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Omega 3 products are everywhere these days. Once only found in the realm of health food stores or as punishment grandmothers used on unruly children in the form of cod liver oil, health care professionals of all stripes are busy recommending Omega 3s for everything from joint health to mood and concentration, and touted by celebrities and talking heads for heart health. The question for many people is why? Why do they help you?
To answer that question you need to start with something more basic; namely, what are they? Let’s look at a different nutritional component with which people are more familiar. Proteins, the building blocks of most of the tissues in the body, are made up of amino acids. These individual amino acids help build the structures in the body. Some amino acids are considered essential. That means you have to get them from your diet. The rest, your body can synthesize. Most people don’t realize that fats work in a similar manner.
Fats, like proteins, are made up of individual building blocks, in this case fatty acids rather than amino acids. Some fatty acids are essential for normal bodily function and you can only acquire them from your diet. These include Omega 3s. (Omega 3 has its first double bond 3 atoms away from the end of the molecule. An Omega 6 has its first double bond 6 atoms away from the end of the molecule. Do not repeat this at cocktail parties if you want people to keep talking to you.)
Omegas 3s come in several types. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are commonly found in fish and other marine animals. EPA and DHA may act as blood thinners, support normal blood pressure, help with mood and focus, and help your joints. DHA is especially prevalent in the brain. Together they help support numerous bodily functions.
While you can get Omega 3s from plants like flax seed, which produces alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), most people are better off getting them from animal sources[i]. This is because ALA has to be converted in the body to EPA and DHA and much of it is lost in the process. In most people the rate is as low as 5% of the ALA gets converted on to EPA and DHA. So if you are vegetarian, flax seed oil is definitely something to include in your program, but for most people fish oils are a more effective choice.
So, an Omega 3 is a good fatty acid and if you are not getting enough of them from food, taking a supplement can help provide their benefits. Especially for people who do not eat large amounts of fatty fish, getting Omega 3s through supplements have some advantages in that they are inexpensive, convenient, and easy to take. Good quality Omega 3 containing fish can be very expensive and you don’t have to clean up a pan after taking a couple of softgels. Supplementing with Omega 3s is a great way to include vital nutrition in anyone’s program.
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[i] Brenna JT (March 2002). “Efficiency of conversion of alpha-linolenic acid to long chain n-3 fatty acids in man”. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care 5 (2): 127–132.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.