Omega-3 fatty acids are considered essential fatty acids for the human body. They are necessary for maintaining our health and since the human body does not produce them, we have to get them through our diet. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish, and other seafood including algae and krill, in some plants and in nut oils.
However, it can be challenging to get the appropriate intake of Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) exclusively through diet; a shorter chain omega-3 fatty acid, α-linolenic acid (ALA), is a prominent component of our diet as it is found in many land plants that are commonly eaten, but it does not provide the health benefits seen with EPA and DHA. Although it is possible for the body to convert ALA to EPA and DHA by elongate and desaturase enzymes, research suggests that only a small amount can be synthesized in the body from this process.
Omega-3 fatty acids, also known as polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), play a crucial role in brain function, as well as in the normal growth and development. They have been primarily used to reduce the risk of heart disease.
Research shows that omega-3 fatty acids can reduce inflammation and may help in lowering the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer and arthritis. Omega-3 fatty acids are highly concentrated in the brain and appear to be important for cognitive (brain memory and performance) and behavioural function. In fact, infants who do not get enough omega-3 fatty acids from their mothers during pregnancy are at risk for developing vision and nerve problems.
Clinical trials proved that EPA and DHA in the form of fish oils, in combination with anti-rheumatic drugs, can improve joint pain for patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Moreover, Omega -3 fatty acids have a beneficial effect in patients with ulcerative colitis; and in combination with drugs, improve the skin lesions, lower the hyperlipidaemia from etretinates, and decrease the toxicity of cyclosporine in patients with psoriasis.
The American Heart Association recommends eating fish (particularly fatty fish such as mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna, and salmon) at least 2 times a week since the omega-3 PUFAs, EPA and DHA are important for health and are a dietary necessity found predominantly in fish and fish-oil supplements.
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