Omega-3 Fatty Acids

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Information about Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential polyunsaturated fatty acids that have diverse functions in normal metabolism and health and are used as nutritional supplements for general health and for disease prevention and as prescription drugs for treatment of hypertriglyceridemia. The omega-3 fatty acids are generally safe and well tolerated and have not been implicated in causing serum enzyme elevations or clinically apparent liver injury.

Mechanism of action of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

The omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids that serve several important functions in normal metabolism and health. Omega-3 refers to their common structural feature of an unsaturated double bond at the third carbon bond from the “omega” end of the long chain fatty acid (n-3). There are three essential omega-3 fatty acids: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). ALA is an 18-carbon fatty acid with 3 double bonds (18:3n-3) and is found in plant oils such as walnut, flaxseed and canola oil. EPA, a 21-carbon molecule with 5 double bonds (21:5n-3), and DHA, a 22-carbon molecule with 6 double bonds (22:6n-3), are found in marine oils such as fish oils, squid oils and krill oil. Being essential, these fatty acids are not (or poorly) synthesized by humans and the necessary amounts must be provided in the diet.

Limited quantity found in Western diet

The amounts of omega-3 fatty acids in a typical Western diet can be marginal or inadequate, particularly EPA and DHA in persons with limited fish intake. For these reasons, the omega-3 fatty acids are some of the most commonly used nutrition supplements. They have been proposed to be not only necessary for good health, but also to be effective in prevention of many chronic conditions, including different forms of cancer, coronary artery disease, cerebrovascular disease, developmental disabilities, depression, bipolar illness, cognitive decline, Alzheimer disease, macular degeneration, rheumatoid arthritis, eczema and allergic conditions.

List of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Efficacy of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation in any of these conditions has not been proven and results of prospective controlled trials have been largely negative or at most conflicting. Nevertheless, omega-3 fatty acids are popular nutritional supplements and hundreds of products are available under many commercial names such as “GNC Krill Oil”, “Nordic Natural DHA”, “Carlson Fish Oil Q”, “iHealth Overga-3”, “Jarrow Formulas Flaxseed Oil”, “ProThera Eicosamax Fish”, and “Swanson EFAs”, among others. These products are usually in the form of capsules and vary widely in concentration of the individual omega-3 fatty acids, but are generally in the range of 250 mg to 1,000 mg of total omega-3 fatty acids and recommended as being taken once daily.

Side effects of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Side effects of omega-3 fatty acid and fish oil supplements in these doses are minimal, but may include mild gastrointestinal discomfort, nausea, diarrhea and headache. More clinically significant side effects include platelet dysfunction and an increased risk of bleeding, particularly in patients on anticoagulant and antithrombotic therapy.

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