Health Canada, the World Health Organization and the American Heart Association all recommend an increase daily intake of omega-3. That is because omega-3 is essential from infancy to old age for normal growth and development, but cannot be produced by the human body.
Omega-3 essential fatty acids are a group of polyunsaturated acids that include three essential parts: 1) eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA); 2) docosahexaenoic acid (DHA); & 3) docosapentaenoic acid (DPA). Omega-3 is deemed essential because it is necessary from infancy to old age, but cannot be produced by the human body.
All three omega-3 essential fatty acids circulate in the blood stream under normal conditions, but are lost through age. It is therefore important to supplement with an omega-3 product that contains all three omega-3 essential fatty acids (EPA, DHA and DPA).
Omega-3 Benefits from Infancy to Old Age
Prenatal, Infants and Children
Taking omega-3 essential fatty acids during prenatal and postnatal development may help children:
- Maintain proper brain and retina growth and development (Youdin, 2000)
- Improve hand-eye coordination (Columbo, et al., 2007) (Innis, 2007) (Jacobson, et al., 2008)
- Enhance intellectual development (Muskiet et al., 2004)
Teens and Young Adults
Continuing to supply the body with omega-3 may help teens and young adults:
- Improve behaviour and attention skills, and reduce hyperactivity (Aben, Danckaerts, 2010)
- Relieve the signs and symptoms of depression (Frangou, et al., 2006)
- Reduce inflammation in the airways to decrease the severity of asthma (Nagakura, et al., 2000) (Nemets, et al., 2006)
An increased, daily intake of omega-3 may help adults:
- Decrease cholesterol (Mattar, Obedi, 2009)
- Improve heart health in healthy adults, and reduce the risk of heart problems in those suffering from heart disease (Cattipakorn, et al., 2009)
- Slow the progression of age-related macular degeneration by supplying the retina with essential nutrients (Cho, et al., 2001) (Seddon, et al., 2001)
Omega-3 is needed throughout all life stages and may help seniors:
- Improve bone density and reduce joint pains (Salari, et al., March 2008)
- Maintain memory and reduce the signs and symptom of mental and mood disorders like dementia and Alzheimer's disease (Cole, 2009) (Freund-Levi, et al., 2006)
- Reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease (Hooper, et al., 2004)
Omega-3 - EPA, DHA and DPA
Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA)
Numerous studies from various countries over extended time periods have documented that increased consumption of EPA appears to be associated with lower primary and secondary heart attack rates and death from cardiovascular disease, as well as reduced all-cause mortality.
Research shows that:
- EPA reduces the risk of coronary heart disease (Dolecek, et al., 1992)
- EPA plus DHA have been directly correlated with reduced risk of sudden cardiac death (Albert, et al., 2002)
- Higher levels of EPA plus DHA in the bloodstream results in a 70% lower risk of fatal ischemic heart disease (Lemaitre, et al., 2003)
Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA)
DHA is recognized as a physiologically-essential nutrient in the brain and retina for neuronal functioning and visual acuity, respectively. A continual delivery of DHA to the brain is needed throughout life to balance the continual turnover in cell membranes.
Research shows that:
- The presence of DHA in breast milk leads to enhanced intellectual development (Youdin, 2000) (Muskiet, et al., 2004)
- Infants consuming DHA exhibit a higher rate of brain and whole body accumulation (Cunnane, et al., 2000)
- Higher levels of DHA in body have been positively correlated with better childhood intelligence and also improved cognitive function in old age (Whalley, et al., 2004)
Docosapentaenoic Acid (DPA)
Population studies have indicated that various Inuit groups including those living in Greenland and in northern Quebec (Nunavik) have a lower prevalence of cardiovascular disease-related mortality. The Inuit consume considerable amounts of marine mammal oils (seal oil) containing DPA in addition to EPA and DHA in their traditional diet. Interventional studies with seal oil supplementation (containing natural DPA in addition to EPA and DHA) have indicated a significant elevation in the circulating levels of all three omega-3 fatty acids. A 2011 study found considerable benefits offered by higher levels of DPA (Mozaffarian, et al., 2011).
Studies on DPA show that:
- DPA was found to be 10 times more effective than EPA in repairing damaged vessel walls (Kanayasu-Toyoda, et al., 1996)
- All omega-3 fatty acids from marine mammal sources are considered to be readily incorporated into body tissues (Ackman, 1988)
- Higher blood serum levels of DPA and DHA caused a 44% reduced risk of acute coronary events in men (Rissanen, et al., 2000)
Omega-6 and Omega-9
The Omega-3 / Omega-6 Imbalance
Omega-6 essential fatty acids, like omega-3, must be obtained from our diets. However, modern diets are far too high in omega-6 and far too low in omega-3. The ideal ratio of omega-3 / omega-6 should be 1:4, but ideally 1:1. Research shows that the ratio is around 1:20 to 1:40 in favour of too much omega-6 (Simopoulos, 1999). This is certainly cause for concern as too much omega-6 and too little omega-3 has been linked with depression, and also cardiovascular mortality (Hibbeln, et al., 2006). It is important to control the balance by supplementing with omega-3 on a daily basis.
Unlike omega-3 and omega-6, omega-9 is not an essential fatty acid. Omega-9 is naturally produced by the human body in significant quantities. It is unnecessary to supplement with omega-9.
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