Omega-3 The Science
Omega-3 essential fatty acids are essential nutrients, which we cannot make or store*. Since their discovery in the 1970s, omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFAs) have generated thousands of studies and clinical trials. Essential to life and good health, they protect against disease and can treat numerous health conditions.
The two omega-3 EFAs critical for wellness and disease prevention in humans are EPA (eicosapentanoic acid) and DHA (docosahexanoic acid). The third omega-3 EFA, ALA (alphalinolenic acid), found in flax, (flaxseed oil) nuts, seeds and dark leafy vegetables is poorly converted (<1-2%) to EPA and DHA and therefore does not significantly affect the omega 3:6 balance in the way that EPA and DHA can. The best and richest sources of the omega-3 EFAs are oily fish and fish oil supplements. They supply the preferred omega-3 EPA and DHA that the body can most readily use.
*Essential nutrients are those that are absolutely vital and are not made in the body either at all or in sufficient quantities, to meet our needs. These essential nutrients must be in the foods we eat (or supplemented) and in sufficient quantities, otherwise signs of deficiency can develop over time.
OMEGA-3 IN OUR DIET
The human diet today is vastly different from that of our ancestors. For early mankind, hunting, fishing and food gathering were survival imperatives, and, as a consequence, human beings evolved on ‘natural’ foods. These foods supplied a diet that was low in total fat, and saturated fat in particular, but contained a balance of omega-6 and omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFAs) in a ratio of about 2:1.
Mankind moved from hunting/gathering towards cultivating the land, but the greatest dietary changes occurred in the last 50 years. As a result of our increasing reliance on cereals, processed foods and, most significantly, vegetable oils and spreads, coupled with a decreased consumption of oily fish and grass-fed animals, today this ratio is at least 20:1.
Because of their wide-ranging roles, virtually every area of the human body is susceptible to problems if the balance of the two polyunsaturated fatty acids is disrupted. The point at which this imbalance becomes a problem is not yet known and in practice will probably vary from person to person. Nevertheless, it is more than reasonable to assume that general health would be greatly enhanced by the reduction of omega-6 consumption and the increase of omega-3 EFA consumption to restore the balance that nature intended of a ratio of 1:1 balance or as near as possible.