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Understanding Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Updated: Feb 8

The human body can make most of the types of fats it needs from other fats or raw materials. That isn’t the case for omega-3 fatty acids (also called omega-3 fats and n-3 fats). These are essential fats—the body can’t make them from scratch but must get them from food. Foods high in Omega-3 include fish, nuts (especially walnuts), flax seeds, flaxseed oil, and leafy vegetables.


What makes omega-3 fats special? They are an integral part of cell membranes throughout the body and affect the function of the cell receptors in these membranes. They provide the starting point for making hormones that regulate blood clotting, contraction and relaxation of artery walls. Also, they play a significant role in inflammation. They also bind to receptors in cells that regulate genetic function. Likely due to these effects, omega-3 fats have been shown to help prevent heart disease and stroke, may help control lupus, eczema, and rheumatoid arthritis, and may play protective roles in cancer and other conditions.

Omega-3 fats are a key family of polyunsaturated fats.


There are three main omega-3s:

  • Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) come mainly from fish, so they are sometimes called marine omega-3s.

  • Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), the most common omega-3 fatty acid in most Western diets, is found in nuts (especially walnuts), flax seeds and flaxseed oil, leafy vegetables, and some animal fat, especially in grass-fed animals. The human body generally uses ALA for energy, and conversion into EPA and DHA is very limited.

The strongest evidence for a beneficial effect of omega-3 fats has to do with heart disease. These fats appear to help the heart beat at a steady clip and not veer into a dangerous or potentially fatal erratic rhythm. (1) Such arrhythmias cause most of the 500,000-plus cardiac deaths that occur each year in the United States. Omega-3 fats also lower blood pressure and heart rate, improve blood vessel function, and, at higher doses, lower triglycerides and may ease inflammation, which plays a role in the development of atherosclerosis. (1)


Several large trials have evaluated the effect of fish or fish oils on heart disease. In the Gruppo Italiano per lo Studio della Sopravvivenza nell’Infarto Miocardio (known as the GISSI Prevention Trial), heart attack survivors who took a 1-gram capsule of omega-3 fats every day for three years were less likely to have a repeat heart attack, stroke, or die of sudden death than those who took a placebo. (2) Notably, the risk of sudden cardiac death was reduced by about 50 percent.



Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Sydenham Clinic

We believe this to be an important aspect to our patients. Hence, we will also share our ways to effectively maintain your Omega-3 fatty acids levels.


Omega-6 are pro inflammatory and we have seen an increase take of Omega-6 in our patients because of the regular consumption of canola oil and soybean. Animal products are also fed Omega-6 such as, corn fed beef, poultry, and pork. Whereas, these animals were grass fed, this has led to a different ratio of Omega-3 and Omega-6 in animals, furthering our intake of it.


We use the Omega-3 index to better understand its role in our body. We believe it is a valid representation of Omega-3 intake. It also important to note, Omega-3’s in cellular membrane are pliable, whereas Omega-6’s are stiff.


We believe an essential diet component to maintain your Omega-3 fatty acids levels are the SMASH fish. The term “SMASH” refers to the fish we encourage you to eat: salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, and herring. Why these fish in particular? Well, these fish have tremendous benefit, particularly their omega 3 fatty acid composition, but they are also low in organic mercury. However, low mercury fish like SMASH fish don’t just help you avoid the risk of high mercury, but they provide tremendous benefit. Most notably, SMASH fish are especially rich in Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA). DHA, an omega 3 fatty acid, is required for proper brain functioning. Omega 3 fats are a major component of cell membranes, so nourishing the body with omega 3 fats keeps cellular communication functioning properly.


Sydenham Clinic also evaluates all the Omega levels in their patients including Omega 3,6,9,7.


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References

1. Leaf A. Prevention of sudden cardiac death by n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. J Cardiovasc Med.(Hagerstown). 2007; 8 Suppl 1:S27-29.

2. Dietary supplementation with n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and vitamin E after myocardial infarction: results of the GISSI-Prevenzione trial. Gruppo Italiano per lo Studio della Sopravvivenza nell’Infarto miocardico. Lancet. 1999; 354:447-55.

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