We have pointed out that omega 3 fatty acids are essential and that the body can produce only limited amounts. We have also pointed out that the imbalance in the ratio between omega 6 fatty acids and omega 3 fatty acids is a major health concern. This imbalance may be partly responsible for the high incidence of heart disease, strokes cancer and other inflammatory diseases in western societies.
Many claims have been made for the benefits of omega 3 fatty acids. Some have stood up to careful examination, others have not. For example omega 3 fatty acids have a number of potentially heart-healthy effects including reducing triglyceride levels, raising good cholesterol cholesterol (HDL) levels, reducing levels of homocysteine, reducing blood pressure, slowing the progression of atherosclerosis thereby preventing heart attacks and reducing the risk of sudden death due to cardiac irregularities.
These statements agree with a large study of generally healthy older adults (average age 74). In this study those with the highest levels of omega-3s had a decreased risk of dying. In fact those with the highest levels were 27% less likely to die during the course of the study than those in the lowest 20%. They were also 40% less likely to have a heart attack.
In view of the fact that omega-3 fatty acids have a variety of other probable health benefits investigators have looked at specific diseases with mixed results. The list is large and includes arthritis and other inflammatory disease, cancer, age related cognitive decline, asthma, chronic fatigue syndrome, cystic fibrosis and osteoporosis. It is extremely difficult to design and get relevant information from complicated studies such as these and the results have been inconclusive. It is also not clear whether the investigators took into consideration the levels of omega-6 fatty acids and the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. We have pointed out the importance of this ratio.
In conclusion there is no doubt that omega-3 fatty acids play an important role in maintaining optimal health. Next we will discuss sources of omega-3s and optimal amounts to take.