The role of omega-3
Why is a healthy omega-3 content so important?
A healthy balance between omega-6 and omega-3 is very important for the make-up of fats in the body’s cells, and for their optimal function. Research has shown that the intake of omega-3 fatty acids is lower than the intake of other types.
Our western diet is rich in omega-6, but low in essential omega-3 fatty acids. This means that the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 in our cells is out of balance. Minami supplements contain omega-3 and no ‘filling’ or unneeded omega-6 fatty acids, so they optimise the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3.
Evolution of the composition of our nutrition
The intake of saturated fats slowly increases but this does not seem to be the only cause of the increase in 'Western' diseases. It is interesting to note the explosive increase of the intake of trans fats after 1900 (after the industrial revolution). Next to that we see a rise in the intake of omega-6 and a decline in the intake of omega-3.
Source: Simopoulos, A.P. (2002). The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids. Biomed Pharmacother. 56(8), 365-379.
Omega 3 worldwide
This representation from a scientific article of 2016 (Stark et al., 2016) shows the amount of EPA and DHA in relation to the total fats in red bloodcells. As you can see, territories with high bloodlevels of EPA and DHA are found in countries next to the Japanese Sea, Scandinavia and in regions with indigenous peoples and populations that do not follow a 'Western dietary pattern' (e.g. Alaska, Papua New Guinea).
Low to very low bloodlevels of EPA and DHA are amongst others observed in various European countries (e.g. Belgium, Spain, The Netherlands, Ireland and the UK) and in North-America (Canada and the US).
Source: Stark, K.D., Van Elswyk, M.E., Higgins, M.R., Weatherford, C.A., & Salem, N.J. (2016). Global survey of the omega-3 fatty acids, docosahexaenoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid in the blood stream of healthy adults. Prog Lipid Res, 63, 132-152.
The need for omega-3 is predictable based on a blood analysis. You should discuss this with your physician. The fatty acid analysis of the blood sample can be used to calculate the omega-3 index. This index is an indication of the percentage of EPA and DHA in the total fraction of fatty acids. Persons with a high omega-3 index are less likely to suffer from heart and vascular diseases than persons with a low omega-3 index. The omega-3 index can be considered as an instrument to determine the risk when screening patients.
The target value is an omega-3 index of at least 8%. Belgium is among the countries with an omega-3 index between 4 and 6%. Persons with an omega-3 index of 4% have a 10 times higher risk of suffering a sudden fatal heart attack than those with an omega-3 index of 8% or more.
Sources: Harris, W.S., & Von Schacky, C. (2004).The Omega-3 Index: a new risk factor for death from coronary heart disease? Prev Med, 39(1), 212-220. von Schacky, C. (2007). Omega-3 fatty acids and cardiovascular disease. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care, 10(2), 129-135.
Sources of omega-3
The best known source of omega-3 fatty acids is fish. Fatty fish species such as mackerel, sardines, herring, tuna or trout are rich in omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. There are also several vegetable sources of omega-3 fatty acids such as linseed, walnuts, green leafy vegetables, algae and seaweed. With the exception of algae and seaweed vegetable products however only contain the omega-3 fatty acid alpha lipoic acid (ALA). ALA needs to be converted in the body into EPA and DHA to have the same health benefits but this conversion is not efficient.
Do you eat fish twice a week?
Several local health authorities (a.o. the Superior Health Council in Belgium, the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition in the United Kingdom and the American Heart Association in the United States) advise to eat (fatty) fish 2 times per week. Some comments need to be made however.
Fish can be contaminated with heavy metals (mercury, cadmium, arsenic, lead), pesticides, dioxins, furans and PCBs. These toxic substances are mainly taken in via the skin and the gills of the fish. It is therefore advisable to always remove the skin of the fish in order to limit the intake of harmful substances. Small fish species (anchovies, sardines, mackerel) contain less toxic substances than large fish species.
Some large fish species (shark, marlein, swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish) contain a lot of mercury and are therefore not recommended during pregnancy or breastfeeding. Tuna (fresh of from a can), wild salmon from the Baltic Sea and herring from the Baltic Sea can also only be eaten in a limited way (1 portion per week) because of the degree of contamination. A well controlled fish oil supplement offers a safe alternative in these cases.
For those that do not like fish or do not want to eat fish, sea algae form an alternative. Oil from algae is the only vegetable source of EPA and DHA. Omega-3 fatty acids from algae are available as supplements.
Sources: EFSA Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA), 2005. Opinion of the scientific panel on contaminants in the food chain on a request from the European Parliament related to the safety assessment of wild and farmed fish n° EFSA-Q-2004-22. The EFSA Journal, 236, 1 – 118. Kris-Etherton, P.M., Harris, W.S., & Appel, L.J. (2002). Fish consumption, fish oil, omega-3 fatty acids, and cardiovascular disease. Circulation, 106(21), 2747-2757. Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition. Advice on fish consumption: benefits and risks 2004. London: The Stationay Office. Superior Health Council of Belgium (2004). Recommendations and claims made on omega-3 fatty acids (SHC 7945).
Do you know the myths about omega-3?
There are a lot of myths concerning omega-3.
Did you know that the number of scientific publications on the effects of omega -3 fatty acids in humans is now over 25.000?