Omega-3 fatty acid is often misnamed an “alternative” or “natural” medication. Penicillin was, of course, derived from a living organism and was therefore “natural” in the same way that Omega-3s are natural. Currently, Omega-3 supplements are primarily derived from fish, and like penicillin, they have a therapeutic effect.
Omega-3 fatty acids are often referred to as “essential” fatty acids (EFAs) because they are needed for human health but are not sufficiently produced by the body.
The two major health promoting Omega-3 fatty acids are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). EPA and DHA are naturally found in certain cold-water fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel. They can also be derived in the body from alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is an Omega-3 found in certain seeds and plant-based oils.
However, the body is very inefficient at converting ALA into EPA and DHA, which is why sufficient amounts of Omega-3s typically can not be obtained from plant-based sources alone.
Over the last century, the modern diet has become overloaded with unhealthy Omega-6 fatty acids (especially arachidonic acid) and largely depleted of the healthy Omega-3 essential fatty acids. The increased consumption of vegetable oils and shortenings, beef, and dairy is a major reason for this imbalance. The high amount of Omega-6 and low Omega-3 fatty acids in the Western diet are thought to contribute to an overall inflammatory state and possibly to cause heart disease. The North American population, in particular, has among the lowest dietary intake of Omega-3s found in the world and the highest amount of the harmful Omega-6s. .
Recent scientific developments have shown that the Omega-3s, in particular EPA and DHA, play a vital role in a healthy cardiovascular and central nervous systems, as well as, cognitive, joint, immune and metabolic function. EPA and DHA not only protect good overall physical and emotional health, but also can reduce the risk of heart disease and exert powerful anti-inflammatory effects that can help treat many diseases.