Omega-3: The Science behind the Health Benefits

2 min read

We know that Omega-3 is beneficial, but do you know why? 

To help get you up to speed, we’ve put together this blog, which explains the science behind fatty acids!

What are Omega-3 fatty acids?

First things first, we need to explain what Omega-3 fatty acids actually are. At the risk of turning this post into an impromptu science lesson, we’ll start out by saying that they’re a type of polyunsaturated fat that’s made from a long chain of carbon atoms.

 

All Omega-3 fatty acids have a special carbon-carbon double bond that’s located three carbon atoms from the "Omega end" of the chain (1) (hence the “3” in Omega-3!).

The location of this bond allows the chain to be longer, and it's the length of the chain which gives Omega-3 its unique properties. Allowing it to play a role in:

  • Building cell membranes
  • Producing energy for your cells
  • Synthesising important cell-signalling molecules (2)

Now, it’s important to note that the human body can only place these special double bonds after the ninth carbon in a fatty acid chain (not the third as required). 

The reason why this is significant is that it means that the body can’t produce its own Omega-3

In other words, we have to get Omega-3 fatty acids from our diet. We use the word “have” deliberately here, because the unique chemical structure of Omega-3s allow them to perform vital functions that cannot be replicated by other nutrients.

In fact, studies show that Omega-3 fatty acids are absolutely essential to the formation of healthy cell membranes (3) and help to form some of the hormones that regulate cardiovascular health (4).

Omega-3 fatty acids also play an important role in:

  • Brain function and development
  • Foetal development
  • Reducing inflammation (5)
  • Encouraging the development of healthy eyes

And research suggests there’s plenty more! If you’re interested in learning more about the (many) benefits associated with Omega-3 fatty acids, you’ll find plenty of detail in this blog post. We’ve also written detailed posts about 'Omega-3 and Inflammation' and 'Omega-3 and Pregnancy'

SUMMARY: Omega-3 is a fatty acid which is unique because of its chemical structure. This allows it perform important functions throughout the body that can't be done by other nutrients. The human body can't create this special structure and so Omega-3 needs to come from the diet.

References

(1) https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Omega3FattyAcids-HealthProfessional/

(2) https://opentextbc.ca/anatomyandphysiology/chapter/24-4-lipid-metabolism/

(3) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2174995/

(4) https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/fats-and-cholesterol/types-of-fat/omega-3-fats/

(5) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3257651/


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