Omega 3 fatty acids are one of the essential fats that our body needs for various processes but cannot make from scratch. Our body gets omega 3 fatty acids from various foods. Foods which contain omega 3 fatty acids are cod liver oil, fish, vegetable oils, walnuts, flax seed oil and leafy vegetables. Benefits of omega 3 fatty acids include lower risk of cancer, prevention from cardiovascular disease and vital role in production of hormones that regulate blood clotting, inflammation etc. In this article we will discuss chemical aspects of omega 3 fatty acids in detail with health benefits for human beings.
What are Omega 3 Fatty Acids?
Those polyunsaturated fatty acids which are characterized by the presence of a carbon - carbon double at the three atoms away from the terminal -CH3 (methyl group) in their carbon atom chain are called omega 3 fatty acids.
Omega 3 fatty acids play a vital role in human physiology and lipid metabolism in animals. They are essential organic compounds and mammals can’t synthesize them, so mammals obtain it through their diet.
Structure of Omega 3 Fatty Acid
Omega 3 fatty acid molecules possess multiple double bonds between carbon atoms. Each molecule of it must have a double bond between the 3rd and 4th carbon atoms from the end of the carbon atom chain. When the carbon atom chain of omega 3 fatty acids contain 18 or less carbon atoms then it is called ‘short chain omega 3 fatty acid’ while when the carbon atom chain of omega 3 fatty acids contain 20 or more carbon atoms then it is called ‘long chain omega 3 fatty acid’. Following three types of omega 3 fatty acids are essential for human physiology –
EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid)
DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid)
ALA (-linolenic acid)
All these omega 3 fatty acids have either 3, 5 or 6 double bonds in a chain of 18, 20 or 22 carbon atoms respectively. Chain of fatty acids has two ends, one is carboxylic end (-COOH) while another one is methyl (-CH3) end. Carboxylic end is called the beginning of the chain or ‘alpha’ while the methyl end is called tail or ‘omega’ of the chain. Its molecular formula is C60H92O6 and molecular weight is 909.4 g.mol-1.
Sources of Omega 3 Fatty Acids
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As our body can’t synthesize the omega 3 fatty acids and they are essential for us, so we have to include foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids in our diet. Sources of omega 3 fatty acids include fatty fishes, leafy vegetables, walnuts, seaweed and some types of algae, milk, blue eye cod, shark, broccoli, eggs, strawberry, kiwi, red meat, prawn, tuna, oysters, hemp and flax etc. Flax or commonly known as linseed is the best source of omega 3 fatty acid as it contains 11.4 grams of omega 3 per 85 grams of serving. Second best source of omega 3 fatty acids is hemp which contains 11 grams of omega 3 per 85 grams of serving. Following fishes are also good source of omega 3 fatty acids –
Although fish oils are a good source of omega 3 fatty acids but must be consumed very carefully as heavy metal poisoning in the body is a possible risk by consumption of fish oils. Refined Fish oils supplements contain traces of heavy metals like mercury, lead nickel etc. These get accumulated in our body with time and long - term consumption and cause heavy metal poisoning. The World health Organization has decided the acceptability standards of contaminants in fish oil.
Benefits of Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Omega 3 fatty acids are not only incredibly important for our body growth but for prevention of many diseases as well. Many evidences are available to support that omega 3 fatty acids are helpful in prevention and cure of heart diseases. Its few health benefits are listed below –
Consumption of omega 3 fatty acids reduces the risk of cancer. Even evidence is available that omega 3 fatty acids are beneficial to people with advanced stages of cancer and cachexia.
They lower the blood pressure, hypertension and stimulate the blood circulation.
They are effective in lowering the inflammation.
They are helpful to relieve rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.
They are helpful in physiological growth of the body. They are used in the treatment of autism, ADHD etc.
They help in fighting against depression and anxiety.
They can improve vision related problems.
They are effective against bipolar disorder.
They are mildly effective against cognitive problems so are used in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.
Omega 3 supplements are effective against asthma attacks in children.
They are effective against metabolic syndrome, autoimmune diseases.
They are used in treatment of insomnia as well.
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