Many people know that omega-3 is good for them, but do you know why?
Omega-3- contains EPA and DHA - two very important long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids. EPA and DHA are vital nutrients that help every cell in our body function in an optimal way.
Heart, brain, eyes, muscles and joints all rely on Omega-3 to operate correctly. Each cell in our body is a special functional unit that needs to get nutrients in and waste products out. EPA and DHA helps ensure such efficient and flexible transport.
Our bodies do not efficiently produce EPA and DHA, so we have to obtain it through our diet. Seafood is our main source of EPA and DHA but a supplement of marine Omega-3 is a good alternative if you do not eat enough fatty fish. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has made recommendations regarding daily intake of EPA and DHA to help consumers better understand the health benefits of these fatty acids.
Heart health and blood pressure
EPA and DHA omega-3s, as part of an overall healthy diet and lifestyle, help support the heart in a variety of ways. Low omega-3 levels in the body are associated with increased heart-related risks.
Omega-3s also have been shown to help maintain healthy blood pressure and healthy triglyceride levels. Given that most people aren’t getting enough omega-3s, it’s important to focus on getting more of these important nutrients. More than 4,000 human studies, the majority on heart health, show benefits of EPA and DHA omega-3s, the kinds found in fatty fish and dietary supplements.
Consuming recommended doses of EPA and DHA is an easy way to contribute to maintenance of a healthy heart and circulation. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recommends a daily intake of 250 milligrams of EPA and DHA to contribute to a normal function of the heart, 2 grams EPA and DHA to maintain a normal blood triglyceride level and 3 grams of EPA and DHA to maintain a normal blood pressure.
If there’s ever a time to focus on nutrition, it’s before, during and after pregnancy. Omega-3s play an important role in brain and eye development for a growing baby, both during pregnancy and in the first months of life.
Additionally, a recent study found that women taking omega-3 supplements while pregnant had a reduced risk for early preterm birth (less than 34 weeks), preterm birth (between 34-37 weeks) and babies born with low birth weight (less than 5.5 pounds).
The omega-3 DHA is a vital nutrient during pregnancy and lactation, and mothers are the sole source for developing babies.
EFSA recommend pregnant and lactating women to have a daily intake of 200 mg DHA, in addition to the recommended daily intake of EPA and DHA for adults, i.e. 250 mg EPA and DHA, to contribute to normal development of the brain, eye and vision of the fetus and breastfed infants.
Brain health and development
Omega-3s are important for brain health and function. At least 50% of the brain is fat. DHA is the most abundant omega-3 fatty acid in the brain and has been shown to have neuroprotective properties, while EPA has been linked to reducing inflammation. Research has shown an impact of omega-3s on cognitive function and memory, symptoms of depression, and ADHD.
Two types of cells - neurons and glia cells - are responsible for sending and processing signals so that we can function intellectually, operate the central nerve system and move our bodies. Both cell types are dependent upon flexible membranes where EPA and DHA play important roles. DHA also contributes to effective communication between the vast numbers of neurons.
EFSA recommend a daily intake of 250 mg of DHA to contribute to maintenance of normal brain function.
Good vision is vital to overall health. Omega-3s can play a role.
The body’s highest concentration of DHA is found in the retina of the eye and DHA is an important nutrient for the cells of the eye that control the ability to see under different lighting conditions. Research has shown EPA and DHA are important for proper visual development and retinal function and omega-3s may also help alleviate the symptoms of dry eye syndrome in adults.
The retina is the light-sensitive layer of cells in the back of the eye that contributes to create an image of what you see – like film in a camera. The retina has receptors for light and nerve cells that send signals to the brain for interpretation of the light signals.
The relation to DHA is that we find - and the cells need - high concentrations of DHA in the retina for adequate vision in dim light and at night. The highly unsaturated nature of DHA has unique effects on retinal cell membranes allowing them to transmit light signals very quickly. A number of studies have confirmed that DHA contributes to the maintenance of normal vision and EFSA recommend a daily intake of 250 mg of DHA to attain this.
Moving around, bending your arms, using your fingers or twisting your neck means that more than 300 smaller and larger joints are in function and under pressure. In a joint, two bones come together, creating a connection between them. To enable optimal function of such a connection, cartilage surrounds ends of the bones while presence of fluid acts as grease to reduce friction. Joints must sustain different conditions from heavy physical strains, vigorous activity and stress to infections and impaired immune function. Despite such varied conditions they must operate smoothly and precisely to preserve flexibility and to prevent stiffness and pain.
If low grade inflammation persists over time, severe pain - and chronic arthritis - may develop if left untreated. By its anti-inflammatory effect omega-3 may counteract loss of collagen and deterioration of cartilage.
Omega-3 – best documented ingredient
There are more than 40,000 published papers on EPA and DHA omega-3s, including more than 4000 human trials, making them some of the most studied nutrients in the world.
The nutrients have been shown to provide benefits for a variety of health outcomes, and more research is continually being published. The scientific literature describes several conditions where intake of EPA and DHA are positively associated to linked to better health from development of the fetus to adulthood to older ages.
How is your omega-3 intake?
Recommended dosage – take a test!
Although omega-3s are considered vital, recommendations on how much you need vary quite a bit from country to country. Most often the recommendations range from 250-1000 mg per day.
Emerging research suggests that 1000 mg (1 g) of EPA+DHA is a good daily amount to target.
You can get EPA and DHA omega-3s by eating fish, taking a supplement, or eating foods made with added EPA and DHA. If you eat fatty fish twice per week, your omega-3 daily average would be about 250-500mg.