Omega-3 fatty acids
– essential building blocks for every cell
Text HOGNE VIK
Fish for dinner, a daily spoon of cod liver oil during the winter and Sunday walks with the family were important parts of the upbringing in Norway during the fifties and sixties. Through strong family relations, food, cod liver oil and physical activity, the “post-war generation” created the foundation for an active life with good health.
Today we possess knowledge about why sea food, vitamins and some essential active components from “fermented” food is important in order to maintain good health. This has given the consumer, to a much greater extent than before, the opportunity to maintain his or hers health and reduce the risk of developing diseases.
OMEGA-3 AND PREVENTION OF DISEASES
The body consists of 2/3 water, proteins, fat and carbohydrates. All cells in the body have a cell membrane that consists of both saturated and unsaturated fatty acids. The unsaturated acids – which have defined double bounds between some of the carbon atoms in the molecule – represent the so called “healthy” fat. The double bonds give the molecules a specific, spacious structure in contrast to the saturated fatty acids that acts more as stiff, straight structures. The differences in structure affect the functionality of the cell membrane.
Nutrients can more easily penetrate a membrane with a looser structure compared to a more dense structure. The omega-3 fatty acids EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (eicosapentaenoic acid) are unsaturated fatty acids. If the percentage omega-3 fatty acids in the cell membrane are greater than 6% the brain, muscle, liver and kidney cells will function as they are supposed to. If the percentage of omega-3 is below 4%, the risk of developing diseases may increase, especially cardiovascular diseases. The omega-3 percentage in Norway is approximately 5%.
OMEGA-3 AS A PHARMASUTICAL
It is proven that people that have survived a heart attack, increase the probability of living a long and healthy life if they consume omega-3 fatty acids daily after the heart attack.
OMEGA-3-FATTY ACIDS – BENEFICIAL FOR MORE THAN HEART AND BLOOD VESSELS?
Omega-3 fatty acids are important building blocks in all cells. The omega-3 fatty acids were discovered and described by the Danish doctors Jørn Dyreberg and Hans Olaf Bang in 1970. By studying the inhabitants of Greenland, the Eskimos, they became startled by this population which’s diet consisted of mostly seal meat as they hardly ever developed cardiovascular diseases.
The two Danish pioneers knew that the Eskimos had an increased proportion omega-3 fatty acids in their veins, and consequently concluded that this was the reason for the reduced occurrence of cardiovascular diseases. This was the start of “the age of omega-3”, which is in no way close to be finished.
Since 1970 it is written more than 15 000 scientific articles about the different biologicaleffects of omega-3 fatty acids. It is currently widely accepted by the medical society that omega-3 fatty acids have “anti-inflammatory effects”, contributes to the reduction of calcification of the blood vessels in addition to having a positive impact on maintaining normal function of the brain and nervous system. The quality of the clinical documentation (studies on humans) is somewhat unevenly distributed between the different indicated areas.
There is no other nutrient that is more important in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases which is more absent from our diets, than omega-3.
William E. Butler, MD Harvard Medical School Faculty
As a doctor and researcher I personally argue that the documentation currently available regarding omega-3 fatty acids clearly illustrates that a daily consumption of omega-3 fatty acids is essential to maintaining healthy blood vessels and a well functioning heart. Studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids play an important role in the reduction of inflammatory reactions in the body. Clinical studies concludes that omega-3 fatty acids play an important role in the maintenance of brain function and contribute to a positive development of children’s brains.
HOW MUCH OMEGA-3 DO WE NEED?
If we desire to stay healthy and active- both physically and mentally- we have to consume a daily dose of omega-3 fatty acids. The necessary dose omega-3 fatty acids are normally consumed through two dinners a week with fat fish as main course. In those periods when everyday challenges prevents us from consuming enough fish, omega-3 supplements are good alternatives in order to secure the body and our cells a daily supply of these important building blocks.