Essential fatty acids are molecules consisting of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, which make up the fats. Essential fatty acids refer to fatty acids that cannot be produced in our body. Therefore, they must be obtained from the diet in order to benefit from the protective effect of these molecules.
Fatty acids are composed of long chains of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms. The molecular structure of each fatty acid is different.
This difference is responsible for the physical and chemical differences between these fatty acids.
• Saturated fats are in the solid form in room temperature (e.g. butter).
• Unsaturated fats, on the other hand, remain in the liquid form in room temperature (e.g. olive oil, fish oil).
Fats are needed to maintain the maintenance of body functions and energy needs. However, fatty acids that constitute the fats should be obtained in a balanced manner. This requirement for balanced intake also applies to Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids. Historically, the balance between Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids has been around 1:4 because of dietary habits, while more recently the ratio between Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids has risen above 1:30 to 1:50 as a result the change in dietary habits leading to a reduced intake of fish and vegetables as well as a more widespread consumption of Western type diets and fast food. This imbalance caused by an altered Omega 3/Omega 6 intake is inevitably associated with many inflammatory and chronic conditions.
ALA (Alpha-linolenic acid): it is an 18 carbon-atom Omega 3 fatty acid. It is especially abundant in the flaxseed, walnuts, and green leafy vegetables.
EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid): it is an 18 carbon-atom Omega 6 fatty acid. Sea food, and particularly fish oil is a rich source of EPA.
DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid): it is a 22 carbon-atom Omega 3 fatty acid. Together with EPA, it is mainly found in sea food, including fish.
However, in order to show its beneficial effects ALA should be first converted to EPA and DHA in our body. Since this conversion is limited, relying on dietary ALA only may fail to adequately meet our daily Omega 3 requirements. Furthermore, this would require daily consumption of 4 to 5-fold higher amounts of ALA than EPA and DHA. Therefore, the most important source of Omega 3 fatty acids is the fish oil that contains EPA and DHA.
The need for Omega 3 fatty acids starts in the intrauterine life and continues throughout our life. Particularly after the 6th month of pregnancy, the need for DHA, a type of Omega 3 fatty acid, becomes significant due to rapidly developing brain and neurological system. Since it is not produced in our body, it should be supplemented to support cardiovascular, eye, brain, and joint health.
Omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA are particularly required for the healthy brain and eye development in intrauterine life as well as during the breastfeeding period. In the brain and retina, DHA represents the long chain unsaturated fatty acid with highest concentrations. Therefore, Omega 3 fatty acid supplementation is very important for the developmental needs. Regular intake of Omega 3 by the mother is closely linked with the neurological development of the baby.
Omega 3 intake during pregnancy and breastfeeding is important both for the mother and the developing baby. Inadequate maternal Omega 3 fatty acid intake may impair fetal development as well as causing a depletion of the maternal Omega 3 reserves due to Omega 3 transferred from mother to the baby.
In order to meet Omega 3 fatty acid needs during pregnancy and breastfeeding, you can consume fish twice weekly, or you can take food supplementation with Omega 3 fatty acids. However, care should be taken to consume fish from clean water sources. Otherwise, heavy metals in the fish may accumulate in the body and lead to significant health conditions.
Omega 3 fatty acids are obtained from fish via two different forms: either from the fish liver or from the fats in the back and body of the fish. Fish oils from fish liver contain high concentrations of A and D vitamins. When taken in adequate amounts, these are beneficial for our body. However, care should be taken not to consume high doses of these products for prolonged periods of time during the summer season in order to avoid from excessive vitamin A and D intake. On the other hand, since fats obtained from the body of the fish do not contain any A or D vitamins, they can be safely taken continuously irrespective of the summer or winter season. Remember, Omega 3 fatty acids are needed yearlong for a healthier life.
Omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA have blood thinnig effects, helping a smoother blood flow in our vessels. Thus a protective and therapeutic effect occurs on many cardiovascular conditions. Due to this blood thinning effect of Omega 3 fatty acids, patients on blood thinning agents can take appropriate doses of Omega 3 supplements after consulting with their physician.
Omega 3 fatty acid supplements do not cause weight gain. Each capsule contains approximately 10 to 20 kcal. Many studies have suggested that Omega 3 fatty acids are able to inhibit enzymes that convert carbohydrates to fats. Currently Omega 3 supplements comprise an important part of diet lists.
As mentioned above, there should be a balance between Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acid intake. Otherwise, a predominance of Omega 6 fatty acids in our body may lead to a number of degenerative diseases. In order to benefit from the disease protective effects of Omega 3 fatty acids, they should be taken regularly. Remember that Omega 3 fatty acids are not produced in our body, and therefore they should be obtained through the diet.
Vitamin E is one of the natural substances with highest antioxidant activity. Fish oils are very vulnerable to rapid oxidation when exposed to oxygen. In oxidized fish oils, free radicals are produced, which may harm our cells, and fatty acid molecules are converted into other forms that are not beneficial any more. In order to prevent such harmful effects, vitamin E, a natural and strong antioxidant, is added to fish oil supplements.
Fish oils are produced by the extraction of fats in different parts of the fish (body, back, liver etc.). They go through a series of treatments before they are packed and delivered to the consumers for use. During these treatments, all contaminants (heavy metals, dioxins, etc.), organic compounds, and other fatty acids are removed in the extracted fat.
Finally, the molecularly distilled fish oils are expected to meet the strict standards defined by organizations such as the Council of Responsible Nutrition (CRN) and World Health Organization (WHO).
Fish oils are produced by the extraction of fats in different parts of the fish (body, back, liver etc.). They go through a series of treatments before they are packed and delivered to the consumers for use. Presence of oxygen in the environment may cause rapid oxidization of the fatty acid molecules during the production steps involving the removal of all organic and noxious substances (heavy metals, PCBs, dioxins etc.), purification, and improvement in the taste and flavor of the fish oils. Fatty acids exposed to oxygen may start producing free radicals. Therefore it is critical to avoid from oxygen exposure during the production phase of fish oils.
Many fish oil products can be found in the market today. It is critical to know the production process of these fish oils. Adequate removal of all potential contaminants (heavy metals, dioxins etc.) as to meet the required limits should be documented. You and your family members may safely consume Omega 3 supplements that meet the analytic quality standard requirements defined by organizations such as the Council of Nutrition (CRN) or World Health Organization (WHO).