Omega 3 Fatty Acids

June 29, 2008

Omega 3 Fatty AcidsOne example of a supplement with recent research implicating new health benefits is the nutritional supplement known as omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3 fatty acids are by no means debutantes on the nutritional scene. It comes as no surprise that early research studies have indicated their potential benefits on both the heart and the circulatory system. However, research studies have only scratched the surface in discovering all potential health benefits of omega 3’s. More recently, studies have shown that they have a massive impact on glucose metabolism, providing athletes a more efficient release of energy under stressful conditions. This in turn provides a higher level of stamina to support the physical exertion that is prevalent in competitive sports.

Omega 3 fatty acids have received much media attention of late. There are three primary types of Omega 3 fatty acids found naturally: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).The EPA and DHA types are the most readily utilized forms in the human body. Although the human body has the capability to convert the ALA form into EPA and DHA the rate of inter-conversion is extremely low. In other words the required amount of EPA and DHA must be provided in the diet. Therefore, omegas 3’s are designated as essential fatty acids because they cannot be synthesized by the human body. The primary sources of omega 3 fatty acids are fish and some nut oils. Specifically, EPA and DHA are from some fish and ALA is from certain types of nuts.

One of the many roles that omega 3 fatty acids play in the human body is in brain function. It is believed that supplementation with omega 3’s assists with the improvement of memory, growth and development of the brain. As a result there is a wide array of food available in the supermarket fortified with omega 3 fatty acids such as eggs, soy milk and yogurt. Unfortunately, most of these are supplemented with ALA, not the hard to synthesize DHA and EPA, so be cautious and read the labels rather than assuming you’re getting all 3 of the omega 3’s. Of course omega 3’s are also available in capsule and liquid form as a dietary supplement. Again, make sure the supplement contains DHA and EPA, rather than just ALA.

Research data has indicated that omega 3 fatty acids have a positive outcome on insulin resistant individuals. Some athletes subscribe to the idea of carbo-loading before an event. As we well know from daily observation of the public-at-large this can lead to insulin resistance. This may provide athletes with a protective effect against insulin resistance. Other research point to the potential role that omega 3 fatty acids may have in the reduction of inflammation and elimination of risk factors associated with heart disease, cancer, and arthritis.

Based on the benefits of omega-3fattty acids it makes a lot of sense to incorporate this valuable nutrient into your diet whether or not you are in competitive sports.

Mickleborough TD, Murray RL, Ionescu AA, Lindley MR. Fish oil supplementation reduces severity of exercise-induced bronchoconstriction in elite athletes. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. 2003 Nov 15;168(10):1181-9.

Plourde M, Cunnane SC. Extremely limited synthesis of long chain polyunsaturates in adults: implications for their dietary essentiality and use as supplements. Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism. 2007 Aug;32(4):619-34.

Simopoulos AP. Omega-3 fatty acids and athletics. Current Sports Medicine Reports. 2007 Jul;6(4):230-6.


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