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Omega 3 in our Diet

Omega-6 linoleic acid (LA) and Omega-3 alpha linolenic acid (ALA) are polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) which form building blocks of cellular membranes in our body. They are essential fatty acids (EFA) required for for proper growth and development as our body cannot synthesise them without an exogenous source similar to essential amino acids. Intense conditioning from strength straining may cause injuries such as tendonitis, muscle soreness and possibly osteoarthritis, a degenerative joint condition. The severity of injury often depends on the degree of inflammation to the affected area. Tissue breakdown causes these inflammatory mediators to be synthesised from the fatty acids in the cell membranes known as eicosanoids, among which are prostaglandins, thromboxanes, leukotriennes, hydroxyl fatty acids and lipoxins which contribute and augment the inflammatory response. Supplementation with the long chain omega-3 PUFAs eicosapentanoic acid (EPA) and docosahexanoic acid (DHA) has been shown to alleviate the inflammatory process due to the significant reduction in eicosanoid production compared to omega-6. Through similar mechanisms, omega-3 fatty acids have been postulated to beneficial for:

Cardiovascular system

Reduce total triglycerides and cholesterol. Decrease risk of obesity by increase fatty acid metabolism. Also reduces blood pressure thus reducing overall risk of atherosclerosis

Musculoskeletal system

Exerts anabolic effects by increased uptake of amino acids and glucose by muscle cells. Improved performance by increasing nitric oxide production and recovery from injury. Also reduces risk of degenerative joint conditions such as osteoarthritis.

Immune system

Reduce severity of autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel diseases and psoriasis.

 

Modern Diets Lack Omega 3

Our Western diet often contains ubiquitous sources of omega 6s which has tipped the recommended 2:1 ratio of omega 6:3 to an excess of 20:1. For example, foods prepared in or containing vegetable oils high in omega-6 fatty acids such as soybean, corn or sunflower oil and lesser amounts in peanut or canola oil. Additionally, livestock which have been fed corn and soy tend to have larger proportion of omega-6 in their fat and also eggs (yolks). There has been a recent health shift in preferred cooking oils such as canola, rice bran and olive oil which are good sources of monounsaturated fatty acids, thus reducing the overall intake of omega-6s. Additionally, products containing flax seeds rich in ALA and omega-3 enriched foods are beginning to appear in the market has helped improved the ratio.

Supplementing with Omega 3

Constant long term intake of omega-3 PUFA from oily fish sources is recommended to maintain a healthy balance of omega 6:3 in our body. Hence, the effect of increased omega-3 intake may not be apparent and may take up to several months to show significant effects given our body’s turnover of cells. The bulk of the beneficial omega-3s come from EPA and DHA which are only found from oily fish such as salmon, cod, mackerel, sardines and to a lesser extent tuna. Our bodies can only partially convert ALA to EPA or DHA which is further inhibited by an excess of LA. Furthermore, the omega-3 content of fish we consume is often reduced from the cooking process, and there are growing concerns of exposure to heavy metals in consuming fish products. Hence, the safer alternative is to consume omega-3 supplements such as fish oil or krill oil. Generally, supplements contain the ideal ratio of EPA to DHA of 2:1 with varying levels of EPA and DHA. The recommended level of EPA and DHA is 1-2g/daily. It should be noted that supplements tend to contain varying levels fatty acids per capsule although each capsule may contain for example 1500 mg of fish oil.

Buckley, J.D. and P.R.C. Howe, 'Anti‐obesity effects of long‐chain omega‐3 polyunsaturated fatty acids' (2009) 10(6) Obesity Reviews 648

Jouris, K.B., J.L. McDaniel and E.P. Weiss, 'The effect of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation on the inflammatory response to eccentric strength exercise' (2011) 10 Journal of Sports Science and Medicine 432
Simopoulos, A.P., 'The importance of the omega-6/omega-3 fatty acid ratio in cardiovascular disease and other chronic diseases' (2008) 233(6) Experimental Biology and Medicine 674

Simopoulos, A.P., 'Omega-3 fatty acids and athletics' (2007) 6(4) Current Sports Medicine Reports 230

Smith, G.I. et al, 'Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids augment the muscle protein anabolic response to hyperinsulinaemia-hyperaminoacidaemia in healthy young and middle-aged men and women' (2011) 121(6) Clinical science 267

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