Overall health and omega-3

Promoting and maintaining good overall health all life long

According to the FAO, diet and nutrition play a determining role in the prevention of non-communicable diseases, which are the leading causes of sickness worldwide.

Improving nutrition and physical activity for adults and the elderly reduces the risk of chronic diseases and death or disability.

Therefore, in order to enjoy a full life and good overall health, it is necessary to have hygiene and dietary habits that are as healthy as possible, based on a balanced diet, adequate physical activity suitable to the age group and avoiding toxic habits like smoking and misuse of alcohol.

The Western diet has adopted the eating habits of the Anglo-Saxon countries, and the healthy Mediterranean diet has been gradually abandoned. This has led to increased consumption of saturated fat at the expense of unsaturated fats and a decrease in the consumption of EPA and DHA, which are currently considered to be “essential” because they are necessary for the proper function of the body. If consumption of foods containing these long chain omega-3 fatty acids is insufficient, it is advisable to get them through supplements.

Omega-3, EPA & DHA

A balanced diet consists of carbohydrates (sugars), proteins and lipids (fats), plus minerals, vitamins, other trace elements and water.

Some of these nutritional elements are called essential because we need to incorporate them into our diets as our body cannot synthesize them. Among these nutrients are different amino acids (building blocks of proteins) and essential fatty acids (components of lipids or fats).

There are two types of fatty acids: unsaturated, which provide health benefits to our body, and saturated, which if consumed in excess can increase cholesterol and harm the cardiovascular system.

Unsaturated fatty acids are classified as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated and are found primarily in vegetable and oily fish. Saturated fatty acids are found primarily in animal fats and byproducts from the fat.

Polyunsaturated fatty acids are classified as omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9. Some of these omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, those with short chains, are considered essential. We have to get them through food or dietary supplements when our diet does not supply them in sufficient quantity. Other fatty acids can be synthesized by the body itself and are not essential in the diet.

Omega-3 fatty acids can be divided into two groups:

  • Short chain omega-3 fatty acids, which are found primarily in vegetable oils, in the form of ALA (alpha-linolenic acid).
  • Long chain omega-3 fatty acids, which are found mainly in oily fish, in the form of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).

It is therefore advisable to use strategies that will help reduce the risk of suffering from any of these diseases, and diet or the right dietary supplements can help mitigate these effects.

EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) is a long chain omega-3 fatty acid (>20 carbons) that is found mainly in fatty fish like salmon, anchovies and other oily fish.

Current guidelines recommend intake of around 500 mg/day of EPA for the general population. However, Western diet is deficient in these nutrients so supplements are recommended when needed.

The properties of EPA for the maintenance of good health are primarily based on their beneficial effect on the cardiovascular system, where they help protect the circulatory system from two of the major silent risk factors associated with heart health, hypertension and dyslipidemia.

EPA provides the following benefits to health:

  • Helps protect from cardiovascular and metabolic disease.
  • Reduces inflammatory processes that underlie these diseases
  • Regulates the immune response.

Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is essential for the growth and development of brain function in children. DHA is also required for maintaining normal brain function in adults.

DHA is important for brain development during both gestation and the postnatal period. Higher intake of DHA leads to better development of visual acuity, maturation of the retina and visual cortex and intellectual development. It is involved in the production of neurotransmitters and immune system molecules.

The role DHA plays in children’s development and the improvement in behavioral disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyslexia or impaired coordination has also been demonstrated. When the necessary amount of DHA is incorporated into diet, learning ability improves, whereas DHA deficiency is associated with a loss of learning ability.

In healthy middle-aged people between the ages of 35 and 54 and the elderly, a higher intake of DHA, but not of other polyunsaturated fats, has been proved to be directly related to better results on tests of the 4 main cognitive functions: reasoning, mental flexibility, working memory and vocabulary.

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  3. All scientific opinions that appear in this document are properly numbered and referenced at the end.
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