Monday, 6 February 2017

Do the different types of omega-3 fatty acids play different roles in maintaining health?

ALA, EPA, and DHA all play important roles in support of our health. Yet these roles are somewhat different.

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Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)

A large amount of ALA is sometimes used strictly for energy purposes. Our bodies can take ALA and use it to produce energy for our cells. In some situations, most of the ALA that we consume will get used in this way. ALA is also the primary building block for EPA and DHA. It's difficult to overstate the importance of ALA in this regard. Our immune, inflammatory, cardiovascular, and nervous systems simply cannot function correctly without sufficient amounts of EPA and DHA. When we don't have enough ALA, we don't have enough EPA and DHA (unless we've eaten foods that contain them). So ALA has a critical role to play in the health of many body systems as the key building block for EPA and DHA. There are basically two important metabolic roles for dietary ALA. The first is the breakdown of ALA to be used as an energy source. As much as 85% of dietary ALA is broken down to be used as an energy source.
The other major role for ALA is to be elongated to the related omega-3 fats EPA and DHA. The efficiency of this process will be discussed in more detail below.

Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)

Proper function of our inflammatory system depends on the presence of messaging molecules called prostaglandins. Many of these prostaglandins are made directly from EPA. Equally important, most of the prostaglandins made from EPA tend to be anti-inflammatory in their effect. Therefore, your risk of excessive inflammation and inflammation-related disease can be lowered through consumption of foods rich in EPA.

Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)

Proper function of our nervous system—including our brain—depends on the presence of DHA. DHA is particularly important to brain function. Our brain is 60% fat by weight, and DHA makes up an average of 15 to 20% of all fat in our brain. If we tie these two facts together, we arrive at the following conclusion: DHA accounts for 9-12% of our brain's total weight! Drops in brain DHA levels are known to associate with cognitive impairment or slower neurological development in children. Nervous system deficiencies of DHA have been associated with a wide variety of problems, including neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson's disease; cognitive problems including reasoning ability in children; and severity of multiple sclerosis.

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