Omega-3 Fatty Acids (Fish Oil)
Fatty acids are long-chain carbon compounds with a non-polar carbon tail and a polar head. Omega-3 fatty acids, are unsaturated fatty acids with a double bond at the third carbon atom from the end of the carbon chain. Of the several different types of omega-3 fatty acids, there are three that play an important role in human health. They are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentoaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
Essential Fatty Acids
The human body can produce most important fatty acids from components found in the average diet. However, there are two fatty acids humans cannot produce, meaning they must be obtained from dietary sources. These two acids – called “essential fatty acids” – are Linoleic Acid (LA) an omega-6 fatty acid, and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA, not to be confused with alpha-lipoic acid) an omega-3 fatty acid.
Alpha-linolenic acid is the starting material for the biosynthesis of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), two important polyunsaturated fatty acids. Alpha-linolenic acid, EPA, and DHA are the main members of the omega-3 family of fatty acids.
Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Fish oil is a rich source of EPA and DHA, two omega-3 fatty acids that have been studied extensively, and offer a number of health benefits to humans. Omega-3 fatty acids support cardiovascular health, proper brain and neural development, support the maintenance of good joint health, and can be found in the structure of cell membranes. Omega-3 fatty acids have also been studied extensively for prevention and treatment of various health conditions, including heart disease, arthritis and inflammatory conditions, macular degeneration, and depression.
EPA is the precursor for the series-3 prostaglandins, which support healthy blood pressure, healthy cholesterol and triglyceride levels (provided they are already normal), healthy kidney function, inflammatory response, and healthy immune function. Other studies have shown omega-3 fatty acids (in the form of fish oil supplements) to be effective in supporting healthy joints.
DHA and the omega-6 fatty acid arachidonic acid are the dominant fats in the nerve cells of fetal and infant brains. Some health authorities have recommended fortifying infant formulas with DHA to better support proper nervous system development. DHA is also an important structural component of the retina.