Omega-3 fatty acids and our dietary habits
When consumed in sufficient quantities, the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish—eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)—can reduce the risk of sudden cardiac death and possibly protect against cognitive decline as people age. However, studies suggest that most Canadians are not consuming adequate levels of omega-3 fatty acids to reap their benefits. Making matters worse, dietary reporting of omega-3 consumption often becomes inaccurate when people are aware their health and eating habits are being scrutinized. So how can we determine that we’re getting enough omega-3 fatty acids? Dr. Ken Stark, Canada Research Chair in Nutritional Lipidomics, can provide the answer with just one drop of blood. Stark has developed a rapid and cost effective technique to profile the fatty acid in blood that can also decipher what people have been eating. In addition, Stark is investigating how the body processes omega-3 fats. He has also found that Canadian women have higher blood levels of DHA, one of the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish. His research suggests that women are not necessarily eating more DHA, but that women are better than men at converting plant-based omega-3 fatty acid linolenic acid, found in flaxseed, to DHA which has a greater effect on heart and brain health. Stark’s research on fatty acid profiling could be used for routine clinical screening to assess dietary habits and disease risk. It will also improve understanding of the metabolism of omega-3 fatty acids, thus leading to better dietary recommendations and better health outcomes.