Dr. Andrew Myers: Essential Nutrition from Omega-3 Fats
Monday, November 01, 2010
Understanding Omega-3 Oils and the Importance of EPA and DHA
Omega-3 oils are considered essential fatty acids. They are called essential because like vitamins and minerals, the body cannot manufacture them. For this reason, omega-3 fatty acids must be obtained from food. Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in fish, such as salmon, tuna, and halibut, other marine life such as algae and krill, certain plants, and nut oils.
Omega-3 oils contain specific fatty acids including EPA and DHA. EPA and DHA function as fat-soluble antioxidants in the body, precursors to important biochemicals and as building blocks for important tissues like the brain and nervous system.
The Importance of Omega-3 Oils
Every cell in our body is surrounded by a membrane that is comprised of fat. The cell membrane functions as a protective wall around the working components of the cell (nucleus, mitochondria, and ribosomes) and controls the flow of all substances in and out including nutrients (in) and waste products (out). If our cell membranes are not healthy, then our cells do not function well and our health suffers.
Cells without a healthy membrane lose their ability to hold water and vital nutrients. They also lose their ability to communicate with other cells. Researchers believe that loss of cell-to-cell communication is one of the physiological events that can lead to growth of cancerous tumors. Because cell membranes are comprised of fat, their integrity and fluidity is determined in large part by the type of fat we eat. Remember that saturated fats are solid at room temperature, while omega 3 fats are liquid at room temperature. Diets containing large amounts of saturated or hydrogenated fats produce cell membranes that are hard and lack fluidity. On the other hand, diets rich in omega 3 fats produce cell membranes with a high degree of fluidity and functionality.
Omega-3 and Total Cardiovascular Health
Omega-3 oils like EPA and DHA are incredibly important in supporting optimal cardiovascular health. Research has demonstrated that these antioxidant fatty acids offer the following benefits:
- Decrease the risk of arrhythmias, which can lead to sudden cardiac death
- Decrease triglyceride levels
- Decrease growth rate of atherosclerotic plaque
- Lower blood pressure
At the level of cells in the cardiovascular system, EPA and DHA help to support the fluidity of cell membranes, which, in turn, helps to maintain the youthful elasticity of our blood vessels. EPA and DHA also protect cardiovascular cells from oxidation by free radicals under conditions of stress.
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