New Research Uncovers the Role of Omega-3s
The saying “You are what you eat” rings true, despite the silly images it can conjure up in the mind. The foods you eat are broken down in your digestive system and repurposed in your body to fulfill more roles than I could possibly count. Sometimes the nutrients become part of your muscle, bone, or blood. If you apply the above adage to your life, you’ll want to eat good stuff so you’re made of good stuff.
The food you eat also becomes what drives you. Food is a part of the process that allows you produce energy. It’s been known for some time that omega-3 fatty acids are heavily involved in that process, but it wasn’t understood how. In a new study this month in Nutrition and Metabolism, the effects of omega-3s were discovered.
Omega-3, sometimes called n-3, is a kind of polyunsaturated fat. Its odd name comes from chemistry and is actually quite simple to understand. In fats, carbon is an important element. In fact, carbon is the defining element in all of organic chemistry. Fats are often named or classified - even in everyday discussion - by what the carbon atoms are bonded with. In the case of omega-3, a double-bond (a carbon atom bonded to another carbon atom twice) exists on the third atom from the back end - and omega means "end."
That bit of chemistry details the importance of omega-3. There is something special about that particular double bond that separates omega-3 from other kinds of fats. We know that omega-3 has been shown in some populations to reduce insulin resistance and benefit cardiovascular health. But how it does this has just been discovered this month.
There are a few ways that we can know what nutrients do in the body. One way is to study their effects. In the newest study, the researchers wanted to understand the actual chemical processes of omega-3 production. Since metabolism seems to be modulated by omega-3, metabolic pathways were their focus.
The researchers discovered that omega-3 reduces regucalcin. Regucalcin isn’t very well understood, but it is known to be heavily involved in metabolism, likely causing a reduction in the use of fat for fuel. They also discovered that omega-3 was beneficial for the metabolism of fats in other ways, and improved protein synthesis while bolstering several energy systems at the same time.
Although the benefits of omega-3 for athletes and people with metabolic disorders seem clear after this study, the researchers used mice to obtain the results. While this factor doesn’t diminish the importance of the study, it does mean we need to look for these same findings in humans to be certain. Omega-3 needs to be further tested on people with various metabolic conditions to ensure that the study's results hold true. It would also be nice to know if more omega-3 is better.
Until we have further information, omega-3 is definitely safe to consume at the recommended levels. Omega-3 is abundant in many marine foods and some kinds of eggs, and of course can be supplemented. Be careful when taking omega-3 supplements, because many sources (liver-sourced omega-3 especially) are high in vitamin A, which can be toxic in large quantities. With more research in the future, we may even find out that omega-3 is safer and more effective in higher dosages.
1. Abeer Ahmed, et. al., “Novel regulatory roles of omega-3 fatty acids in metabolic pathways: a proteomics approach,” Nutrition & Metabolism 2014, 11:6.
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