Updated: May 14, 2019
We often hear that Omega 3 fatty acid is important to our health. But why?
Omega 3 fatty acid is not only an important component for our body but also for our brain. Omega-3 contains three components: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Studies indicated positive, when people in the fight with depression and anxiety, were given a high doses of EPA (1,2). People not suffering from depression appeared to be happier and were able to better handle stress.
Here is how
Omega 3 is most concentrated in the brain where they play an important role to the function of our central nervous system. Omega 3 is responsible in lowering inflammation in our brain, which otherwise causes breakdown of signalling between cells. Unlike Omega 3, anti-inflammatory medications are unable to cross the blood-brain barrier that isolates the brain against harmful materials in the blood stream.
Both Omega 3 and Omega 6 are essential fatty acids. Omega 6 however is found in many refined oils, used in Western and fast food industry, and can be found in products like cookies, crackers, etc. An imbalance of Omega 3 and Omega 6 ratio can increase inflammation in body and brain. Omega 3, especially EPA and DHA, and Omega 6 ratio should be about 2:1. This helps to keep the inflammation level in the body and brain under control as it aids in reducing cytokines (3,4).
We now know that an optimum EPA level in the blood helps to keep neuro-inflammation under control. But once in the brain, EPA is short lived by rapid beta oxidation and thus a constant supply in the bloodstream is needed (5).
An insufficient supply or an imbalanced Omega 3 may contribute to a variety of chronic diseases, including depression and anxiety, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune disease, diabetic, rheumatoid arthritis, forms of cancer and asthma. Omega 3 also helps to lower triglyceride levels or the ‘bad’ cholesterol that can lead to heart disease.
That Omega 3 may have a positive affect on certain cases of depression however, does not suggested to use Omega 3 supplements for treatment.
Sources of Omega 3
Omega 3 is found in marine sources, mostly in krill, something which is not really made for human consumption. Others sources are fatty fish such as sardines, salmon, trout and tuna. Click here to find other sources of Omega 3.
What if I don’t get enough EPA and DHA from my diet?
As mentioned earlier, EPA and DHA are derived from marine sources. It’s mostly concentrated in krill, fatty fish like salmon and sardines. But let’s be honest; are you able to stick religiously to a healthy diet? Producers of fish oil supplements are great in marketing their product. But just be aware that Krill oil is highly concentrated with EPA and DHA and comes from small shellfish that are at the bottom of the food chain and therefore are mostly free of chemicals that unfortunately are now found in our waters. Before you run off to the store, I recommend you to read this article first, which explains what to look for when buying Omega 3 oil supplements.
1. Psychiatry Service, DVA New York Harbor Healthcare System, Brooklyn, NY 11209, USA. "Associations between increases in plasma n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids following supplementation and decreases in anger and anxiety in substance abusers". Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. Feb 2008 15;32(2):568-75. Epub Nov 1, 2007
2. Alan C Logan, Integrative Care Centre of Toronto, 3600 Ellesmere Road, Unit 4, Toronto, ON M1C 4Y8, Canada Corresponding author. "Omega-3 fatty acids and major depression: A primer for the mental health professional". Published online Nov 9, 2004
3. The Center for Genetics, Nutrition and Health, Washington, DC 20009, USA. "The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids". Biomed Pharmacother. Oct. 2002
4. Jun-Ming Zang, MSc, MD1 and Jianxiong An, MSc, MD2 1Department of Anesthesiology, University of Cincinnati, 231 Albert Sabin Way, Cincinnati, Ohio, 45267-0531 2Department of Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine, Tsinghua University Yuquan Hospital, #5 ShiJingShan Road, Beijing, 100049, China "Cytokines, Inflammation and Pain".
5. Chen CT1, Liu Z, Ouellet M, Calon F, Bazinet RP. Department of Nutritional Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto, FitzGerald Building, 150 College St., Room 306, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5S 3E "Rapid beta-oxidation of eicosapentaenoic acid in mouse brain: an in situ study".