Current intakes of very long chain omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are low in most individuals living in Western countries. A good natural source of these fatty acids is seafood, especially oily fish. Fish oil capsules contain these fatty acids too. Very long chain omega-3 fatty acids are readily incorporated from capsules into transport, functional, and storage pools. This incorporation is dose-dependent and follows a kinetic pattern that is characteristic for each pool. At sufficient levels of incorporation, EPA and DHA influence the physical nature of cell membranes and membrane protein-mediated responses, eicosanoid generation, cell signaling and gene expression in many different cell types. Through these mechanisms, EPA and DHA influence cell and tissue physiology, and the way cells and tissues respond to external signals. In most cases, the effects seen are compatible with improvements in disease biomarker profiles or in health-related outcomes. As a result, very long chain omega-3 fatty acids play a role in achieving optimal health and in protection against disease. Long chain omega-3 fatty acids protect against cardiovascular morbidity and mortality, and might be beneficial in rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel diseases, childhood learning, and behavior, and adult psychiatric and neurodegenerative illnesses. DHA has an important structural role in the eye and brain, and its supply early in life is known to be of vital importance. On the basis of the recognized health improvements brought about by long chain omega-3 fatty acids, recommendations have been made to increase their intake.
(c) 2009 International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Inc.