The Impact of Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Human Nutrition
The report emphasizes the importance of the eicosapentaenoic (EPA) and the docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) as the primary omega-3 fatty acids due to the following health factors:
- Adequate concentrations of EPA and DHA result in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases, cognitive disorders, and dementias among the adult population.
- Low EPA and DHA intake during the third trimester of pregnancy stimulates mental impairments of the fetus.
- Low concentrations of EPA and DHA cause problems with the human visual system.
- High concentration of EPA and DHA reduces the risks of heart diseases at all ages.
- The omega-3 fatty acids demonstrate anti-inflammatory properties affecting the whole human body.
Omega-3 fatty acids are absolutely indispensable, and their inclusion into the nutrition scheme is compulsory due to the fact that human organism cannot produce it on its own. Special studies have shown that omega-3 help preventing inflammatory diseases, including heart attacks and strokes. In addition, they are fundamental connections supporting the work of the brain as well as affecting the behavior and cognitive functions, especially during the stage of intrauterine development.
Omega-3 fatty acids are extremely important to control proper condition of the human health and reduce the potential risks of cognitive and heart diseases. The latest research highlights the necessity to implement healthy omega-3 daily intake patterns to convert it into a life-long dietary habit starting with the prenatal stage of the human development. EPA and DHA fatty acids are crucial for the full functioning of several body systems, namely the cardiovascular, the nervous, and the immune systems.
Human body is a unique biological mechanism that is capable of synthesizing the majority of the fats it needs for efficient functioning, expect omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids relate to the group of physiological essential elements which can be obtained from food intake only. Their function within the human organism is vital and absolutely exceptional. The omega-3 research conducted in the medical sphere during the recent years has highly supported the importance of having adequate doses of omega-3 fatty acids at all stages of the human development. It is impossible to underestimate the role of the omega-3 fatty acids as they are an integral part of cell membranes and affect the function of the cell receptors. Omega-3 fatty acids are considered as the starting point of the hormones regulating blood clotting, contraction and relaxation of artery walls as well as inflammation processes within the body. Omega-3 fats promote the transmission of nerve impulses and are necessary for the accurate functioning of the brain and the nervous system. In addition, omega-3 fatty acids connect to the cell-receptors regulating human genetic functions and help preventing heart diseases and strokes, cognitive disorders and mental dementias, along with schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease (Barberger-Gateau et.al. 2007). Omega-3 fatty acids deficiency at different stages of the human development consequently results in life-threatening health problems and implications with mental well-being.
The Role of Omega-3 in Human Nutrition
It is hard to underrate the role of omega-3 in human nutrition since its deficiency leads to the following symptoms: depression, cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, fatigue, dry skin, fragile hair and nails, inability to concentrate, and pain in the joints (Sacks 2014). In order to be able to eliminate the aforementioned symptoms with the help of omega-3 fatty acids, it is necessary to comprehend their primary characteristics and types. The eicosapentaenoic (EPA), the docosahexaenoic (DHA), and the alpha-linolenic (ALA) acids are the primary acids, which are referred to as omega-3 fatty acids (Stoll 2011, 44). Nevertheless, the most commonly used fatty acids in the human nutrition patterns are the eicosapentaenoic and the docosahexaenoic ones. These two fatty acids protect human internal organs and affect the body in a way not allowing the blood to thicken and the joints to become inflamed. EPA and DHA determine the condition of nails and beauty of the human hair as well as vastly affect the vascular health, acuteness of vision and fertility. In addition, omega-3s are very strong antioxidants since they prevent premature aging and are able to regulate the metabolism helping to fight obesity.
The Effects of High Concentrations of EPA and DHA Acids in Human Body
EPA and DHA are long-chain omega-3 acids which are primary detected in cold water fish. Both of the acids are considered to be extremely unsaturated fats as a result of having five and six double bonds in their structural chains. High concentrations of EPA and DHA acids stimulate the efficient works of the human brain and the accurate functioning of the eye retina. Sufficient amount of DHA provides the vital elements for normal eye functioning and, therefore, greatly affects the processes of human perception and learning. In addition, high concentration levels of DHA stimulate brain activity, especially during prenatal and neonatal development (Sears 2012). Correspondingly, the fetuses and infants can obtain great intellectual and physical benefits through being exposed to systematic omega-3 doses. DHA and EPA assist human beings to deal with diabetes and asthma as well as to clean the organism from toxins; they reduce inflammations, prevent autoimmune diseases, decrease the formation of thrombus, minimize the depression, and stave off dementia (Stoll 2011). Thus, DHA and EPA fatty acids should be interpreted as vast energy sources for the body’s efficacious and healthy operation. The aftereffects of introducing omega-3 into the dietary patterns throughout human’s life can change the genetic heritage of a given individual or family. Generally, high DHA and EPA concentrations induce the growth of mental focus and promote the maintenance of human cognitive functions.
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Reduction of the Risks of Heart Diseases
The latest scientific research has presented strong evidence related to the beneficial influence of omega-3 fats on heart diseases. It is common knowledge, that arrhythmias are widespread premises of heart failure and consequent death. Omega-3 acids reduce the risks of heart deficiencies since they help the heart to beat evenly, at a constant pace and rhythm, and prevent atrial fibrillation. Moreover, epidemiological studies highlight the cardiovascular health benefits of EPA and DHA. According to the reports presented by the US National Institute of Health, which analyzed the relations between the human cardiovascular system and omega-3 fatty acids, increased intake of omega-3 fatty acids reveals significant health advantages for both healthy people and individuals with cardiovascular diseases (US National Institutes of Health 2005). Hence, DHA and EPA fatty acids can play an essential role in the primary prevention of the cardiovascular risks and lethal outcomes. The fish-oil-derived EPA and DHA contain metabolites, which carry vital biological functions acquired throughout direct intake. The research of the clinical perspectives of omega-3 fatty acids regarding their affect on the coronary heart disease has proved to perform positive dynamics and reduce the heart disease health risks (Harris at. al. 2008). The latter is the consequence of the reduction of blood pressure and heart rate, along with decreasing platelet aggregation. Similarly, DHA’s and EPA’s implementation to diet prevents such severe heart failures as myocardial infarction and stroke (US National Institutes of Health 2005). The aforementioned data provides scientific and medical support to the efficiency of omega-3 fatty acids in reducing the risks of having heart diseases.
Affect on Inflammatory Processes
As it has been mentioned above, omega-3 fatty acids greatly contribute to lowering the blood pressure and improve the condition of the blood vessels; when used in higher doses, they reduce triglyceride levels and the inflammatory processes in the body. Figure 1 offers a scheme of the process of inflammation rates reduction throughout the incorporation of DHA and EPA. The vital affect of the omega-3 fatty acids is revealed through its influence on the cellular membranes in general and membrane fluidity in particular (Advanced Medical Nutrition 2014). Correspondingly, high omega-3 dietary intake modulates the membrane fluidity in a way of stimulating an anti-inflammatory effect and managing other vital processes within the membrane.
Figure 1. Reduced inflammation through DHA and EPA incorporation (Advanced Medical Nutrition 2014).
Fig. 1 graphically explains the omega-3 anti-inflammatory impact through the insertion of DHA and EPA to the phospholipids layer of the cell membranes of monocytes, leukocytes, and endothelial cells. Such inclusion of omega-3 fatty acids is accompanied by the decreased production of inflammatory mediators, decreasing the adhesion of leukocytes to the endothelial wall. Omega-3’s should be referred to as “membrane molecules” since they make the cell membranes healthier (Sears 2012, 27). Thus, DHA and EPA fatty acids make the cell membrane more flexible, which evolves in the decreased tendency of blood cells to clump and clot. The omega-3 balance anti-inflammatory performance is a major premise of preventing various malfunctions, starting with depression and ending with cardiovascular diseases.
Pregnant Women and Omega-3 Intake
In addition to its general anti-inflammatory effect, adequate EPA and DHA intake is crucial for pregnant women. It goes without saying that omega-3 misbalance in the body of pregnant women strongly affects the brain of the fetus, since 1/4 of the human brain consists of DHA fatty acids (Mollie 2008). Correspondingly, the omega-3’s have a positive effect on the brain development and other physical characteristics of the organism of the future child. Therefore, it is very important that the body of a pregnant woman constantly receives its omega-3 norm. Every day the body of the future mother is to provide the child with 2 grams of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (Global Recommendations for EPA and DHA Intake 2014). Unluckily, most pregnant women in the early period of gestation suffer from EPA and DHA deficiency, especially during the last trimester of a pregnancy. The latter period is crucial to provide sufficient omega-3 doses for pregnant women in order to ensure the transfer of the DHA material for the correct development of the brain and the central nervous system of the fetus. In addition, inadequate EPA and DHA intake is scientifically linked to premature deliveries, the low weight of the infants, and their future hyperactivity (Mollie 2008). Since EPA and DHA are widely known by their affect of the retina and the human brain, the omega-3 dietary habits of the mother directly affect the visual and mental capabilities of the future child. The process of passing DHA to the child continues after its birth throughout the process of breastfeeding. Therefore, if the mother succeeds in consuming sufficient amount of omega-3 fats, she manages not only to prevent post-partum depression but also to assist the effective functioning of the infant’s cognitive and visual systems (Stoll 2012). Alas, EPA and DHA deficiency has become a severe problem in the Third World countries due to the minor access to omega-3 enriched products, resulting in the growing number of children with mental impairments and problems with vision.
Ensuring Appropriate EPA and DHA Intake
As it has been mentioned above, adequate omega-3 intake is crucial in human health patterns. Contemporary scientists have recognized the beneficial effect of omega-3 fatty acids on the human cardiovascular system, skin, and the functions of the whole body. It is widely considered that fish is the main source for the omega-3 fatty acids; nevertheless, it is definitely not the only source since it can be obtained from many other products containing useful amino acids. Enriching the human daily diet with such products can significantly improve one’s nutrition and health. Correspondingly, as EPA and DHA fatty acids may be obtained from food only, it is vital to know the appropriate omega-3 sources.
The best-known Omega-3 sources
The following products succeed in providing the human organism with the essential omega-3 fatty acids:
- Fatty fish: salmon, tuna, cod, mackerel, halibut, eel, herring, trout, and sardines, halibut;
- Seafood: clams, scallops, shrimp;
- Nuts: walnuts, almonds and macadamia nuts;
- Unrefined linseed, soybean, sesame, canola, rapeseed oils;
- Vegetables: beans, broccoli, cauliflower, cantaloupe, spinach.
- Fish oil;
- Red and black caviar;
- Soybeans and tofu;
- Sprouted wheat and eggs;
It is worth noting that salmon and flaxseeds should be addressed as the primary sources for the highest concentration of polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids (Sears 2012). The aforementioned products can significantly improve the levels of EPA and DHA concentration in the human body and, therefore, directly affect the condition of the individual’s health. The essence of the omega-3 effect on the body is reveled throughout its anti-inflammatory characteristics. Figure 2 visualizes the set of omega-3 enriched products considering their hierarchy while assessing the levels of EPA and DHA presenting more healthy anti-inflammatory products.
Figure 2. Dr. Weil anti-inflammatory pyramid (Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine 2012).
Figure 2 offers a set of products that exceed the dietary patterns of the modern people. It provides numerous alternatives for obtaining efficient amount of EPA and DHA fatty acids including various spices and healthy fat products, including meats. In order to maintain an omega-3 balance within the body, it is necessary to know its weekly norms for all ages.
Assessing The Daily Omega-3 Norm
As it is impossible to reserve omega-3 elements, it is necessary to provide an appropriate daily intake of their sufficient amounts. This implies consuming fish twice a week and other omega-3 enriched products on other week-days. According to the EPA and DHA Global Recommendations, the omega-3 dietary norms should be the following:
Table 1. Recommended EPA and DHA doses (Global Recommendations for EPA and DHA Intake 2014).
|General Adult Population
|300-400 mg EPA+ DHA/ day
|General Adult Population for cardiovascular health
|At least 500 mg EPA+ DHA/ day
|Infants, when breastfeeding is not possible
|0.2-0.5% of total fat
|Pregnant and Lactating women
|200 mg DHA/day
|Infants from 0 to 7 month
|0.1-.018% of total energy
|Infants from 6 to 24 month
|10-12 mg/kg of DHA/day
|Children from 2 to 4 years
|EPA + DHA: 100-150 mg
|Children from 4 to 6 years
|EPA + DHA: 150-200 mg
|Children from 6 to 10 years
|EPA + DHA: 200-250 mg
The presented table shows that the omega-3 norms directly depend on the age of the individual and the condition of the cardiovascular system. The implementation of the aforementioned EPA and DHA standards has proved to have positive effect on the anti-inflammation processes within the body and correspondingly improve the quality of life.
Excessive Intake and Deficiency of Omega-3
Omega-3 deficiency. The deficiency and surplus of omega-3 fatty acids in the human organism has tremendous consequences for health. The minor aftereffects of EPA and DHA shortage include acne, dandruff, and dry skin. The shortage of omega-3 fatty acids relates to depressed mood, memory disorders, pain in joints, chronic constipation, diseases of the mammary glands, problems with liver, and cardiovascular disorders. Acute deficiency leads to the development of schizophrenia as well as dementia and Alzheimer disease (Barberger-Gateau et.al. 2007). Cognitive disorders, mental dementias along with schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease and gradual memory loss are among the most dangerous post-effects of EPA and DHA deficiency.
Excessive omega-3 intake. Generally, high omega-3 adequate concentration levels are associated with slower mental decline (Harris 2008). The research has showed excessive omega-3 concentration, which damages the functioning of the immune system. Excessive amounts of omega-3 are as harmful for the human body as the insufficient concentration of these fats. The latter is caused by the anti-inflammatory properties of polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids.
Thus, reduced levels of EPA and DHA result in hypotension, irritability, anxiety, lethargy, and weakness, poor muscle tone, malfunction of the pancreas, and increased bleeding wounds. It can cause hypotension, irritability, anxiety, lethargy, and weakness along with poor muscle tone, malfunction of the pancreas, and increased bleeding. Evidently, the best omega-3 impact can be achieved by means of applying appropriate daily norms.
- Omega-3 intake should be performed only according to the global scientific dietary norms.
- The human body should be supplied with sufficient amounts of EPA and DHA at all stages of the development. Inability to fulfill the latter will result in cardiovascular disorders, visual inclinations, cognitive disorders, dementias, schizophrenias, Alzheimer’s diseases, obesity, etc.
- Excessive amount of omega-3 fatty acids intake can result in severe problems with the immune system, inducing the body’s inability to resist microbial pathogens.
- Special attention should be given to the importance of appropriate omega-3 intake among pregnant women particularly during the third trimester in order to ensure the correct development of the fetuses’ mental and visual systems.
- It is essential to obtain EPA and DHA fatty acids from other products besides fish (see Fig. 2). For example, it is necessary to introduce a daily consumption of vegetables and fruits along with omega-3 rich oils.
- The modern society has to transform omega-3 intake into a life-long dietary habit.
It is hard to underestimate the role of omega-3 fatty acids for the human organism since they penetrate the body cells, change their structure and activity patterns, subsequently stimulating the righteous work of the nervous, cardiovascular, visual and immune systems. Adequate intake of EPA and DHA reduces the amount of the harmful fats in the blood, prevents the formation of blood clots and inflammations in the blood vessels, and, thereby, protects the human body from heart attacks and strokes. It directly affects the quality and duration of the human life. The application of the global recommendations of omega-3 daily consumption is the key to creating a new healthy society with low risks of cardiovascular disease, cognitive disorders, and dementias.