Omega 3 fatty acids are a group of polyunsaturated fatty acids essential for our good health. They are needed for the membranes of all our body cells, encompassing not only heart and brain function, but they also play an important role in the normal function of our eyes, our nervous system, our kidneys, and our liver. In fact all our body systems!
Other functions of Omega 3 include the contraction of muscles and the dilation/constriction of blood vessels, blood health, and inflammatory processes.
There are many types of omega 3s, but the most important ones for health are DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid). These are long-chain, highly unsaturated fatty acids (HUFA) of the omega-3 family. DHA is the most complex of the Omega 3 fatty acids and it has what is known as a 22 carbon molecules and 6 double bond molecules.
I know that this might sound like a foreign language for many readers but I mention it because it is important. Important…because many fish oils are higher in EPA than DHA (Unlike the Xtend-Life Omega 3 which is high in DHA)!
DHA in particular is a building block for tissue in the brain, nervous system, and retina of the eye. It helps with forming neural transmitters, such as phosphatidylserine, which is important for brain function.
So, why is it important?
Well, in simple terms EPA only has 20 carbon molecules and 5 double bonds. So, if your body needs more DHA than EPA (which is normally the case) it is very difficult for it to convert the EPA to the DHA as it has to ‘manufacture’ 2 additional carbon bonds and an extra double bond!
Theoretically it can do this but studies show that the conversion is minimal. On the other hand it is easy for the body to convert DHA to EPA if it is needed. This follows sound logic as it is easier to ‘drop’ molecules off than ‘add’ them!
Although as again like EPA to DHA it is theoretically possible for your body to ultimately convert ALA to DHA you would not have to rely on it! Why? Because ALA has even less carbon molecules than EPA at just 18. So, your body would first have to convert it to EPA and then to DHA.
In reality that just doesn’t happen to any appreciable extent.
So, as there is little DHA available in the average diet, direct consumption from a highly concentrated pure source is the best way to get what the body needs on a daily basis. Xtend-Life’s Omega 3 DHA is one of the few pure products available that achieves this.
Why is DHA important for proper brain and eye function?
* Depletion of DHA level in the brain due to insufficient dietary intake of omega-3 has been found to result in impaired learning ability.
* One of the highest body concentrations of DHA is found in the outer segments of the retina.
Omega 3s are important for brain and eye function and are found at cellular level in the grey matter. DHA is actually the most abundant essential fatty acid in the brain and retina, comprising 40% of the polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) in the brain, and 60% of the PUFAs in the retina.
50% of the weight of the membrane is composed of DHA. It helps to maintain the fragile highly fluid microenvironment within the phospholipid components of the grey matter. It is also known to significantly contribute to many basic properties of cell membranes in the nervous system, including elasticity, permeability, and interactions with key regulatory proteins.
These mechanisms together support electrical signalling and ultimate brain function such as learning ability and memory.
How can we benefit from Omega 3 as we age?
Elevated levels of DHA have been able to slow the loss of brain cells as we age.
As we age we face an increased risk of nutritional deficiency and pronounced cell degeneration. Our body’s finds it harder to naturally replace lost nutrients as we age and a decline in many essential processes is often seen, such as in both short- and long-term memory, reduced motor skills, and failing sight, potentially leading to Alzhiemer’s disease, dementia, and vision problems, to name just a few possibilities.
Because of the importance Omega 3 (and specifically DHA) has in neurological and nerve health, it is considered essential for all of us to keep up a regular daily intake in order to help prevent degeneration, or aid current problems.
Just to give you a couple of examples….
* In a subsequent study Patients taking DHA showed a 65 percent improvement in dementia symptoms. In cases where dementia was already set in, and DHA levels were increased, patient symptoms also improved. (Gunma National University Medical Department, Japan).
Depression is a wide-spread problem and lack of DHA is thought to be a contributory factor, along with reduced mental and physical exercise. It is likely that susceptible individuals do poorly if DHA is deficient in their diets.
* Studies have found that major depression is associated with low blood levels of DHA and that low DHA levels increase neural cell death via depletion in the cerebral cortex of severely depressed patients. (Studies from the University of Iowa, USA.)
* In a 1995 multicenter European study in Italy, 494 elderly persons treated for six months with 90mg per day DHA showed marked improvement in apathy and social withdrawal symptoms. (Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging, Tufts University, Boston, USA)
What about Omega 3 / DHA during pregnancy? Is it safe?
Overwhelming evidence for the benefits of DHA comes from reviews of some 50 initial, and many subsequent studies, all concluding that higher DHA concentrations in pregnant mothers translates into better brain, cognitive and visual functioning during growing years, and also better post-natal health for the mother.
During fetal development the placenta selectively takes up DHA to supply some 70% of energy devoted to brain development in the fetus, with DHA making up 30% of the brain and 50% of the retinal structure. However, since baby depends on the mother for its supply of DHA, omega-3 deficiencies in the mother can lead to DHA deficiency in the infant brain. This is an important fact because DHA needs actually double during these months, due to the periods of intense nerve cell development during growth spurts in the womb.
Supplementing DHA in the mother’s diet improves infant developmental outcomes, including:
* eye-hand coordination
* motor skills
* attention span
One study has even shown that higher maternal DHA levels are associated with more mature sleep patterns in newborn infants.
DHA has also been shown to play a part in maternal well-being. Supplementation with DHA can increase the length of pregnancy by up to six days, helping mothers carry to a healthy or full term. Additionally, research suggests that adequate levels of DHA in the diet may play a role in helping a mother’s emotional well-being after birth, helping to prevent post-natal depression.
What about Omega 3 for my children?
Research into the effects of omega 3s and in particular DHA on child and infant development has been at the forefront of the latest beneficial findings.