Omega-3 Fatty Acids: What they are and why you should care

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Hi, I’m Alex Krug!

I’m originally from Sweden and Belgium but born in the U.S. I attended international school in Geneva & then went on to study a BSc International Economics & Business Economics at Erasmus University Rotterdam, in the Netherlands. After graduating in 2019 I moved to Hainan, China, to work for a blockchain technology start-up. I personally supplement with Omega-3 fatty acids and wanted to share some of the reasons why I choose to do so.

Thanks for reading! 

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Omega-3s are a type of fatty acid which play an important role in human diet and physiology. Omega-3s are commonly categorized into three types; alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These fatty acids are vital in normal brain function and brain development. Recent studies suggest that low levels of omega-3s may contribute to brain function deficits and accelerate brain aging. 

Fatty acids are among the most crucial molecules in determining a brain’s integrity and ability to perform. This makes a lot of sense when you consider that the human brain is nearly 60% fat. Brains are made of soft tissue, separated into grey and white matter. It is estimated that 30% of the grey matter is composed of the omega-3 fatty acid DHA.

One study of omega-3 fatty acids gave 485 older adults with age-related cognitive decline either 900 mg of DHA or a placebo every day. After 24 weeks, those taking DHA performed better on memory and learning tests. Another study – a double blind randomised, placebo-controlled pilot study – suggests that increasing omega 3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) intake in cigarette smokers can reduce cravings and cigarette consumption by 11%. 

Omega-3 fatty acids support a broad range of cell membrane properties, particularly in the grey matter areas of the brain which are rich in membranes. In short, essential fatty acids – which includes Omega-3 fatty acids – are required for maintenance of optimal health. 

However, they cannot be synthesised by the body and must be obtained from dietary sources. The most widely available dietary source of EPA and DHA is oily fish, such as salmon, herring, and mackerel. Other sources of Omega-3 fatty acids include nuts and seeds, for example: flaxseed, chia seeds and walnuts, as well as plant oils and fortified foods.

The US Food and Drug Administration has a safe intake of supplement omega-3 fatty acids set at a maximum of 3000 mg per day. The European Food Safety Authority has set their recommendation a little higher, at an upper limit of 5000 mg per day. The most common sources of dietary Omega-3 supplements come from fish oil, krill oil, cod liver oil, and algal oil (vegetarian).

Study sources:
https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Omega3FattyAcids-Consumer/
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20329590/#:~:text=The%20human%20brain%20is%20nearly,integrity%20and%20ability%20to%20perform.
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20434961/
https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/026988111453647
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3257695/
https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Omega3FattyAcids-Consumer/
https://efsa.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.2903/j.efsa.2012.2815

In-text photo source: Pexels

Featured photo source: Firstcry Parenting, Omega 3 fatty acids for kids, by Tilottama Chatterjee.

Edited by Cyrus Rohani-Shukla

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