Dr C P Ravikumar

Introduction:
Omega 3 oils are essential fatty acids that cannot be synthesised in the human body, therefore it is important to acquire them through diet or supplementation. These are considered to be the building blocks of the brain as studies have shown their role in neurological and visual development, during infancy and childhood. There is evidence that suggests that omega 3 fatty acids like docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), help to improve symptoms of psychiatric and neurological ailments in adults such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and Alzheimer’s disease, with a positive effect on cognitive and neurological health.  

Sources of Omega 3 fatty acids
a.Natural Sources
The different types Omega 3 fatty acids are  eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which are mainly available in fish,(salmon, tuna, trout,  eggs)  These two components make up the bulk of the omega-3 oils, along with Alpha-linolenic Acid (ALA) which is mainly found in plants like flaxseeds, flaxseed oil, chia seeds, walnuts, soy foods and canola oil. Algae or algae oil, is also a rich source of ALA . Many foods that are fortified with omega-3 use algae oil which is a great  option for vegetarians who do not eat fish or eggs.
b.Fortified food / Supplements
Milk formula, baby foods , eggs, yogurt, juices, milk, soy beverages,are often fortified with omega 3 fatty acids, due to their positive effect on brain health. Multivitamins may contain omega 3 fatty acids and are available as oral supplements, along with fish oil (krill oil, cod liver oil)

Recommended  Daily Allowance Daily allowances of omega 3 fatty acids have not been established, except for ALA.

Life Stage Recommended Amount
Birth to 12 months 0.5 g
Children 1–3 years 0.7 g
Children 4–8 years 0.9 g
Boys 9–13 years 1.2 g
Girls 9–13 years 1.0 g
Teen boys 14–18 years 1.6 g
Teen girls 14–18 years 1.1 g
Men 1.6 g
Women 1.1 g
Pregnant teens and women 1.4 g
Breastfeeding teens and women 1.3 g
*As total omega-3s. All other values are for ALA alone.

Benefits of Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Omega 3 oils like DHA play a role in brain development, both during pregnancy and the first two years after birth, during the brain growth spurt. Pregnant and nursing mothers need adequate intake of DHA, with supplements in diet or in fortified formula milk if required.
In addition to the structural development of brain cells , DHA also aids with transmission of impulses through neuronal networks, having an effect on learning and behaviour, as well as protection of the nervous system, from inflammation or degradation. They are therefore believed to be brain boosters, which improve memory  and cognitive skills.

They have also been known to 
  • decrease inflammation, by reducing the formation of agents like cytokines (IL1 and Tumour necrosis factor (TNF) and reduces the production of Free radicals or reactive oxygen species by leucocytes or white blood cells of the body.
  • reduce the incidence of heart attacks and cardiovascular diseases , by decreasing triglyceride levels (bad cholesterol) and improving high density lipoprotein( HDL/ good cholesterol levels)
  • reduces the risk of  ischemic strokes, as it reduces the formation of blood clots
  • decrease the symptoms of autoimmune diseases
  • helps to prevent age related memory decline , or vision loss due to Age related macular degeneration or dry eye disease
  • slow the rate of memory loss in Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Some studies have demonstrated a link between DHA deficiency and depression, anger and hostility, although further research is required.

Precautions to be taken
It is recommended to limit consumption up to 3 g of EPA and DHA combined per day, including in the form of dietary supplements. Omega 3 fatty acids may increase bleeding tendencies and should be taken with caution by patients who are on anticoagulants like warfarin, heparin or aspirin. Intake of fish in pregnant or nursing women should be regulated to avoid those that may have increased mercury content, to avoid complications in child development, in the uterus or after birth. Milder side effects include unpleasant taste in the mouth, bad breath, heartburn, nausea, stomach discomfort, diarrhoea, headache, and smelly sweat

References
  1. Morris MC, Evans DA, Bienias JL, et al. Consumption of fish and omega-3 fatty acids and risk of incident Alzheimer disease. Arch Neurol. 2003 Jul;60(7):940-6
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12873849/
  1. Hoffman DR, Theuer RC, Castañeda YS, et al. Maturation of visual acuity is accelerated in breast-fed term infants fed baby food containing DHA-enriched egg yolk. J Nutr. 2004;134(9):2307-2313. doi:10.1093/jn/134.9.2307
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15333721/
  1. Moriguchi, T., & Salem, N., Jr (2003). Recovery of brain docosahexaenoate leads to recovery of spatial task performance. Journal of neurochemistry87(2), 297–309.
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/14511107/
  1. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/17290-omega-3-fatty-acids
  2. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Omega3FattyAcids-HealthProfessional/
Dr C P Ravikumar

Dr C P Ravikumar

CONSULTANT – PEDIATRIC NEUROLOGY
Aster CMI Hospital, Bangalore