The role of fats and oils in human nutrition, and their impact on health has been studied for decades. Fatty acids with slight differences in the structure can have very different metabolic effect. Fats are an essential part of the diet, and their functions in the body are numerous. They serve as a source of energy necessary for the absorption of fat soluble vitamins, are an integral component of tissue and are a part of cell membranes. Polyunsaturated fatty acids, known as omega-3 and omega-6, have an additional unique feature of acting on the synthesis of prostaglandins, substances similar to hormones that modulate a number of inflammatory processes in the body.
Despite all the knowledge about the health problems caused by high blood pressure, this is a problem in the Croatian population is still insufficiently recognized. About 40% of Croats suffer from high blood pressure and women are more affected than men. It is believed that the nutritional factors may be associated with 30 – 75% of cases of hypertension, and obesity and overweight are responsible for 11 – 25%. Nutritional interventions have proven to be effective in reducing high blood pressure as well as delaying the hypertension disease. Also, changes in eating habits significantly improve the efficiency of pharmacotherapy.
Reducing blood pressure by 5-6 mmHg lead to a reduction in the risk of stroke by 40% and the risk of cardiovascular disease by 14% and mild hypertension therapy reduces mortality by 20%.
A large number of scientific studies over the past two decades were carried out to determine the impact of the consumption of salt or sodium-rich diet on the incidence of hypertension. Meta-analysis of 28 studies showed that a mild food restriction of sodium causes significant lowering blood pressure in people with hypertension. Also, a number of studies proved that omega-3 fatty acids have an antihypertensive effect.
It is often suggested that the lack of omega-3 fatty acids is “scurvy of nowadays ” because during the last 150 years, the consumption of omega-3 fatty acids has decreased by 80%, while that the omega-6 fatty acids has increased by several hundred percent. One of the most challenging dietary measures that can have a significant impact on population health refers to the increased intake of omega-3 fatty acids such as alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
Adequate intake of omega-3 fatty acid is considered an important factor in preventing the onset of various diseases such as arthritis, some cancers, cardiovascular disease, and depression. Evidence derived from conducted epidemiological studies and clinical researches indicate that omega-3 fatty acids play an important role in preventing heart disease and healthy blood vessels. Clinical experiments that include EPA, DHA and alpha-linolenic acid showed a detraction from risks that can be compared with the results obtained in experiments with the drug for lowering lipids in the blood.
How to increase the intake of omega-3 fatty acids?
Increased intake of omega-3 fatty acids is recommended to all people who follow a typical diet of today, the share of these important fatty acids is far lower than it was in the history of mankind.
Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids are the most common fish of the North sea:
- cod and sardines
- shark and
- marine algae
Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in:
- flaxseed oil
- marine phytoplankton
- pelagic fish.
In linseed oils and nuts we find alpha-linolenic acid which is transformed into the long-chain fatty acids in our organism, such as those originating from fish, but this conversion are relatively weak, especially in the elderly and infants.
Food supplements are concentrated sources of omega-3 fatty acids. When selecting products, we should look for highly concentrated products that are purified and standardized, that contain the exact amount of EPA and DHA. When it comes to taking additional omega-3 fatty acids for the purpose of lowering high blood pressure, researchers have found that 3-6 grams of omega-3 (EPA + DHA) taken for 6 weeks, can lower systolic blood pressure by 5-6 mm Hg and diastolic pressure by 3-5 mmHg.
Reduced salt intake, processed foods and saturated fats, and intake of dietary supplements such as omega-3 fatty acids should be conducted with changed lifestyle, firstly with reduction of excess body weight and regular physical activity.