Omega-3 Deficiency: At the Heart of Metabolic Syndrome

by Douglas MacKay, N.D.

The omega-3s, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are essential fatty acids (EFAs) necessary for optimal health and wellness. As an "essential nutrient," these EFAs must be obtained through the diet because they cannot be produced in sufficient quantities by the body. Thousands of scientific publications indicate that these essential nutrients are required to maintain health in humans. Combine this with the fact that a majority of Americans currently suffer with one health condition or another, such as heart disease, metabolic syndrome, arthritis, obesity, neurodegenerative disease, auto-immune disorders, and inflammation, and this may indicate a direct link of disease to rampant omega-3 deficiency in this country.


Although there are no daily intakes currently recommended, EPA and DHA are fundamental components of human nutrition and affect biological processes during every stage of life. A sufficient and steady supply of omega-3s is an absolute requirement for normal development of humans that begins in pregnancy.

Adequate omega-3 intake has been associated with higher cognition, more mature brain development, and lower incidence of type I diabetes in infants and children. Post partum, DHA is a predominant component of human breast milk. Children born to mothers with higher omega-3 status have been found to have better IQs, coordination, and other measures of mental function when compared to mothers with low omega-3 intake. Yet, a recent survey exploring prenatal nutrition revealed that 50% of the pregnant women interviewed had never even heard of DHA and 68% were never told by their obstetrician of its importance.

Research shows that a low level of omega-3s in children is associated with higher incidence of attention, learning, and behavior problems. Conversely, children getting enough EPA and DHA have lower rates of respiratory disorders, inflammatory skin diseases, and allergies. Omega-3s continue to help children as they transition into their teen-age years. Studies show higher omega-3 intake may reduce hostility and improve attention in teens.

As we mature into mid-life, long-term omega-3 deficiency may result in the development of one or several overlapping chronic disease states discussed above.

Omega-3 deficiency, or more accurately Omega-3 deficiency in conjunction with gross over-consumption of Omega-6 oils (from corn, soy, safflower, and other vegetable oils), may be the root of obesity and related metabolic dysfunctions that have become an epidemic worldwide.


The health benefits of EPA and DHA boil down to a few simple concepts. First and foremost, EPA and DHA are absolutely essential for basic cellular health. EPA and DHA are required constituents of every cell membrane from head to toe. As constituents of cell membranes, EPA and DHA are major determinants of how well cells work.

The second major influence of EPA and DHA is related to their function as precursors to eicosanoids. Eicosanoids are short-lived, potent, hormone-like molecules that act as messengers and mediators of the immune and inflammatory systems. There are a wide variety of eicosanoids produced during an immune response, each with a different action and intensity.

When the immune system is triggered into action, individual fatty acids are released from the cell membrane. Once released from the cell membrane, they are taken up by the enzymes cyclooxygenase (COX) and lipoxygenase (LOX) and converted into eicosanoids. EPA and DHA are then converted into specific eicosanoids that support the body's natural anti-inflammatory response.

The predominant fatty acids consumed in the Western diet are the omega-6 fats, linoleic acid, and arachidonic acid. Omega-6s and omega-3s compete for binding sites on the enzymes (COX and LOX) for conversion into eicosanoids. The critical difference is that the corresponding eicosanoids synthesized from omega-6s drive a very aggressive and potent inflammatory response, while the omega-3s, EPA and DHA, support the body's anti-inflammatory response.

The over-consumption of omega-6 oils, with a relative deficiency of omega-3s, result in the sustained production of pro-inflammatory mediators. This process is known as chronic inflammation and causes metabolic changes that are considered major contributors to obesity, poor blood sugar control, and heart disease.

International experts recommend a minimum of 650 mg of omega-3s (EPA and DHA combined) for adults. The American Heart Association recommends 1 to 4 g of EPA plus DHA daily for individuals that have risk factors of heart disease and metabolic syndrome. Eating enough fish to achieve therapeutic levels of EPA and DHA is difficult and may result in exposure to dangerous levels of environmental contaminants such as heavy metals.

High-quality fish oil that is fresh and free of environmental contaminants is the best, safest, and most effective way to obtain EPA and DHA. However, not all fish oil supplements are created equal. To achieve the maximum health benefits of fish oil, the product must be manufactured carefully to remove contaminants while preventing oxidative damage to the oil.

Nordic Naturals has focused on fish oil for over a decade and continues to set the industry standard for the highest quality omega-3 supplements. Nordic Naturals continually raises the bar when it comes to harvesting fish responsibly, removing environmental contaminants, and preserving freshness via strict attention to manufacturing. The best thing about Nordic Naturals fish oils is consumers can take them every day, without worrying of the taste of fish repeating on them, thus getting all of the benefits of a regular and steady intake of EPA and DHA.

The science is clear: EPA and DHA from fish and fish oil may be our best tool to stem the current epidemic of heart disease, obesity, and related metabolic disorders. Nordic Naturals makes this possible by providing a safe and great tasting range of fish oil products for the whole family.