Omega-3 fatty acids are long-chain unsaturated carboxylic acids. The term “omega” is derived from the location of the first double bond, based on the methyl end of the fatty acids (omega end; ω end). In terms of nutritional physiology, the important fatty acids in the omega 3 series include α-Linolenic acid (ALA); eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenic acid (DHA). α-Linolenic acid is the precursor of the omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA actually bioactive in the human body. The latter are also termed preformed, long-chain omega 3 fatty acids:
- Eicosapentaenic acid (EPA) consists of 20 carbons and exhibits 5 double bonds (Abbreviation: C20:5 ω-3 or n-3).
- Docosahexaenic acid (DHA) consists of 22 carbons and exhibits 6 double bonds (Abbreviation: C22:6 ω-3 or n-3).
In terms of quantity, both fatty acids are present only in a few foods of marine origin, including fatty sea fish (e.g. salmon, herring and mackerel) and microalgae.
EPA and DHA can to a limited extent be formed by the human body itself. The prerequisite for this is an absorption of α-Linolenic acid (ALA) to meet demand. However, the enzymatic conversion of ALA into EPA and DHA takes place to a minimal degree in humans. In healthy males, an average of 8 % ALA is converted into EPA and only 0-4 % of ALA is converted into DHA. In women, the conversion rate of 21 % for EPA and 9 % for DHA is somewhat higher which is attributed to the effects of oestrogen.
Functions of omega 3 fatty acids
EPA and DHA in the human body act as precursors for numerous tissue hormones (eicosanoids and resolvins) and are incorporated into the cell membranes. In this way, they determine their permeability properties and act as biological signalling substances. Individual functional areas include:
- Nervous system. DHA changes the expression patterns of genes in the nervous tissue which, amongst others, join forces with the neuronal signal transmission and the energy metabolism of the brain. DHA thus contributes to the maintenance of normal brain function.
- Visual function. DHA is essential for the signal transduction in the visual processes and thus contributes towards the maintenance of normal vision.
- Cardiovascular system. EPA unfolds a wide range of cardiovascular effects, including as a precursor of oxidised fatty acid metabolites, known as oxylipins. These include eicosanoids (prostaglandins (PG), thromboxanes (TX) and leukotrienes (LT)) as well as resolvins, protectins and maresins. Amongst others, the effects of the corresponding EPA derivatives are vasodilatory. EPA thus contributes towards maintaining normal blood pressure. EPA also contributes towards normal heart function.
- Lipometabolism. Here, EPA supports the maintenance of normal triglyceride concentrations in the blood.
- The conventional diet in Western countries with a high proportion of omega 6 fatty acids, in particular linoleic acid, impede the conversion of ALA into EPA and DHA. Single nucleotide polymorphisms of the enzymes delta 5 and 6 desaturase (FADS1 and FADS2) required for DHA synthesis also reduce self-synthesis.
- Because of the body's limited ability to self-synthesise, the long-chain omega 3 fatty acids are among the semi-essential nutrients in humans. Specialist organisations have therefore formulated the relevant intake recommendations. Healthy people should take in at least 250 mg, but better ≥ 500 mg EPA and DHA per day.
- Sufficient intake of EPA and DHA is especially important during pregnancy. Scientific panels such as those from the expert commission assigned by the EU (Perinatal Lipid Nutrition Group) recommends and intake of at least 200 mg DHA per day for all pregnant and breast-feeding women.
- Important for the health effect is not just the absolute intake of ω 3 and ω 6 fatty acids but also their ratios. The ideal omega 6 - omega 3 ratio is 5:1. In Western industrialised nations such as Germany, this ratio is at 15-20:1 and is attributed to the minimal consumption of fatty sea fish in conjunction with a high intake of plant oils with a high α-linoleic acid (e.g. sunflower oil).
- An excellent source of EPA and DHA are oils from cold water deep sea fish. They exhibit particularly high amounts of EPA and DHA and are naturally free of antibiotics and growth hormones. What is crucial for a fish oil product is the EPA and DHA content per capsule rather than the quantity of fish oil or the total content of omega 3 fatty acids.
Information on production technology
- INTERCELL Pharma processes only high quality fish oil. This is features a particularly high concentration of EPA and DHA of ≥ 75 %.
- The patented distillation process enables the fish oils to be virtually completely free of environmental contaminant such as heavy metals. INTERCELL fish oil capsules therefore feature the maximum of purity and safety.
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