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Alpha linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexanoic acid (DHA) belong to the Omega-3 fatty acid group.
What Does It Do? And What Scientific Studies Give Evidence To Support This?
Omega-3 fatty acids are classified as "essential" because the body can't make them from other substances and they must, therefore, be obtained through diet or supplementation.
Scientific research shows that Omega-3 fatty acids effect cardiovascular health, brain health and the inflammatory response system.
Omega-3 fatty acids have been extensively studied and their effects on cardiovascular health is intriguing. Research shows that omega-3 fatty acid consumption results in improved overall cardiovascular health, while also reduce occurrence frequency and severity of fatal and nonfatal cardiovascular events. It also reduces mortality associated with cardiovascular problems.1,2
It has been suggested that the beneficial effects of omega-3 fatty acids on cardiovascular health is because omega-3 fatty acids may reduce LDL cholesterol.3 Other studies suggest that omega-3 fatty acids also improve blood flow and circulation.4
More research needs to be done, but current anecdotal evidence suggest that omega-3 fatty acid consumption may achieve up to a 45% reduction in unhealthy triglyceride levels and lower cholesterol by as much as 50%.
In fact, the evidence supporting the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids on heart and cardiovascular function is so strong that the United States Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) deemed some omega-3 fatty acids to have a "qualified health claim" and supported the statement "supportive but not conclusive research shows that consumption of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease."5
Omega-3 fatty acids have also been extensively studied for their effects on brain health and general brain function.
Studies show that omega-3 fatty acids can enhance brain cell membrane integrity6 an increase mood quality, cognitive abilities and overall cognition in addition to promoting brain cell growth. With respect to brain cell growth, one study noted that both white and gray brain matter increased in people who took omega-3 fatty acids compared to people who did not.7 Research and real world evidence also suggests that omega-3 fatty acids can be effective in the treatment of some mood disorders.8
The effects of omega-3 fatty acids on overall brain health and cognition may be due to the enhancing effects of omega-3 fatty acids on the myelin coating around brain cells. Approximately 8% of the total mass of the human brain is comprised of omega-3 fatty acids and this is due largely in part to the myelin coating that surrounds brain cells and enables them to transmit their signals efficiently and correctly to other brain cells.
The inflammatory response system is highly sensitive to the effects of omega-3 fatty acids. Some research exists to show that omega-3 fatty acids exert an anti-inflammatory effect. While it has been suggested that omega-3 fatty acids may prevent the onset of some cancers by mediating the inflammatory response, the existing research has been unable to establish a clear relationship between omega-3 fatty acids and the rate of cancer onset.9,10
The above notwithstanding, omega-3 fatty acids are used to manage inflammatory related diseases like Crohn's disease11 and rheumatoid arthritis.12
Who Needs It? And What Are Some Symptoms Of Deficiency?
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential to human nutrition and a minimum daily intake of 1.6grams/day for men and 1.1grams/day for women has been established to prevent disease resulting from deficiency.
Symptoms associated with omega-3 deficiency include acne, cardiovascular disorders, aging, heart disease, hypertension, psoriasis, prostate cancer, schizophrenia, mental illness, lupus, vision disorders, depression13 and other conditions.
Children's research shows that omega-3 deficiency during childhood and result in poor development all health.14
How Much Should Be Taken? And Are There Any Side Effects?
An acceptable intake (AI) of 1.6grams/day for men and 1.1grams/day for women has been established to prevent disease resulting from deficiency. However, always follow label directions.
Excess consumption of omega-3 fatty acids can result in bleeding, blood sugar problems for diabetics, an increase in oxidation and free-radical damage and immune system suppression.
Consult with a physician before using any dietary supplement.
Wang C, Harris WS, Chung M, et al. n-3 fatty acids from fish or fish-oil supplements but not a-linoleic acid, benefit cardiovascular outcomes in primary and secondary prevention studies: a systematic review. Am J. Clin Nutr 2006;84:5-17.
Mozaffarian D, & Rimm EB. Fish Intake, Contaminants, and Human Health: Evaluating the Risks and the Benefits. JAMA, October 18, 2006-Vol 296, No. 15.
ZambÃ³n D, Sabate J, Munoz S, et al. Substituting walnuts for monounsaturated fat improves the serum lipid profile of hypercholesterolemic men and women. Ann Intern Med. 2000;132:538-546.
MCKENNEY, J. and SICA, D, Prescription omega-3 fatty acids for the treatment of hypertriglyceridemia, American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy. 646:595-605, March 15, 2007.
US Food and Drug Administration (September 8, 2004). FDA Announces Qualified Health Claims for Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Press release. Retrieved on 2006-07-10.
Bijal Trivedi The good, the fad, and the unhealthy New Scientist, 23 September 2006, pp 42-49.
B. Puri. International Review of Psychiatry, vol 18, p 149, 2006.
American Journal of Psychiatry 163:1098-1100, June 2006.
Catherine H. MacLean, MD, PhD et al (January 2006). "Effects of Omega-3 Fatty Acids on Cancer Risk". Journal of the American Medical Association 295 (4): 403-415. PMID 16434631. Retrieved on 2006-07-07.
Lee Hooper et al (April 2006). "Risks and benefits of omega 3 fats for mortality, cardiovascular disease, and cancer: systematic review" (pdf). British Medical Journal 332: 752-760. DOI:10.1136/bmj.38755.366331.2F. Retrieved on 2006-07-07.
Mate J, Castanos R, Garcia-Samaniego J, Pajares JM. Does dietary fish oil maintain the remission of Crohn's disease: a case control study. Gastroenterology 1991;100:A228 [abstract].
Kremer JM, Lawrence DA, Petrillow GF, et al. Effects of highdose fish oil on rheumatoid arthritis after stopping nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs. Arthritis Rheum 1995;38:1107-14.
Peet M, Murphy B, Shay J, Horrobin D. Depletion of omega-3 fatty acid levels in red blood cell membranes of depressive patients. Biol Psychiatry 1998;43:315-9.
Sinn, N and Bryan, J, Effect of Supplementation with Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids and Micronutrients on Learning and Behavior Problems Associated with Child ADHD, Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics. 28(2):82-91, April 2007.