Health Effects

It is well known that omega-3 is good for people’s health.  The positive effects on heart health are maybe the most known health effects from Omega-3. However, there are several other reasons why you should make sure that you get enough Omega-3 every day.

Omega-3- contains DHA and EPA - two very important so-called long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids.  DHA and EPA are vital nutrients that help every cell in our body function in an optimal way and they are structural elements in all tissues in the body.  Heart, brain, eyes, muscles and joints all rely on Omega-3 to operate correctly. Each cell in our body is a special functional unit that needs to get nutrients in and waste products out. DHA and EPA will ensure such efficient and flexible transport – a prerequisite for optimal function of cells. In addition they are precursors for biologically active molecules playing important roles in for example inflammation.

Our bodies do not efficiently produce DHA and EPA, so we have to obtain it through our diet. Seafood is our main source of DHA and EPA, but a supplement of marine Omega-3 is a good alternative if you do not eat enough fatty fish. Omega-3 should be an ingredient of choice together with physical activity and a balanced diet to preserve good health throughout childhood, adolescence and older ages.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has made recommendations regarding daily intake of DHA & EPA to help consumers understand the health benefits of these fatty acids.

Cardiovascular health

The cardiovascular system is the engine of our body. It must maintain complicated interactions and fuel a set of cells and organs year after year under relaxed and stressful conditions. Still the cardiovascular system does not necessarily give you important early signs of deterioration; stiff and calcified arteries with fat deposits, a gradual increase in blood pressure, in blood level of unhealthy fats, or in shortness of breathes. These are often silent events before a potential sudden heart attack, a stroke - or heart failure in normal pumping of blood. DHA and EPA are scientifically proven to contribute to normal function of the heart, normal blood pressure and to normal blood level of triglycerides.  Consuming recommended doses of DHA and EPA is an easy way to contribute to maintenance of a healthy heart and circulation. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recommends a daily intake of 250 milligrams of DHA and EPA to contribute to a normal function of the heart, 3 grams of DHA and EPA to maintain a normal blood pressure and 2 grams DHA and EPA to maintain a normal blood triglyceride level.

Brain health

DHA is one of the major building blocks of the brain and critical for optimal brain activity and function at all ages of life. Two types of cells - neurons and glia cells -are responsible for sending and processing signals so that we can function intellectually, operate the central nerve system and move our bodies. Looking like a star with long arms the neurons send and receive signals vital for all bodily functions. The glia cells surround the neurons to keep them in place, supply nutrients and oxygen, and protect them from unwanted pathogens like virus and bacteria. Both cell types are dependent upon flexible membranes where DHA and EPA play important roles. DHA also contributes to effective communication between the vast numbers of neurons. 

Researchers are now finding that DHA provides brain-boosting benefits in infants and aging adults. This includes beneficial effects of omega-3 on ADHD children and cognitive decline like Alzheimer. It is especially important to know that pregnant women should consume DHA as it contributes to normal brain development of fetus and breastfed infants. EFSA recommend a daily intake of 250 mg of DHA to contribute to maintenance of brain function.

Eye health

The development, maintenance and preservation of vision are vital for all individuals.  Even if new technology now easily can replace lenses, it cannot do the same with important components of the retina. The retina is the light-sensitive layer of cells in the back of the eye that contributes to create an image of what you see – like film in a camera.   The retina has receptors for light and nerve cells that send signals to the brain for interpretation of the light signals. The relation to DHA is that we find – and the cells need- high concentrations of DHA in the retina for adequate vision in dim light and at night. The highly unsaturated nature of DHA has unique effects on retinal cell membranes allowing them to transmit light signals very quickly. A number of studies have thus confirmed that DHA contributes to the maintenance of normal vision and EFSA recommend a daily intake of 250 mg of DHA to attain this.

Maternal and childhood development

Pregnancy is an important period in life. An amazing event takes place in the body- a fully developed baby is created out of two merged cells.  All information of how and when cells and organs of different functions and appearances will develop lies in our DNA. However this development also depends upon the mother and the nutrition she delivers to the fetus. The mother-to-be should start consuming both DHA and EPA before conception. This is to provide her body with the best possible supplies and storages as the body is unable to make sufficient DHA needed during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

It is now scientifically substantiated that maternal intake of DHA both during pregnancy and infant breastfeeding  contribute to normal fetal development of the brain,  of the eye and normal sight. So, continuous consumption of DHA is a must for women especially in fertile ages and when caring for babies and small children. EFSA recommend pregnant women to have a daily intake of 200 mg DHA, in addition to the recommended daily intake of DHA and EPA for adults, i.e. 250 mg DHA and EPA, to contribute to normal development of the brain and eye of the fetus and breastfed infants.

Joint health

Moving around, bending your arms, using your finger or twisting your neck means that more than 300 smaller and larger joints are in function and under pressure.

In a joint, two bones come together, creating a connection between them. To enable optimal function of such a connection, cartilage surrounds ends of the bones while presence of fluid acts as grease to reduce friction. Joints must sustain different conditions from heavy physical strains, vigorous activity and stress to infections and impaired immune function. Despite such varied conditions they must operate smoothly and precisely to preserve flexibility and to prevent stiffness and pain. Different cell types and fluid containing soluble compounds make sure that the joint can do so- day by day.

Still, joints are vulnerable. They may cause you severe trouble and pain if you do not stimulate them through training- and consume the right diet.Omega-3 can relieve morning stiffness and tenderness in joints. It is built into cell membranes of specialized cells in the cartilage – the chondrocytes- where it decreases the activity of enzymes and inflammatory compounds degrading the cartilage.

If low grade inflammation persists over time, severe pain - and chronic arthritis - may develop if left untreated. By its anti-inflammatory effect omega-3 will counteract loss of collagen and deterioration of cartilage. When you know that cartilage has very limited capacity to heal itself or to regenerate, the use of omega-3 to preserve cartilage and inhibit inflammation becomes very important.

Omega-6: Omega-3 balance and Inflammation

The ratio between omega-6 and omega-3 is an indicator of the type of fatty acids that you have in your body. In many countries an omega-6 to omega-3 balance as high as 20: 1 has been reported. The ideal index should be <5:1.

Studies have shown that people have gradually changed their consumption of types of fatty acids as a consequence of agricultural industrialization and decrease in fish consumption. Popular fatty acid sources like cultivated vegetables contain a lot of omega-6 in their oils and seeds. In addition omega-6 is frequently put in animal feed increasing the content in meat and eggs. These changes in dietary content strongly affect the omega-6 to omega-3 balance.

 

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Omega-6: Omega-3 balance and Inflammation


The balance reflects the state of the body; a high index implies that much more omega-6 than omega-3 is built into your cell membranes. This is unfavorable because it makes the cell membranes less flexible and do not allow optimal traffic of nutrients, transport of signal molecules or waste elimination. Being a starting compound for many important and highly potent molecules high omega-6 will negatively affect your body; the blood may get thicker, it may more easily clog, and the arteries may constrict and get narrower. These conditions also favor inflammation. As a consequence a high index is associated with an increased risk for developing disease, for example cardiovascular disease, diabetes 2 and/or chronic inflammatory diseases.

On the other hand - if the index is low, due to high intake of omega-3, the body reflects the opposite; the omega-3 rich cell membranes will be flexible and healthy. Compounds acting anti-inflammatory, preventing blood clotting and positively influence the heart rhythm as well as relaxing the muscle layer in the arteries will be more easily formed. All these effects are favorable for your body- and maintain the body in a healthy – and not stressed state.

Remember always to keep your omega-6:omega-3 index as low as possible by consuming food products rich in DHA and EPA.

Regulatory

Science moves our understanding of the potential of health effects of DHA and EPA forward– while national and regional regulatory bodies’ set standards for legal marketing of health claims. What claims can be used regarding a product is thus not always what science publishes. 

Most regions have their own procedures for authorization, as harmonization worldwide is not yet introduced. The US Food and Drug Administration has different procedures for authorizing health claims for food supplements than Canada; while EU has theirs. In the Asian region some countries look to EU while others have procedures more similar to drug approval procedures. The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) in Australia food supplements are defined as “Complimentary medicines” requiring other procedures for authorization. 

Health Claims

Legally DHA and EPA are defined as food ingredients. This means that they cannot be used for diagnosing, treatment or curing any disease or medical condition. A dietary supplement is a product intended for ingestion that contains a "dietary ingredient" intended to add further nutritional value to (supplement) the diet.


This definition limits the type of health claim that can be approved to the following conditions; claims that contribute the normal development, maintenance and function of the body; and claims that contribute to reduction of a risk factor for disease.

 

 

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Health Claims

Scientific requirements for substantiation of claims are laid down in EFSA Guidelines. First of all, the claim must be beneficial to human health. Secondly, several human studies with the target group of people must be included- and show effect. Thirdly, the recommended dose must be used in the studies and independently show effect- eg. no other compound or condition must be responsible for the effect. The target group – with few exceptions- must be healthy people, such studies must show a significant improvement in the group taking the food product compared to a placebo group. The documentation substantiating the claim is evaluated and approved by leading scientific and clinical experts as well as the Standing Committee in the EU.


Any food ingredient with a health claim is thus backed by solid scientific documentation. As a consequence, authorized health claims for DHA and EPA are strong! They tell you that even if you feel okay - your health will benefit from taking DHA and EPA.This is the case for several conditions as deterioration of health often occurs gradually and almost unrecognized. For example your cardiovascular condition does not necessarily give you any symptoms before an attack hits you; your blood pressure might be higher than you feel as well as your serum triglycerides. Food supplements with DHA and EPA maintains normal health – an important contribution to quality of life.
 
For more information about the health effects of DHA and EPA we recommend visiting www.fatsoflife.com