Omega-6 (ω6) and omega-3 (ω3) fatty acids are two classes of dietary polyunsaturated fatty acids derived from linoleic acid (18:2ω6) and α-linolenic acid (18:3ω3), respectively. Enzymatic metabolism of linoleic and α-linolenic acids generates arachidonic acid (20:4ω6) and eicosapentaenoic acid (20:5ω3; EPA), respectively, both of which are substrates for enzymes that yield eicosanoids with multiple and varying physiological functions. Further elongation and desaturation of EPA yields the 22-carbon fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (22:6ω3; DHA). The main dietary source of EPA and DHA for human consumption is fish, especially oily fish. There is considerable evidence that EPA and DHA are protective against cardiovascular disease (heart disease and stroke), particularly in individuals with pre-existing disease. ω3 Fatty acids benefit multiple risk factors including blood pressure, blood vessel function, heart function and blood lipids, and they have antithrombotic, anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative actions. ω3 Fatty acids do not adversely interact with medications. Supplementation with ω3 fatty acids is recommended in individuals with elevated blood triglyceride levels and patients with coronary heart disease. A practical recommendation for the general population is to increase ω3 fatty acid intake by incorporating fish as part of a healthy diet that includes increased fruits and vegetables, and moderation of salt intake. Health authorities recommend the general population should consume at least two oily fish meals per week.
Keywords: Cardiovascular disease; Eicosanoids; Fish oils; Omega-3 fatty acids.
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