Science: Is omega-3 omnipotent?

by By Stephen Daniells
(www.nutraingredients.com - 02-Sep-2008)

From heart health to better brain function, from reducing the risk of cancers to improving people’s moods, is there nothing omega-3 can’t do? In the first part of a four-part focus on omega-3 fatty acids, NutraIngredients reviews the science behind the headlines.

Different omega-3s, different benefits?

The main omega-3 fatty acids present on the market consist of the marine sourced eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA, C20:5 n-3) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA, C22:6 n-3) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA, C18:3 n-3) from plants like flax.

The omega-3s are not created equal, and different fatty acids have been associated with different benefits.

Much attention has been paid to the conversion of ALA to the longer chain EPA, with many stating that this conversion is very small. Indeed, between 8 and 20 per cent of ALA is reportedly converted to EPA in humans, and between 0.5 and 9 per cent of ALA is converted to DHA.

In addition, the gender plays an important role with women of reproductive age reportedly converting ALA to EPA at a 2.5-fold greater rate than healthy men.

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