Omega 3 fats are a group of polyunsaturated fats defined chemically by their structure. In this regard they have their first double bond 3 carbons from their terminal methyl end. Nutritionally the omega 3 fats are important because the group contains the essential fatty acid alpha linolenic acid (ALA, C18:3 (n-3)). The group also contains some of the long chain marine oils including eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA, C20:5 (n-3)) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA, C22:6 (n-3)). Theses long chain fatty acids feed into the omega 3 essential fatty acid pathway, and in this way can supply important cellular precursors that regulate cell function, even in the absence of ALA. Consumption of EPA and DHA has been shown to have a number of beneficial biochemical effects, particularly the inhibition of inflammation. This reduction in inflammation can subsequently reduce levels of oxidative stress, and this then explains the protective effects fish oils possess against Western lifestyle diseases.
One disease that has been suggested to be reduced in prevalence amongst those with adequate omega 3 fatty acid intake is cancer. A number of studies have investigated the effects of omega 3 fatty acids from fish oils on cancer risk. In particular, a number of large scale epidemiology studies have been performed. For example, in one such study researchers investigated the association between the intake of omega 3 fatty acid from fish oil with the risk of pancreatic cancer in Japanese men and women. The results of the study showed that consumption of three omega 3 marine oils [including EPA, DHA and docosapentaenoic acid (DPA, C22:5 (n-3))] as well as DHA on its own, showed an inverse association with pancreatic cancer. Total fish intake, EPA, omega 3 total polyunsaturated fatty acid intake and DPA showed similar protective effects but the results did not reach statistical significance. Therefore omega 3 fatty acids from fish oils are associated with protective effects against pancreatic cancer.
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