  - whole milk, olive oil, peanut oil, sesame oil, meat, dietary insufficiency
  •  Polyunsaturated fatty acids:

Omega 6 - dietary surplus, so we generally have too many of these already in our diet. Omega-3 – there is a definite dietary deficiency!!!

We generally need to focus more on omega-3 as it has become recognised that this group has unique characteristics and benefits which have now gained focus because of this chronic dietary insufficiency .

Q) What are the benefits of omega-3?

Answer……….

1) Structural/Physiological

         Foetal, infant, neural system and brain development.

         Cognitive function improvement (children & adults).

2) Anti-inflammatory/Physiological

         Reduction in risk and progression of CVD (cardio vascular disease).

3) Anti-inflammatory

        Modulation of inflammatory response and chronic inflammatory diseases.

4) Anti-inflammatory/structural/physiological

       Potential improvement in mental disorders.

The importance of Fatty Acids is evident even before birth, so this is not just something which gains in importance as we develop and go through our lives.  As a developing foetus fatty acids are crucial in laying down the foundations for future development. The accumulation of Fatty Acids in Infant Brain are so important, I have outlined some facts below;

  • 60% by weight of brain at birth is lipid
  • 18% of total fatty acids (11% brain weight) is DHA
  • 12% of total fatty acids (8% brain weight) is AA
  • Brain cell division, brain growth and fatty acid deposition occurs substantially in third trimester of pregnancy (400 - 500% growth)
  • From birth to 3 months of age, DHA and AA accumulation continues at same level. This is time of maximum neural development with synaptic development, myelination and cell growth (but not division) in brain stem and spinal cord.
  • DHA continues to accumulate in brain and neural tissue up to 2 years of age, and then at a much slower rate into adulthood. Martinez 1999 Carlson 2001
  • In pregnancy, DHA and AA must be obtained from maternal bloodflow.  The placenta preferentially selects AA and DHA
  • If DHA is deficient, AA and then docosapentaenoic acid (DPA) is laid down
  • It is possible to replace DHA or AA by dietary supplementation in deficient individuals while brain is developing.

As adults the benefits of Omega 3 fatty acids become more and more evident and relevant depending on the way you lead your life.

Q) What Are The Effects of Omega-3 Fatty Acids on the Inflammatory Response ?

Answer……..

It has recently been recognised that omega 3 fatty acids affect the inflammatory response by activity at four different levels – omega 3 fatty acids are unique within fats and any other nutrients in producing these effects.

EPA and DHA – Natures anti-inflammatories!

The Most powerful and Broad Spectrum Nutritional Anti-inflammatories EPA and DHA combine the activities of low level steroidal and non steroidal anti-inflammatories.

Q) Are Omega 3’s important in any other areas?

Answer…….

Omega 3 fatty acids are also extremely important in Cardiovascular health. This is an area where these supplements are possibly better known. Clinical evidence supports the role of omega-3 in following aspects of CVD risk