Omega-3 fatty acids are thought to have beneficial effects on cardiovascular disease and rheumatism. But what about omega-3 fatty acids? Can a component of fats actually have these beneficial effects? The first part of this article shed light on the role of omega-3 fatty acids in the fat group, what difference they make with omega-6 fatty acids, and what they mean to our body.
What are Omega-3 fatty acids? Short and concise!
Here are the key points in brief:
- The Omega-3 fatty acids are like the omega-6 fatty acids to the polyunsaturated fatty acids.
- These two fatty acids have very different properties and effects on our body. In particular, the omega-3 fatty acids have many beneficial effects that we can take advantage in the prevention, but also the treatment of various diseases.
- The main source of omega-3 fatty acids are cold-water fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring and tuna. However, the intake of omega-3 fatty acids is often too low in our latitudes. Already two fish meals per week can make a good contribution to an adequate supply.
In the second part we now want to investigate the question of whether omega-3 fatty acids actually have positive effects in diseases such as coronary heart disease (CHD), rheumatism and atopic dermatitis.
The Eskimo diet on the trail
The original traditional diet of the Greenland Eskimos consisted mainly of raw, fatty fish, whale and seal meat. Almost 150 years ago, the German physician Dr. Prosch for the first time on the special dietary habits of the Greenland Eskimos and their robust health.
More than 100 years later, studies have shown that populations such as the Greenland Eskimos, where large amounts of fish are part of their original eating habits, are less likely to suffer from heart disease, asthma, psoriasis and certain cancers. In the 1970s, the cause of the rarity of these diseases was examined, and the long-chain and highly unsaturated omega-3 fatty acids, which occur predominantly in fatty fish species, were tracked down.
Eicosanoids - highly active in small quantities
Many years of research have shown that the polyunsaturated fatty acids are involved in complex metabolic processes. From the polyunsaturated fatty acids in the human body tissue hormones, the so-called eicosanoids are formed. These tissue hormones are biologically highly active in minimal concentrations and play an important role in the regulation of many metabolic processes, such as cell proliferation, inflammatory responses, and blood clotting.
Interestingly, the effects of tissue hormones (eicosanoids), which are made up of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, are very different. In the organism, they often even act as opponents.
As explained in detail in the first part of this article, the derivatives of omega-3 fatty acids have different functions, which are important for the effect on certain diseases (especially in cardiovascular diseases and inflammatory diseases). For example, they have an anti-inflammatory, vasodilator effect and reduce blood clotting.
Heart and circulation
Omega-3 fatty acids have many effects that have a positive effect on the cardiovascular system:
- they have a vasodilator effect,
- they improve the flow properties of the blood,
- they keep the arteries elastic,
- they lower the triglycerides in the blood and
- they have an anticoagulant effect
They thus prevent arteriosclerotic changes of the vessels. In people who have already had a heart attack, a fish-rich diet and the consumption of fish oils can significantly improve the chances of survival and reduce the risk of a second infarction. This was proven in the largest comprehensive cardiac infarction prevention study (GISSI prevention study) in more than 11, 000 patients.
The anti-inflammatory effect of omega-3 fatty acids may aid in inflammatory diseases. For example:
- Psoriasis (psoriasis)
- Inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis).
The best studied is the anti-inflammatory effect of omega-3 fatty acids on the inflammatory diseases of the rheumatic type. It has been proven that a corresponding change in diet can reduce discomfort and reduce the intake of medication. It is not only important to increase the intake of omega-3 fatty acids.
At the same time, intake of the omega-6 fatty acid arachidonic acid, which occurs predominantly in animal products such as meat and sausage, should be reduced. Thus, in addition, the production of pro-inflammatory messengers (eicosanoids) is reduced.
Brain development and nerves
Omega-3 fatty acids enhance brain function, as they increase the overall blood flow and thus improve the oxygen supply to the brain. Omega-3 fatty acids are therefore considered to play an important role in the central nervous system. An adequate supply already during the pregnancy can promote not only the eyesight and the defenses but also the brain development and the intelligence of the child.
Current research areas
Ongoing research has focused on the importance of omega-3 fatty acids in the immune system and suggests that it has a positive impact on asthma and kidney disease. Fish oil may also protect against depression and slow down nerve damage in Alzheimer's.
Mackerel or fish oil capsule?
The positive effects of omega-3 fatty acids on certain diseases are now well established. An adequate supply is therefore essential to strive for. Two fish meals per week can make a good contribution to this. There are no limits to the preparation. Both lunch and dinner fish can be on the menu.
Here are some examples:
- Steamed (in a vegetable bed, with tomato, dill or mustard sauce)
- fried or grilled (with lemon, as a spit, in aluminum foil with herb butter and onions)
- as a casserole (with potatoes, pasta or vegetables)
- as salad (for example herring salad)
- smoked / pickled (for example smoked mackerel, sweet and sour pickled herring)
- as fillets (with vegetables, in aspic, oil or different sauces)
In assisting the treatment of certain diseases, a much higher dosage may be required to achieve the desired effect than can be achieved by a normal diet. The use of preparations with a high concentration of omega-3 fatty acids may be useful in these cases. There are products available in the form of fish oil capsules, formula diets and infusion solutions. The preparations used should additionally be enriched with vitamin E. The intake and dosage should be discussed in advance with the attending physician.
Sources: German Society for Nutrition et al. (Ed.): DA-CH Reference Values for Nutrient Supply 2000 German Nutrition Society (ed.): Ernährungsbericht 2004 Adam O (2002) Diet and advice in rheumatism and osteoporosis, Walter Hädecke Verlag