Omega-3: fabulous fatty acids for our joints

Around 1980 it was mentioned in a report that Eskimo’s from Greenland were nearly completely free from cardiovascular diseases. It was also mentioned that the main source of food for the Inuit-as they prefer to be called – was fatty fish. After that original report again and again studies show that fatty fish like salmon, herring, mackerel and sardines have a positive influence on our health. Fatty fish is a generous source of EPA and DHA which both are omega-3 fatty acids. An important property of these fatty acids is that they inhibit inflammations and could therefore play an important role in the natural reduction of pain and swelling in for example arthritis.

What are omega-3 fatty acids?

Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids and are very healthy. The best known representatives of this family are ALA (alfa linoleic acid), EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). ALA is mostly present in plant based foods such as linseed oil, rapeseed oil, soya oil, walnuts and in smaller amounts in meat and vegetables. EPA and DHA are present in seafood.

What are the biological functions of omega-3 fatty acids?

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for a number of processes in our body. APA and DHA determine the fluidity, flexibility and strength of our cell membranes and thereby also the sensitivity of these membranes for hormones and neurotransmitters and the ability for a normal exchange between the interior of the cells and blood of nutrients and waste products. In addition omega-3 fatty acids stimulate our immune system and inhibit undesired blood clothing and thereby prevent cardiovascular disease.

Omega-3 fatty acids and arthritis

Omega-3 fatty acids play a role in decreasing the pain and swelling that generally occurs in arthritis. EPA and DHA can be transformed in our body into so-called Specialized Pro-resolving Mediators (SPM’s) that have anti-inflammatory properties. There are indications that arthritis is related to a low consumption of fish and a recent study performed by scientists of the Harvard medical School suggests that symptoms of arthritis can be decreased by consuming more fish. The study showed that participants who ate fish at least twice a week had less pain and swelling than those who ate less fish.

What are the other health effects of Omega-3 fatty acids?

Apart from reducing symptoms of arthritis and reducing our risk for cardiovascular disease, DHA is known to play a role in the development of our brain and thereby contributes to our memory and ability to concentrate. It has also been suggested that sufficient amounts of omega-3 fatty acids could reduce the risks for dementia, depression, dyslexia, autism and certain causes for blindness, but it is too early for definitive conclusions.

What are the most important sources of omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA?

As mentioned before, these are fatty fish and two servings per week should be sufficient for maintaining normal health. Especially wild salmon is a fantastic source of EPA and DHA. Another cheaper source is canned tuna.

However once there are inflammations such as in arthritis it can be advised to increase the amount of the omega-3 fatty acids by taking a food supplement.

In other words, next time you shop for food it may be wise to buy some fatty fish. The fish that contains most omega-3 fatty acids are salmon, herring, anchovies, sardines, mackerel, tuna and trout. Also mussels are a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids and the most superior type is the green-lipped mussel from New Zealand. The reason is that green-lipped mussels are not only abundant sources of EPA and DHA but numerous others as well such as ALA, SDA, ETE, DTA, DPA and ETA. The broad combination of these fatty acids is the reason that green-lipped mussels and their supplements are more effective that supplements from fatty fish in inhibiting inflammation and swelling.

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