Long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (n-3 LC-PUFAs) have benefits regarding cardiovascular and inflammatory function, certain types of cancer, and maternal and infant health, according to recent peer-reviewed studies.
These beneficial fatty acids are found naturally in fatty fish, but breakthrough research shows that bioengineered plants can produce them. Summaries of these studies are presented in the June 2004 issue of the PUFA Newsletter.
Plants make the precursors of LC-PUFAs, but are unable to synthesize the beneficial long-chain forms. Researchers at Bristol University, U.K., introduced three genes involved in converting PUFAs into LC-PUFAs into mouse ear cress (Arabidopsis thaliana). Significant amounts of n-3 LC-PUFAs were produced by the biotech cress.
"Using biotechnology to produce LC-PUFAs in oilseed crops would greatly expand the availability of these beneficial fatty acids in food and feed for human and animal nutrition," says PUFA Newsletter editor Joyce A. Nettleton, D.Sc. "This is extremely promising research." Another landmark study reported that the risk of blood and lymph cancers, including leukemia, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, and myeloma, is inversely related to fish consumption. This relationship is particularly strong for leukemia in men.
"The significant reduction in cancer risk is associated with the increased proportion of dietary energy from fish," Nettleton says. "Blood and lymph cancers have received less attention than hormone-linked cancers."
New cardiovascular studies suggest that heart arrhythmia can be mitigated with n-3 LC-PUFAs and heart risk factors in postmenopausal women reduced with the consumption of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an n-3 LC-PUFA. The former study provides direct evidence that omega-3s can inhibit abnormally rapid heartbeats. In the latter study, DHA supplementation in postmenopausal women, independent of hormone therapy status, decreased their serum triglycerides by 20% and increased their "good" cholesterol by 8%.
All of these research findings are good news in light of a prediction in the June 2004 PUFA Newsletter that by the year 2020, the top health burdens worldwide will be cardiovascular disease, perinatal conditions, and mental illnesses. These problems are linked to a distorted pattern of fatty acid consumption that can be mitigated by n-3 LC-PUFAs.
"It's the type of fat, not the amount, that is key," Nettleton concluded. The quarterly PUFA Newsletter is sponsored by DSM Nutritional Products, Inc., of The Netherlands.