Research Review: How do omega-3 fatty acids work? |

The omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) has been the focus of much research over the last few years. DHA is an important component of all of the body’s cell membranes, but DHA’s most important function is to act as a structural component of the brain. DHA is a precursor to a type of cellular membrane in the brain called the phospholipid bilayer.

Omega-3 fatty acids are an essential part of the human diet. They are often referred to as polyunsaturated fats, and the core omega-3 fatty acid is alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). ALA is found in foods such as plant and seed oils, including sunflower, flax, soy and hemp oils.

A recent review by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) of the research on omega-3 fatty acids (fats found in fish, nuts, and some oils) was published in the journal Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases. The study, conducted by the National Academy of Sciences, was reviewed and published by the NAS on the basis of peer-reviewed research. This review is the first comprehensive review of omega-3 fatty acids in the U.S.

I’m going to make a confession.

I’m a pushy person.

I always recommend omega-3 fatty acids to anyone who would listen.

  • Do you have elbow pain? Take some omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Is there a problem with your memory? Make a mental reminder to take some omega-3s.
  • Are you concerned about heart disease? Take omega-3s, for example.
  • Diabetic? Take omega-3s, for example.
  • Have you been diagnosed with asthma, psoriasis, dyslexia, depression, rheumatoid arthritis, high blood pressure, or are you obese? You know what to do, right?

You’re probably scratching your head right now. How can a single vitamin accomplish so much? I’m with you: I quickly dismiss X, Y, or Z medicine, vitamin, or new infomercial cleaner that claims to be able to accomplish practically anything as a fraud.

So, how may omega-3 fatty acids help with all of these issues?

Omega-3 fatty acids are nutritional powerhouses.

Omega-3 fatty acids and inflammation

Anti-inflammatory capabilities of omega-3 fatty acids are remarkable.

Now, when I mention “inflammation,” you’re probably thinking of the puffy red kind that happens when you drop something on your toes. Omega-3 fatty acids do aid with inflammation, but they also help with a lot more.

Joint discomfort, heart illness, and autoimmune diseases (asthma, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, and so on) are all inflammations, but chronic (long-term) inflammation rather than acute (short-term).

Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, is not good for us and is a vital component of the healing process. Chronic inflammation is similar to a “broken record” in the body: it gets trapped in a rut of being inflamed, which leads to various issues such as the immune system attacking itself.

Omega-3 fatty acids make us smarter.

Omega-3 fatty acids are also essential for brain cells because they give energy and help to form cell membranes. It should come as no surprise that happier and healthier brain cells lead to improved brain development and function, including memory.

According to one idea, our forefathers ate a lot of fish heavy in omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA (docosahexanoic acid), which is why we got smarter than our monkey cousins and then started living in condos with iPods and iPhones. (Wait, did it make you smarter?)

Omega-3 fatty acids help us to lose weight.

Omega-3 fatty acids can help us lose weight by improving insulin sensitivity and improving our bodies’ ability to use stored body fat for energy.

Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of fat that belongs to the omega-3 family.

I’ll give you the Coles Notes on lipids and fatty acid biochemistry before I get into how omega-3 fatty acids can do anything except save your soul (you might need a different sort of oil for that).

Fat: You’ve sliced it off your steak or rubbed it into your stomach, but what exactly is it? Fats are referred to as “lipids” by biochemistry students who want to appear knowledgeable.

They can’t dissolve in water, regardless of their name. Don’t be afraid to give it a shot: Stir a few drops of oil into a glass of water. I’ll be patient.

You didn’t try very hard, did you? Consider using a blender. Success! Or so you believe.

Even if it appears that the oil has dissolved, as in salad dressings, what you’ve done is made the oil droplets so small that you can’t recognize them as large oil droplets. However, they may still be seen under a microscope. (This is known as an emulsion, and it’s how true mayonnaise and possibly Green Goddess dressing are made.)


A delectable emulsion

Triglycerides, phospholipids, and sterols are the three forms of lipids found in food. We’ll focus on triglycerides for the time being.


Consider a triglyceride molecule to be a bookcase. Triglycerides have a frame (aka a backbone) called glycerol and three (“tri”) shelves called fatty acids, similar to how a bookcase has a frame and shelves. To form a triglyceride molecule, the three fatty acid “shelves” bind to glycerol.

The fatty acids might be short or long, and they can be more or less saturated, despite the fact that glycerol is the same in every triglyceride molecule (more on that in a bit). If you consider our bookshelf scenario, you can have shelves that only go a quarter, halfway, or all the way across the bookcase, as well as shelves that are thicker or thinner, holding more or less weight.

Another useful analogy is to consider biochemistry in terms of Lego blocks. Different molecules (Lego bricks) adhere to and detach from each other depending on a variety of factors, including what your body requires at any given time. Instead of a space station, a triglyceride molecule is made up of a glycerol brick and three fatty acid bricks.

Fatty acids, both long and short

Fatty acids range in length from less than 6 to more than 22 carbons. Short-chain, medium-chain, long-chain, and very-long-chain are some of the ingenious names for fatty acids of various lengths… Like when you were a kid and wanted a short, medium, long, or super-long Lego brick.

Saturation of fatty acids

A fatty acid might be more or less saturated depending on its length. If I throw you into a pool, your clothes will be saturated – with water. They become hydrogen-saturated when they come into contact with fatty acids.

Understanding how hydrogen bonds to fatty acid molecules is helpful in understanding saturation.

Warning! It’s chemistry 101 time!

Saturation and double bonds

Double bonds will come back to you if you remember your high school chemistry. Carbon atoms have four binding sites, similar to a trailer hitch that allows you to attach something to it. Carbon chains make up the majority of fatty acids. On both sides, each carbon is connected to its neighboring carbon as well as hydrogen. The other two binding sites (where there are no carbons) in saturated fatty acids will bind to hydrogen.

When a carbon atom loses a hydrogen atom, it forms a double bond with an adjacent carbon atom that is also missing a hydrogen atom since it has an additional trailer hitch free. Consider bonds to be rubber resistance bands: the more you have, the stronger they get.

Less hydrogened fatty acids have more double bonds and are less saturated.

  • Monounsaturated fatty acids have two fewer hydrogens and one double bond than saturated fatty acids.
  • There are a few extra hydrogens lacking in polyunsaturated fatty acids (usually between 4 and 6).

It’s crucial to know where these double bonds are on the fatty acid chain.

It’s an omega-6 fatty acid if the last double bond is on the 6th carbon from the end (omega being the last letter of the Greek alphabet). The last double bond in omega-3 fatty acids is the third from the terminal carbon.

Fatty acids that are necessary for life

Our bodies can produce the majority of the fatty acids we require, but we cannot produce two critical fatty acids: linoleic acid (LA) and alpha-linoleic acid (ALA) (ALA).

Linoleic acid is an omega-6 fatty acid (18 carbons, 2 double bonds, last one 6 from the end -18:2n-6), whereas alpha linoleic acid is an omega-3 fatty acid (18 carbons, 2 double bonds, last one 6 from the end -18:2n-6) (18:3n-3).

Figure 1 shows how these two fatty acids can be changed to other fatty acids, including DHA, which we’ll discuss today.

How Do O-3 FAs work Slide 1

Figure 1

See All About Healthy Fats and All About Fish Oil for further information on fatty acids.

Question for investigation

The omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA are anti-inflammatory and can sensitize cells to insulin, potentially improving and curing diabetes, according to this week’s analysis.

Oh, DY, and others. GPR120 is a receptor for omega-3 fatty acids that has anti-inflammatory and insulin-sensitizing properties. 142(5):687-98. Cell. 2010 Sep 3;142(5):687-98.


What a stunner!

Taking away what you believe is critical is the simplest approach to figure out how something works. For example, you may not understand how a car works yet believe that spark plugs and seat covers are crucial.

What should I do? The spark plugs are removed. So, what happens next? Your vehicle will not start. As a result, you decide that spark plugs are required to start your vehicle. You remove the seat coverings after replacing the spark plugs. So, what happens next? Because your car starts and everything appears to be in working order, seat covers are not required for it to run.

Mice are usually used in these “how does this work” investigations because you can genetically edit mice by removing something you think is significant. Because you’ve knocked out a gene, it’s called a knock-out mouse. A transgenic mouse is one that has had a gene added to it.

GPR120 is a receptor gene that was knocked off in this investigation (from the G protein-coupled receptor family). Researchers speculated that GPR120 could be an omega-3 sensor because other comparable receptors sense different fatty acids, and GPR120 is found in adipose tissue and immune cells (macrophages), thus location, location, location.

Because inflammation is caused by both fat and macrophages, and omega-3 fatty acids are effective at reducing inflammation, GPR120 could be the key to the process. If GPR120 is critical for omega-3 fatty acids’ anti-inflammatory properties, then removing it would render omega-3 fatty acids ineffective.

As a result, the researchers had their spark plugs and seat covers: half of the mice were normal, while the other half had GPR120. Half of the mice were GPR120 knockouts.

Researchers expected that omega-3 fatty acids would assist normal mice improve inflammation and insulin sensitivity, but that if GPR120 was the only way omega-3 fatty acids worked, they would do nothing for animals without it.

a diet high in fat

The mice were fed a standard high-fat diet for 12 weeks before switching to a comparable high-fat diet with rich omega-3 fatty acids (60 percent fat with 27 percent coming from menhaden fish oil made up of 9 percent DHA and 16 percent EPA). Then they looked at what occurred to the mice, concentrating on immune cells in particular (macrophages).

Results & conclusion

The first thing they discovered was that omega-3 fatty acids increased the production of GPR120 in fat and proinflammatory macrophages, resulting in decreased inflammation (using specific proteins involved in inflammation as indicators).

The mice were obese, with a lot of inflammation and insulin resistance, after a 12-week diet, just like humans.

  • When mice with GPR120 (normal mice) ate omega-3 fatty acids, their inflammation and insulin resistance decreased.
  • Inflammation and insulin resistance were also present in mice lacking GPR120 (knockout mice).

GPR120 is involved in the action of omega-3 fatty acids.

Figure 2 is a simplified schematic of what the researchers believe is going on for clarity’s sake. There are far more proteins and arrows in reality.

Schematic of how DHA through GPR120 is anti-inflammatory. From Figure 3I, Oh 2010.

Figure 2: The anti-inflammatory effects of DHA via GPR120 are depicted schematically. Oh 2010, from Figure 3I.

DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid, binds to GPR120 and sets off a chain reaction that inhibits inflammatory signals (from TNF-alpha and LPS proteins). Anti-inflammatory drugs usually block one line of dominoes or a small subset of them, but not all of them.

As a result, DHA acts as a large bottleneck, whereas other anti-inflammatory drugs act as minor roadblocks.


Anti-inflammatories from other sources



In conclusion

DHA and EPA are omega-3 fatty acids that operate by blocking inflammatory pathways in the cell. They obstruct not one, but several pathways. The anti-inflammatory effects of omega-3 appear to be particularly sensitive to immune cells (macrophages).

As a result, my fondness for omega-3s has been validated.

If you want to understand more, go to Cell’s website and watch the video.

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When it comes to heart health, a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids may be more beneficial than eating fish. Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats found in fatty fish, leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, and fortified foods like eggs, milk, and cereal. When added to food, omega-3 fatty acids are known as omega-3 fatty acids because they are essential to human health. Omega-3 fatty acids play a vital role in maintaining heart health because they have been shown to improve blood flow to the heart, which reduces the risk of heart disease.. Read more about omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids examples and let us know what you think.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How do omega-3 fatty acids work?

Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fatty acid that is found in fish oil, walnuts, and flaxseed. They have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke by lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Is Omega-3 scientifically proven?

Omega-3 is a fatty acid that has been proven to have many health benefits.

Does Omega-3 actually do anything?

Omega-3 is a type of fatty acid that can be found in fish oil. It has been shown to have many benefits, such as improving mood and cognitive function.

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