Omega-3 fatty acids are healthy fats that perform important functions in the body. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids are part of the building blocks of cell membranes. They are also known as EFAs (essential fatty acids) because they cannot be created in the body and as such must be consumed in the diet.
There are three main types of omega-3 fatty acids:
- EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). EPA is a marine omega-3 because it is found in fish.
- DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). DHA is also a marine omega-3 found in fish.
- ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). ALA is the form of omega-3 found in plants. When you get ALA from food, your body is able to turn some of the ALA into EPA and subsequently to DHA.
Effects of omega-3 on the immune system
The immune system is a defence system that protects organisms from invading pathogens, such as viruses or bacteria. Boosting your immune system is one of the most beneficial steps that you can take to enhance overall health.
Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to impact immune function by:
- Regulating gene expression of white blood cells, which helps regulate proper immune function.
- Reducing the production of inflammatory compounds that can damage the immune system.
- Improving the manner in which immune cells communicate with each other, leading to improved immune system function.
Omega-3 are an integral part of cell membranes and consuming omega-3 strengthens the cell membranes of the immune cells. The presence of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) in omega 3 enhance the function of B cells. B cells are a type of white blood cell produced to fight pathogens and ward off disease. Moreover, a type of white blood cell called a macrophage plays a key role in eliminating pathogens from your body. Omega 3 help macrophages engulf pathogens and aid in eliciting a strong immune response, in the presence of a virus, pathogen or bacterial invasion.
Food sources of omega-3
Omega 3 is present in:
- Fish and other seafood (especially cold-water fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines).
- Seeds and nuts such as flaxseed, chia seeds and walnuts.
- Plant oils such as flaxseed oil and soybean oil. Flaxseed contains two components that favourably affect the immune system: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an essential omega-3 and lignans, a type of phytoestrogens.
For general health and during pregnancy the recommended dosage is 1000mg of EPA and DHA daily.
One of the major advances in nutritional medicine has been the development of fish oil supplements that contain highly concentrated omega-3 while being free of lipid peroxides, heavy metals and environmental contaminants. Marine derived fish oil is rich in omega-3 long chain fatty acids EPA and DHA.
Omega-3 supplements which contain fish oils are:
- Vitabiotics Ultra Omega-3: Each capsule contains: 540mg omega-3 fish oil providing 177.5 mg EPA and 117.5 mg DHA. Recommended dosage for adults: 2 capsules per day with your main meal.
- Biocyte Omega-3 Krill: 3 capsules contain 1500mg Krill oil of which 330mg omega-3 fatty acids of which EPA 180mg and DHA 82.5mg. Recommended dosage for adults: 1 to 3 capsules per day.