Long before the FDA said Omega three might be a
healthy thing to consume, there was much talk about the potential
value of increasing our intake of Omega 3 fatty acids.
In 2004 the FDA issued a "qualified health
claim" for two types of omega-3 fatty acids (eicosapentaenoic acid -
EPA and docosahexaenoic acid - DHA). The FDA report said "there is
supportive but not conclusive research to show that these fatty
acids are beneficial in reducing the risk of coronary heart
The American Heart Association had been reporting
the benefits of omega-3 since 1996. The Science Advisory report was
titled "Fish Consumption, Fish Oil, Lipids and Coronary Heart
Disease". Then in 2002, the AHA released a new report indicating how
omega-3 reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease. It said
omega-3's make the blood less likely to form blood clots that cause
heart attacks and protect against irregular heart beats that cause
sudden cardiac death.
In addition to that finding, it was also found
that omega-3 decreases triglyceride levels as effectively as any
cholesterol medication and lowers blood pressure slightly.
What are essential fatty acids?
Essential fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty
acids that the human body needs for metabolic functioning but cannot
produce and therefore had to obtain from food.
What are omega-3 fatty acids?
Omega-3 fatty acids are a class of essential
polyunsaturated fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in food
such as anchovies, bluefish, carp, catfish, halibut, herring, lake
trout, mackerel, pompano, salmon, striped sea bass, tuna (albacore),
walnuts, flax seed oil and canola oil.
There are six main types of omega-3 fatty acids:
|Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). |
|Stearidonic acid. |
|Eicosatetraenoic acid. |
|Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).|
|Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
EPA and DHA seem to offer the most benefits.
Fish oil contains both of these fatty acids. That is why it is
recommended to eat certain fish at least twice a week.
Alpha-linolenic acid is found in flax seed, olive
oil, soy bean, lin seed and certain nuts.
Do you have to eat fish in order to get
No, you can also get omega-3 from other sources
|Fish oil supplements|
|Flax Seed or flax seed oil|
|Some eggs depending on what the chickens are
feed such as 10-20% ground flax seed|
How much omega-3 should you consume?
The AHA suggests people with coronary heart
disease should consume a gram of EPA and DHA each day, preferably
from fatty fish.
People without coronary heart disease should eat
fatty fish at least twice a week. They should also eat foods rich in
alpha-linoleic acid such as flax seed, canola oil, soy beans and
It is recommended that no one should consume more
than three grams of omega-3 a day. No more than 2 grams should come
from a dietary supplement.
How much fish would you have to eat to exceed 3
You would have to eat about 640 grams of cod to
get one gram of EPA and DHA. But it would only take about 55-85
grams of sardines and between 55-235 grams of mackeral to reach one
gram. It would take five grams of cod liver oil.
What about contamination of the fish?
Certain species of fish can be high in levels of
mercury or PCB's. These tend to be older, predatory fish who are
higher in the food chain. Health Canada has issued guidelines on
shark, swordfish and tuna. Pregnant woman and children should eat no
more than one meal a month of these fish.
What are the risks from consuming omega-3 fatty
If you do consume more than 3 grams a day your
risks could be:
|Possible hemorrhagic stroke|
|Increased levels of low-density lipoproteins
choloesterol or apoproteins associated with LDL cholesterol
among diabetics and hyperlipidemics|
|Reduced glycemic control among diabetics|
|Suppression of immune and inflammation
responses leading to increased susceptibility to opportunistic
Omega-6 to omega-3 consumption
The average American consumes about 1.6 grams of
omega-3 fatty acids each day, of which about 1.4 grams (~90%) comes
from linolenic acid, and only 0.1-0.2 grams (~10%) from EPA and DHA.
In Western diets, people consume roughly 10 times more omega-6 fatty
acids than omega-3 fatty acids. These large amounts of omega-6 fatty
acids come from the common use of vegetable oils containing linoleic
acid (for example: corn oil, evening primrose oil, pumpkin oil,
safflower oil, sesame oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil, walnut oil,
and wheat germ oil). Because omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids compete
with each other to be converted to active metabolites in the body,
benefits can be reached either by decreasing intake of omega-6 fatty
acids or by increasing omega-3 fatty acids.(2)