Omega-3 fatty acids are a family of polyunsaturated fatty acids, some of which are beneficial for the body. Some of these nutritionally important omega-3 fatty acids are a-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Unfortunately, plants are the only organisms that can naturally produce omega-3. This is why plants, especially seeds, contain high amounts of omega-3 fatty acid. And among these plant sources, flaxseed contains the most omega-3. Fish get their Omega-3 from the plankton or algae they feed on (e.g., herring, sardines and anchovies). Carnivorous fish such as salmon and cod get their omega-3 from the smaller fish they eat.
Omega-3 fatty acids have been used to improve general health for centuries through the intake of cod liver oil. This practice was first observed by the people from fishing communities of northern Europe since they believed that cod liver oil could improve their body’s resistance against the extreme cold.
In the 1920s, American scientists discovered that rats deprived of polyunsaturated fatty acids developed symptoms of illness. They concluded that polyunsaturated fatty acids were vital for bodily function and named them vitamin F.
By the 1930s, more people were aware of the health benefits of polyunsaturated fatty acids. A testament to its popularity is that mothers were giving their children cod liver oil, and in the fifties, the nutraceutical industry based on omega-3 supplements was flourishing. In the 1980s, a Danish scientist discovered that omega-3 fatty acids played a central role in immunity, platelet aggregation and inflammation.
Now omega-3 supplements are consumed all over the world. In fact, omega-3 supplements are not only used by humans, but also by dogs, who are now able to enjoy the health benefits of omega-3.
Plant Omega-3 versus Fish Omega-3
Which is better for your dog? Unless your dog is allergic to fish, omega-3 from fish oil is always better than omega-3 from plant sources. Most people will find this answer surprising because it is popular knowledge that plant sources especially flaxseed oil contains higher amounts of omega-3 than fish oil. Furthermore, more people are now ambivalent of consuming fish high in omega- 3 because of studies showing that their flesh contains heavy metals and fat-soluble pollutants.
However, fish oil remains the better choice. It is true that plant sources have more omega-3 but it is in the form of a-linolenic acid or ALA. What is most beneficial for your dog is eicosapentaenoic acid or EPA. Although the dog’s system can convert ALA to EPA, the process is not as efficient.
In addition, when it comes to the issue of heavy metals and fat-soluble pollutants they should not be a source of concern as you have to consume very large amounts of fish or fish oil before you will see any side effects. Also, fish oil products are highly regulated and are generally very safe.
Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids play an important role in many bodily functions. This is the reason why it can also be called essential fatty acids. In veterinary medicine, it has only been a recent practice where omega-3 is used to control inflammation and maintain joint health as in the past omega-3 was used merely for its ability to improve the dog’s skin and coat.
Currently, an omega-3 supplement is a necessary part of any dog arthritis treatment plan. Omega-3 fatty acids’ benefits are threefold. Firstly, it is able to reduce inflammation. Although this may sound confusing, omega-3 is actually pro-inflammatory but to a lesser extent. The explanation why a pro-inflammatory agent can reduce inflammation is quite complex. However, in simple words, omega-3 is able to reduce inflammation because it competes with other enzymes that are pro-inflammatory. Therefore, when omega-3 is used instead of the other pro-inflammatory agents by the body during injury or infection, the resulting inflammation is much less. Secondly, omega-3 slows down cartilage damage. A study done at Cardiff University in Wales found that omega-3 from cod liver oil was able to reduce the amount of enzymes produced that can damage the cartilage in human patients. Plus, it also showed a reduction in the enzymes that cause joint pain. Lastly, omega-3 reduces the genetic expression of inflammatory molecules. The mechanism behind this is that omega-3 is able to reduce the level of TNF-alpha, a pro inflammatory mediator, responsible for the release of MMP (matrix metalloproteinases) enzymes, which are enzymes released by connective tissue cells in response to the presence of inflammation. Also, omega-3, specifically DHA and EPA, are precursors for potent anti-inflammatory lipids called resolvins and protectins.
Aside from dog arthritis and unhealthy skin and coat, omega-3 can be useful in the following situations:
- Allergies and autoimmune conditions
- Yeast infections
- To encourage the proper development of the retina and visual cortex
- Heart problems
- Certain type of cancers
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