Omega 3 Fatty Acids

What are Omega 3 fatty acids?

What are omega-3 fatty acids?

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids necessary for human health. There are two families of essential fatty acids: Omega-3 fatty acids and Omega-6 fatty acids. They are termed "essential" because they cannot be produced by the body, and must therefore be obtained from the diet.

Both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are stored in the cell membranes of tissues and have two primary functions. First, they are structural components of cell membranes where they ensure fluidity, stability, and act as gate-keepers in the cell. Second, both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are converted into a number of important, active molecules called prostaglandins. There are three types of prostaglandins: PG1, PG2, and PG3.

PG1 have many beneficial effects, including reducing inflammation, inhibiting blood clotting, and maintaining various regulatory states in the body. The strong anti-inflammatory properties help the body recover from injury by reducing pain, swelling and redness.

PG2 have the opposite effects of PG1. They have been found to strongly increase inflammation, constrict blood vessels, and encourage blood clotting. These properties come into play when the body suffers a wound or injury, for without these prostaglandins, a person could bleed to death from the slightest of cuts. However, in excess, these prostaglandins may be harmful.

PG3 have a mixture of functions in the body. In general, they are important in protecting the body from various modes of injury. One of their most important functions however, is their role in decreasing the rate at which PG2 are formed. Because of their role in reducing inflammation caused by PG2, PG3 are often described as having anti-inflammatory properties.

Problems with Omega-3 / Omega-6 

One of the most common blocks in the prostaglandin chain involves delta-6 desaturase (D6D), the first sept in the production of prostaglandins from essential fatty acids. When action of this enzyme is blocked, so is the entire pathway. This vital enzyme is inhibited first and foremost by trans fatty acids found in margarine, shortening and hydrogenated fats.2 These should be avoided at all costs. In addition, excess omega-6 fatty acids from modern commercial vegetable oils inhibits the pathway that leads to the Series 3 group. This is because both pathways begin with desaturation by the same delta-6 desaturase enzymes. Too much omega-6 in the diet "uses up" the delta-6 desaturase enzymes needed for the omega-3 pathway.3

Essential Fatty Acid Education - National Institute of Health

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