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Role of Omega 3 Fatty Acids: Vital Nutrients That Enhance Health


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Defining the role of omega 3 fatty acids, omega 6 fatty acids and other fats found in the human diet has been the subject of years of scientific studies and the source of much debate. Even today, omega 3 fatty acids recommendations vary. In this article, we cite the official recommendations from the USDA and the reasoning behind these recommendations.

The United States Department of Agriculture publishes recommended dietary intakes for vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, fats, fatty acids, protein and other elements of the human diet. These recommendations are based on the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI) compiled by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and are the recommendations that most of us have come to depend on. In some cases, a Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) is noted. In other cases the Academy is only able to arrive at an Acceptable Intake (AI).

Currently the NAS omega 3 fatty acids recommendations for females are 1.1 grams (1100mg) for women over the age of 14, who are not pregnant or nursing and 1.0 gram for 9-13 year olds. The omega 3 fatty acids recommendations for pregnant or nursing women are 1.4 grams and 1.3 grams respectively. Recommendations are higher for pregnant and nursing women because of the role of omega 3 fatty acids in growth and in the healthy development of the brain, spinal cord and nerve cells.

Low intake of omega 3 fatty acids has been linked with low birth weight and premature birth. Some studies suggest that autism and attention deficit disorder are related to low intakes of omega 3s. Higher intakes of omega 3s are believed to be associated with higher IQs.

Omega 3 fatty acids recommendations for males are 1.6 grams (1600 mg) for men over the age of 14 and 1.2 grams for 9-13 year olds. These NAS figures are designated as daily AI, meaning that they are believed to cover the daily needs of the majority of people in the age group or gender, but a lack of data prevents the Academy from establishing an RDA. In other words, people may need more to avoid chronic health problems and for excellent health overall. In addition, as new research is concluded the omega 3 fatty acids recommendations may change, as they have with other nutrients over the years.

The NAS defines the role of omega 3 fatty acids as “involved with neurological development and growth”. The importance to childhood development has already been mentioned, but many researchers believe that the role of omega 3 fatty acids in brain function goes far beyond early development.

A fairly large portion of the average human brain is composed of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega 3 fortifies the protective coverings of nerve cells. They help the brain repair cellular damage and grow new cells. In clinical studies, supplementation has proven beneficial to patients suffering from an array of diseases and disorders including schizophrenia, Huntington’s disease, bi-polar disorder and depression.

Omega 3 fatty acids recommendations for persons suffering from specific conditions may be much larger than the recommendations for a healthy person. For example in the study related to bi-polar disorder, patients were given 9 grams or 9000mg of pharmaceutical grade fish oil. A dosage this high should only be consumed under a doctor’s supervision.

The NAS further defines the role of omega 3 fatty acids as a “pre-cursor of eicosanoids. ” Eicosanoids are signaling molecules that have a degree of control over many systems of the human body, including the central nervous system and the immune system. Over the past 30 years, scientists have identified 20 different eicosanoids grouped in four different families.

They are derived from both omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids, but while some are beneficial to the human body, some can be detrimental. The eicosanoids derived from omega 3s compete with and oppose the functions of some of the omega 6 fats. For example, the eicosanoids derived from omega 6 fats can cause clumping of blood platelets, which can lead to heart attack and stroke. By competing with the omega 6s for the enzymes that lead to their transformation into eicosanoids, omega 3s can prevent this “clumping”.

Another example of the role of omega 3 fatty acids has to do with eicosanoids derived from them that are anti-inflammatory. Eicosanoids derived from omega 6 fats are inflammatory and play a role in diseases such as arthritis, lupus and asthma. Thus, omega 3 fatty acids recommendations are higher for people suffering from arthritis and for those who have suffered a stroke or heart attack.

Because of the role of omega 3 fatty acids in the brain, the American Journal of Psychiatry made this recommendation in 2006: “Deficits in omega 3 fatty acids have been identified as a contributing factor in moods disorders and offer a potential rational treatment approach. ” Because of the role of omega 3 fatty acids in competing with and opposing the detrimental effects of omega 6 consumption, the FDA gave the status of “qualified health claim” to the following statement; “Omega 3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease”.

Research is still being conducting concerning the use of omega 3s in the prevention of cancer. Omega 3 fatty acids recommendations will probably change and will likely increase as new research is completed.

Dan Ho is editor of Visit us now to receive free tips and advice on how to choose a high quality purified omega 3 fatty acid fish oil supplement. is an easy to browse reference all about the benefits of omega 3 fatty acids.


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