Omega-3 Fatty Acids
You have probably have read and seen advertisements regarding the unique type of fat called omega-3 fatty acids. Indeed omega-3 fatty acids have multiple health benefits, many of which are still undiscovered.
Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats due to their unique chemical structure. These fats are joined together by double bonds which make the chemical structure of these fats more flexible and can more interact with other chemicals. These fats are also more delicate and are more susceptible to damage than other substances. The double bond is unique among omega-3 fatty acids and is not found in other fats.
Examples of some simple omega-3s include alpha-linolenic acid or ALA. ALA cannot be produced by the body so that it needs to be taken in from the diet. Many foods derived from animals and plants contain ALA. Other fats are more complicated in that our bodies cannot take in ALA from them and transform them to omega-3s. Other omega-3s are more complicated; these fats include EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). EPA contains five double bonds and DHA has six. These omega-3s all contain health benefits which cannot be given by ALA alone. All these omega-3s can support the organ systems of the body and can decrease the risk for chronic diseases. The body needs these healthy fats to perform its daily bodily functions and to fight against many illnesses.
Omega-3 fatty acids can be obtained from various diets such as sea plants and land plant foods which are fermented with the help of certain fungi. They can also be found in fish, eggs, cheese, milk, and yogurt. They can also be obtained from meat especially from grass-fed animals. ALA is present in foods such as flaxseeds, walnuts, tofu, and spinach which are converted by our bodies into omega-3 fatty acids. Our body makes EPA and DHA from ALA depending on the other types of fat that we eat. One of these necessary fats is omega-6 fat which is commonly found in most foods that we eat every day. However omega-6 fatty acids should be consumed in moderation since its high consumption can greatly reduce the amount of ALA that can be converted into EPA and DHA. The body also needs a good supply of nutrients to convert ALA into EPA and DHA; these nutrients may include vitamin B3, vitamin B6, vitamin C, and the minerals zinc and magnesium. A lack of these nutrients cannot make the body produce EPA and DHA, even when ALA is sufficient.
As omega-3 fatty acids are often found in animal foods, people who eat more vegetables and less animal-derived foods should take omega-3 supplementation. For people who consume animal-based foods but avoid seafoods, they should also take in supplementation. They should also be extra careful in selecting EPA- and DHA-containing animal foods. Generally, 2-3 servings of fish per week can supply the body with EPA and DHA to meet the daily requirements of the body.
Omega-3 fatty acids are known to prevent a variety of diseases such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, excessive blood clotting, Alzheimer’s disease, cognitive decline, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, nervous system development, depression and bipolar disorder.
DHA Omega-3 Fatty Acid and the Brain
A recent study made by researchers from Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School Singapore (Duke-NUS) have identified that the transporter protein Mfsd2a carries DHA to the brain. These researchers studied and have found out that mice without the Mfsd2a transporter had brains a third smaller than those with the transporter, and exhibited memory and learning deficits and high levels of anxiety. The team recognized that the learning, memory and behavioral function of these mice were reminiscent of omega-3 fatty acid deficiency in mice starved of DHA in their diet. They also found out that Mfds2a transports DHA in the chemical form of lysophosphatidlycholine (LPC). LPCs are phospholipids mainly produced by the liver that circulate in human blood at high levels.
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