Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats that you must get from your diet. These incredibly healthy fats have important benefits for your body and brain. However, most people who eat a standard Western diet are not eating enough omega 3 fats. Not even close. This is the ultimate beginner’s guide to omega-3 fatty acids.
What Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids?
Omega-3 fatty acids are a family of polyunsaturated fats that we must get from the diet. They are also called n-3 or ω-3 fatty acids.
They are termed essential fatty acids because they are needed for health, but the body can not produce them on its own like other fats.
The polyunsaturated part means that the fatty acids have several double bonds in the chemical structure. Omega-6 fatty acids are another type of polyunsaturated fat.
The “omega” naming convention has to do with the placement of the double bond on the fatty acid molecule. Omega-3s have the first double bond placed 3 carbon atoms away from the omega end.
The 3 Main Types of Omega-3 Fats
There are many fatty acids that technically belong to the omega-3 family.
These three are the most important:
1. EPA (Eicosapentaenoic Acid)
EPA is a 20-carbon long omega-3 fatty acid. It is primarily found in fatty fish, seafood and fish oil.
The main function of EPA is being turned into important signalling molecules called eicosanoids. This can lead to reduced inflammation (5).
EPA has been found to be particularly effective against certain mental conditions, especially depression (6).
2. DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid)
DHA is a 22-carbon long omega-3 fatty acid. It is primarily found in fatty fish, seafood, fish oils and algae.
The main function of DHA is being a structural component in cell membranes, particularly in nerve cells in the brain and eyes. It constitutes about 40% of polyunsaturated fats in the brain (7).
DHA is very important during pregnancy and breastfeeding. It is absolutely crucial for the nervous system during development, and breast milk contains significant amounts of DHA (8, 9, 10, 11).
3. ALA (Alpha-Linolenic Acid)
ALA is an 18-carbon long omega-3 fatty acid. It is found in high-fat plant foods, especially flax seeds, chia seeds and walnuts.
Despite being the most common omega-3 fat in the diet, ALA is not very active in the body. It needs to be converted into EPA and DHA in order to become active.
Unfortunately, this process is highly inefficient in humans. Only about 5% gets converted into EPA, and as little as 0.5% get converted into DHA.
For this reason, ALA should never be relied on as the sole omega-3 source. Most of the ALA you eat will simply be used for energy.
Bottom Line: There are three main types of omega-3 fats in the diet. EPA and DHA are found in seafood and fish, while ALA is mostly found in high-fat plant foods.
Health Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are among the most comprehensively studied nutrients on earth.
They have been shown to have powerful health benefits for various body systems.
Blood triglycerides: Omega-3 supplements can lower blood triglycerides significantly.
Cancer: Consuming foods high in omega-3 has been linked to reduced risk of colon, prostate and breast cancer.
However, not all studies agree.
Fatty Liver: Taking omega-3 fatty acid supplements can help get rid of excess fat from the liver.
Depression and Anxiety: Taking omega-3 supplements, such as fish oil, can help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Inflammation and Pain: Omega 3s can reduce inflammation and symptoms of various autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis. They are also very effective at reducing menstrual pain.
ADHD: In children with ADHD, omega-3 supplements can significantly improve various symptoms.
Asthma: Omega-3s may help prevent asthma in children and young adults.
Baby Development: DHA taken during pregnancy and breastfeeding can improve the baby’s intelligence and eye health.
Dementia: Some studies link a higher omega-3 intake to reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
Bottom Line: Omega-3 fatty acids have been studied thoroughly. They have been shown to fight depression, reduce fatty liver, lower blood triglycerides and help prevent asthma, to name a few.
How Much Omega-3 to Take For Optimal Health
There is no specific recommended daily intake for omega-3 fatty acids.
Mainstream health organizations like the World Health Organizations and European Food Safety Authority recommend a minimum of 250-500 mg combined EPA and DHA each day for healthy adults.
The American Heart Association recommends eating fatty fish at least two times per week in order to ensure optimal omega-3 intake for heart disease prevention.
For pregnant and breastfeeding women, it is recommended to add an additional 200 mg of DHA on top of the recommended intake.
If you are trying to improve a specific health condition, then ask your doctor for dosage recommendations.Keep in mind that your omega-6 intake may partly determine how much omega-3 you need. Cutting back on omega-6 may reduce your requirement for omega-3.
Bottom Line: It is generally recommended to eat fatty fish at least two times per week, or to take at least 250-500 mg combined EPA and DHA per day from a supplement.
Should You Take an Omega-3 Supplement?
The best way to ensure optimal omega-3 intake is to eat fatty fish at least twice a week.
However, if you don’t eat a lot of fatty fish or seafood, then it is probably a good idea to take a supplement.
In fact, most of the studies on the benefits of omega-3 used supplements, so they can definitely be beneficial.
Good supplements with EPA and DHA include fish oil and krill oil. For vegetarians and vegans, taking a DHA supplement made from algae is recommended.
When it comes to omega-3 supplements, there are many choices and not all of them are good. Some supplements may even contain harmful compounds because of pollution in the sea.
For more details, read this in-depth guide to omega-3 supplements. In this article are also several high-quality brands that we recommend.
Bottom Line: People who do not eat fatty fish or seafood often should consider taking an omega-3 supplement. Fish oil and krill oil are good choices, and DHA from algae is recommended for vegetarians and vegans.
Safety and Side Effects
When it comes to nutrition, more is not always better.
Same as with many other nutrients, there is an upper limit to how much you should take.
According to the FDA, taking up to 2000 mg of combined EPA and DHA per day from supplements is safe.
In high doses, omega 3s can cause blood thinning and excessive bleeding. Speak to your doctor if you have a bleeding disorder or are taking blood thinning medications.
Some omega-3 supplements, especially fish oil, can also cause digestive problems and unpleasant fish oil burps.
Another thing to keep in mind is that many omega-3 supplements are high in calories. Cod liver oil is also very high in vitamin A, which can be harmful in large doses.
Make sure to read and follow the dosage instructions.
Bottom Line: Taking up to 2000 mg of omega-3 per day from supplements is safe according to the FDA. Speak to a doctor if you take blood thinning medications or have a bleeding disorder.
Foods High in Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Getting plenty of omega-3 fats from whole foods is actually not that hard, at least not if you eat fish.
Here are a few foods that are very high in omega-3:
Salmon: 4023 mg per serving (EPA and DHA).
Cod Liver Oil: 2664 mg per serving (EPA and DHA).
Sardines: 2205 mg per serving (EPA and DHA).
Anchovies: 951 mg per serving (EPA and DHA).
Flax Seeds: 2338 mg per serving (ALA).
Chia Seeds: 4915 mg per serving (ALA).
Walnuts: 2542 mg per serving (ALA).
Other foods that are high in EPA and DHA include most types of fatty fish. Meat, eggsand dairy products from grass-fed or pasture-raised animals also contain decent amounts.
Several other common plant foods are also high in the omega 3 fatty acid ALA. This includes soybeans, hemp seeds and walnuts. Some vegetables also contain small amounts, including spinach and Brussel’s sprouts.
Bottom Line: Foods that are very high in EPA and DHA include salmon, cod liver oil, sardines, anchovies, flax seeds and chia seeds. Foods that are high in ALA include flax seeds, chia seeds and walnuts.
When it comes to Omega-3, Life Retreat has you covered at every base! Ground Flax Seed is highly recommended for the general well-being of the body.
Mega Omega Supreme is supremely potent and supremely pure. A Norwegian formula in convenient capsule form.