Omega-3 fatty acids are essential poly unsaturated fatty acids (PUFA). These PUFAs can not be synthesized by the human body but are extremely beneficial to health. The effects have been extensively documented and probably the most known effects of omega-3 PUFAs are:
• Reducing the risk for cardiovascular diseases
• Reducing the risk for dementia and depression
Omega-3 PUFAs consists mainly of 3 types:
1. Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
2. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
3. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
ALA is found in plant oils, including chia, flaxseed, hemp, and nuts. The human gastrointestinal tract has difficulties by breaking down plant sources which hampers absorption. It has been demonstrated that ALA exerts neuroprotective, anti-inflammatory, and antidepressant properties. The human body contains enzymes that convert ALA into DHA and EPA, however, the conversion rates are often low with ranges between 1% to 20%.
EPA and DHA come from fish oil and are easily absorbed by the human body. Therefore, most of the health effects from omega-3 are driven by EPA and DHA. It is known that these PUFAs have different effects.
For instance, EPA is metabolized to eicosanoids that regulate fundamental physiological processes such as cell division and growth, blood clotting, muscle activity, and the secretion of digestive juices and hormones. Eicosanoids derived from EPA may reduce certain inflammatory processes that can lead to heart attacks and strokes.
DHA is not involved in eicosanoid formation but is highly concentrated in the brain and involved in normal neurological development and functioning. Next to that, DHA is an important part of the retina and plays a role in visual development and normal eye function.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has acknowledged the following beneficial effects as a basis for health claims: