Lately, I have been hearing a lot about the benefits of food high in omega-3 fatty acids. What are these exactly? What led to the sudden discovery of their benefits? Is food high in omega-3 good for people with cystic fibrosis?
Fatty acids are long, thin molecules which provide energy to the body’s cells. To store energy, the body combines fatty acids in groups of three, forming larger molecules called triglycerides. The body can produce certain fatty acids but others must be provided through diet. Saturated fatty acids are present in animal fat whereas unsaturated fatty acids are generally found in nuts and seeds. Omega-3 fatty acids are long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids. They are mostly found in fish and fish oil, but they can also be taken in concentrated form in capsules.
This type of fatty acid is primarily valued for its role in protecting against heart disease. This concept is based on observations that there were few cases of cardiovascular disease among the Inuit of Greenland, despite levels of bad cholesterol similar to those in the Danish population, which is more affected by this disease. The difference is believed to be attributable to the greater amount of fish, and consequently, omega-3, in the Inuit diet. The cardio-protective mechanisms include a reduction in triglycerides combined with an increase in good cholesterol, prevention of blood clots in the blood vessels and direct inhibition of blood vessel inflammation leading to arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).
Cardiovascular disease is not usually a problem for persons with cystic fibrosis. However, those who are also diabetic are at risk of developing arteriosclerosis, which is the cause of cardiovascular diseases. People with cystic fibrosis who have received a transplant could also be at risk of developing arteriosclerosis, because the drugs that prevent organ rejection (particularly cortisone) may lead to high blood pressure and diabetes, which are two conditions that promote arteriosclerosis. Diets high in omega-3 fatty acids could therefore be beneficial in these sub-populations, but there is no proof to date that the rest of the population would benefit.