Omega-3 Fatty Acids
~ March 1998 No.38 ~
Contains omega-3 fatty acid is appearing on egg cartons, on fish products and boxes of products containing flax seed or flax flour. The visibility of this particular fatty acid has increased significantly because of the belief that we are not getting enough of this fatty acid in our diets, and the increasing evidence that omega-3 fatty acids may be helpful against certain diseases, particularly cardiovascular diseases.
Omega-3 has a good sound to it in advertizing and on labels. Cis,cis,cis-delta 9,12,15-octadecatrienoic acid or even linolenic acid just is too complicated or not as catchy to the average consumer. But it is cis,cis,cis-delta 9,12,15-octadecatrienoic or linolenic acid that is getting the most attention these days as the omega-3 fatty acid that we should be eating more. Together with linoleic acid, linolenic acid is considered a dietary essential fatty acid because the body can’t make it. We have to depend on our diet to supply us with enough.
Linolenic acid is a polyunsaturated fatty acid that has three double bonds, and it is related to other polyunsaturated fatty acids that have a double bond in the omega-3 position of their molecules. In the body, the members of the omega-3 family are connected by metabolic steps.
Until recently, even the text books couldn’t list a use in the body for the omega-3 fatty acids. It appeared that it might be involved in brain development and function, but the data using experimental animals was not consistent. The highest levels of linolenic acid are found in the various parts of the eye and yet animals fed diets almost devoid of linolenic acid over several generations failed to show any effects of vision.
Recent studies in which the protective effects of fish against certain types of heart disease have raised the profile of the omega -3 fatty acids. Fish are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids along with a variety of vegetable oils. But it is this very situation that is causing the health regulators so much concern. Studies are showing that omega-3 fatty acids can fight disease. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in foods we eat. If you are concerned about heart disease and you start to eat fish to increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids, is that the same as downing a capsule of oil rich in omega-3 fatty acids?
As more studies find that omega-3 fatty acids are protective against certain types of heart disease, can the capsule seller make a health claim on the bottle label? And what about the fish monger? Product labeling is a very important issue facing the marketing of foods and food ingredients that are good for health.