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Omega-3 fatty acids

The importance of Omega-3 fatty acids in human nutrition

Fish oil supplements are generally provided as a rich source of the omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Omega 3 fatty acids are important to human nutrition, and cannot be synthesized by the body. As such, they are regarded as essential dietary nutrients. The consumption of small amounts of these essential fatty acids is necessary for many biological functions including human growth and development, cell membrane functioning, nutrient metabolism, nervous system functioning, vision, memory, and cognition. In sports nutrition, fish oil supplements are widely used for their potential benefits on metabolism and overall health.

Fish oil supplementation has several well-supported health-beneficial effects. To begin with, EPA/DHA has been shown to lower triglyceride levels. In fact, there is a prescription drug form of EPA and DHA (Lovaza, GlaxoSmithKline) for treating high triglyceride levels. These fatty acids may also reduce serum cholesterol levels, improve vascular reactivity and endothelial function, and have ant arrhythmic activities. Studies show that regular supplementation of EPA and DHA helps protect the cardiovascular system, substantially reducing the risk of sudden cardiac death. EPA and DHA have also been shown to possess anti-inflammatory activities, and may help treat inflammatory diseases such as arthritis and asthma. Some studies also suggest EPA and DHA may improve mood and memory, and prevent protein catabolism in certain diseased states. Eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid also have some effects on metabolism that may be of benefit to exercising individuals.

For starters, omega-3 fatty acid supplementation inhibits several enzymes involved in lipogenesis (fat deposition). They are also important to the oxidation of fatty acids for energy. This may help improve body composition, at least by reducing fat retention. Omega-3 fatty acids may also increase the activity of antioxidant enzymes. This can help to clear free radicals, which may damage cells and potentially even contribute to muscle fatigue. EPA and DHA also have vasodilatory effects, which can increase blood flow and nutrient delivery to the muscles. They may also help maintain exercise functionality by reducing muscle soreness following intense training. Thus far, studies with exercising adults generally do not support direct ergogenic effects with fish oil supplementation. They do suggest, however, that EPA and DHA may improve cardiovascular fitness subsequent to exerc.

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