Omega-3 fatty acids play critical roles in the human diet in particular, two omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil, EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). These long-chain omega-3 fatty acids are required for normal growth and development and optimal function of the heart, blood and blood vessels, brain, nerves, eyes, joints, skin and sex organs. Omega-3 “thin” blood and decrease the risk of blood clots and heart arrhythmias.
Omega-3 fatty acids are called “essential” because the human body cannot produce them in sufficient quantities, so they must be supplied in the diet. For instance, the body can make the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA from a parent compound, linolenic acid, but this synthesis is slow and unreliable. For this reason it is more efficient to obtain them directly from the diet as preformed nutrients, as they occur in fish oil. Many people do not eat the required 2 – 3 servings of fatty fish per week as recommended by dietary scientists.
Initially omega-3 fatty acids were identified as heart-health protectors that helped keep cholesterol balanced, triglycerides low and blood flow easier through veins and arteries. They are now known to play key roles in the structure and function of the heart, the veins and arteries that make up the entire cardiovascular system.
In a review article published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (Vol. 84 pp. 5-17; July 2006), researchers looked at a total of 43 studies. Those that made up the largest groups, more than 340,000 participants, reported “significant reductions” in risks to heart health, making a large step forward toward greater assurance of benefits. One study reported that an 850 mg dose of omega-3 fatty acids (EPA & DHA) resulted in a 21% reduction in death from all causes; a 35% reduction in cardiac death and a 45% reduction in sudden death. In their conclusion the Columbia University researchers stated, “We believe that the body of evidence is strong enough to suggest that in the United States, certainly, and in other countries where omega-3 fatty acid consumption is low, public health initiatives are needed to increase intakes.”