Omega 3 fatty acids are healthy fats that play important roles in the structure of cell membranes and metabolic processes, in addition to being necessary to maintain brain functions and the transmission of nerve impulses. Omega 3 fatty acids are essential, since our bodies are not always in an optimal condition to synthesize them, and they must, therefore, be obtained through diet or food supplements.
What is omega 3?
Omega-3 fatty acids, called n-3 fatty acids or ω-3 fatty acids (n-3 FAs), are groups of heterogeneous fatty acids with a double bond between the third and fourth carbons of the final methyl (opposite end to carboxyl). Generally speaking, we can distinguish between them, monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs; one double bond in the carbon chain) and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs; more than one double bond in the carbon chain). All fatty acids with a double bond on the ω-3 carbon atom are assumed to be omega-3 fatty acids.
What is the role of omega 3 in the body?
Monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and subgroups of omega-3 fatty acids play an important role in the body’s function. Some monounsaturated omega-3s are precursors of pheromones in insects, while very long chain polyunsaturated omega-3s are commonly found in the central nervous system and mammalian testes, also in spongy organisms, and are considered immunomodulating agents (nutrients that act directly on the immune system).
Many of them are called essential because they cannot be synthesized by the body and must be obtained through diet or produced by the body from linoleic and alpha-linolenic acids. The “good” omega-3 is long-chain (long-chain fatty acids), and the least suitable, with few health benefits, are the short-chain fatty acids.
A low level of omega-3 in the body is associated with an increased risk of having a cardiovascular or cerebrovascular episode. On the other hand, it has been shown that there is an association between the increased consumption of these fatty acids and a lower predisposition to diseases such as depression or attention deficit / hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Its consumption is also essential during pregnancy and lactation, for the correct neuronal development of the baby.
Omega 3 fatty acids
Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, including eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosapentaenoic acid (DPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), have a wide variety of beneficial effects for a healthier life. Epidemiological studies and clinical trials suggest a beneficial effect of the relationship between omega-3 consumption and the reduction of inflammatory symptoms, for example.
Many of the biological functions of PUFAs are mediated through bioactive metabolites produced by fatty acid oxygenases, such as cyclooxygenases (COXs), lipoxygenases (LOXs) and monooxygenases of cytochrome P450 (CYPs).
For example, arachidonic acid (AA) (omega 6), the main component of phospholipids in the cell membrane, is released in response to inflammatory stimuli, playing a major role in the production of eicosanoids. The anti-inflammatory effect of long-chain omega-3s is believed to occur not only by competing with the formation of AA eicosanoids, but also by providing alternative metabolites with less potent activity than AA-derived mediators. Omega-3s such as EPA, DPA and DHA are also available at sites of inflammation for enzymatic conversion to bioactive mediators.
What diseases does omega 3 prevent?
The consumption of omega-3 is associated with several health benefits, such as:
- Protection from cardiovascular diseases
- Improvement in blood pressure
- Triglyceride’s reduction
- Anti-inflammatory effects
Recent studies have highlighted the beneficial effect of ω-3 fatty acids on Alzheimer’s Disease, which can be attributed to their antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiapoptotic, and neurotrophic properties. The effect was obtained by the individual consumption or the combination of ω-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3, especially DHA and EPA, has anticoagulant properties, reducing the formation of blood clots by preventing blood platelets from clumping and, therefore, helping to prevent deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism, for example.
Omega 3 and anti-inflammatory effect
Omega-3 has anti-inflammatory properties that can be very useful in the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease or rheumatoid arthritis, for example, as it reduces the production of inflammatory substances such as eicosanoids and cytokines. In addition, the anti-inflammatory action of omega-3 helps prevent cell damage that can lead to cancer.
The anti-inflammatory effect can be attributed to the decrease in the level of cytokines and monocytic chemoattractant protein-1 by suppression of nuclear factor-kappa B. They can induce the expression of superoxide dismutase 2 mediated by the transcription factor, nuclear erythroid factor-2 in order to facilitate the antioxidant effect. Both DHA and EPA can increase the level of nerve growth factor.
Omega-3 supplementation can also help reduce muscle inflammation caused by exercise, speeding muscle recovery and decreasing pain.
How does omega 3 work in the heart?
In the body, omega-3 fatty acids (mainly EPA and DHA) are incorporated into triglycerides as very-low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and released into the bloodstream. Studies have shown that these omega-3 fatty acids can help reducing the inflammatory processes of atherosclerosis, both reducing pro-inflammatory stimuli and stimulating inflammation resolution. In addition to having benefits such as improving the efficiency of the heart muscle, it reduces oxygen demand, controls the heart rate and reduces the risk of arrhythmias.
A study conducted in seven countries reported that mortality from ischemic heart disease is lower in Japan and Mediterranean countries compared to the United States and northern European countries and highlighted the role of unsaturated fatty acids that are abundant in Japanese and Mediterranean diets, which show a significant reduction in the relative risk of cardiovascular disease in people who consume omega-3 fatty acids.
In this way, omega-3 helps to reduce “bad” cholesterol and triglycerides (25-30%), which are responsible for forming fatty plaques in the arteries, which promotes better permeability and functionality of the arteries, preventing heart attacks, arrhythmias, heart failure and strokes.
How does omega 3 work in the brain?
The normal physiological functioning of the neuronal membrane is highly dependent on its structure, and one of the many factors that can influence the membrane fluidity index is its lipid composition, in which cholesterol reduces membrane fluidity, and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) increase it. The brain can obtain long-chain PUFA directly from the diet, or it can use supplemented essential fatty acids (linoleic and alpha-linolenic) and convert them to longer-chain fatty acids. Omega-3 deficiency may be associated with lower learning or memory capacity.
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) acts by influencing the physical properties of brain membranes, the characteristics of their receptors, cell interactions and enzymatic activity. With the aging of the individual, there is an increase in oxidative stress, which works by reducing the levels of DHA and arachidonic acid (AA) in the brain. This process results in an increase in the proportion of cholesterol in the brain and occurs more intensely in Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
Oxidative stress is another relevant factor for the normal composition of the membrane, and it induces a decrease in membrane fluidity. The incorporation of a restricted diet, such as supplementation with a particular proportion of an omega-3/omega-6 PUFA mixture, provides many beneficial effects, such as lowering the cholesterol level and increasing the level of PUFA in the neuronal membrane.
In addition, omega-3 improves the activity of brain cells, leading to an increase in substances such as serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, responsible for emotions, mood and well-being, thus helping to prevent and help treat depression.
Main food sources of omega 3
The main foods that contain omega-3 in descending order of concentration are:
- Animal origin: salmon, herring, sardine, tuna, anchovies, mackerel, hake, white hake, astyanax, corvina.
- Vegetable origin: flaxseed oil, flaxseed, chia seed, canola oil, walnut, soybean oil.
The recommended daily dose of omega-3 is around 250 to 500 mg, but it can vary with age, as well as for pregnant and lactating women.
Omega-3 supplement labels usually show the amount of EPA and DHA, and it is the sum of these two values that should provide the total recommended amount per day.
Side effects of omega 3
Elevated levels of omega-3 can produce side effects. Generally speaking, supplementation of more than 3000 or 4000 mg per day is not recommended.
High doses may increase the risk of bleeding, especially in patients with clotting problems or who use medications such as aspirin, clopidogrel, ticlopidine, heparin and warfarin.
From the dose of 3000 mg once daily, side effects start to become more frequent and intense, such as:
- Abdominal cramps
- Excessive gas
- Fish breath
What test does SYNLAB offer for omega 3?
Synlab offers the OMEGA 3 INDEX exam which, through a blood collection, assesses the presence in the body of two of the main omega-3 fatty acids: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), obtained both through food and by the synthesis in your body from alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Subsequently, a calculation of the percentage that EPA and DHA constitutes in relation to the total fatty acids present in the red blood cell membrane is performed.
What methodology is used in the OMEGA 3 INDEX examination?
The omega 3 index exam is performed using Gas Chromatography technology.
Gas or gas chromatography (GC) is a technique for separating and analyzing mixtures of volatile substances. This separation occurs by differential interaction of its components, through the migration of the sample from a stationary phase through a fluid, in this case, the sample is vaporized and introduced into a flow of a suitable gas (mobile phase), which passes through a tube containing a chromatographic column (stationary phase) through an injection system, where the mixture is separated. The components of the mixture are vaporized and, according to their properties, are retained and eluted through the column.
For whom is the OMEGA 3 INDEX indicated?
- People who want to proactively manage their health
- Patients with cardiovascular diseases
- Patients with chronic diseases, including asthma, metabolic, immune or inflammatory changes
- Patients with low mood or depression
- Patients with neurological diseases
- Children with suspected Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- During gestation, to ensure the correct nutritional content to the baby
About the SYNLAB Group
The SYNLAB Group is a leader in providing medical diagnostic services in Europe, providing a full range of clinical laboratory analysis services to patients, healthcare professionals, clinics and the pharmaceutical industry. Resulting from the Labco and SYNLAB merger, the new SYNLAB Group is the undisputed European leader in medical laboratory services.