Know Your Nutrients: Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Not only does your body need Omega-3 fatty acids to function, these fats also provide some hella’ big health benefits!

The main (and most regarded1,2) of the Omega-3 fatty acids are aIpha- linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic  acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid
(DHA), comprising an important group of polyunsaturated fats—in other words, these are the “good” kind of fat.


An important group indeed, Omega-3s reform the structure, flexibility, and activity of the cell membrane-bound enzymes and cell-signaling pathway in your body for
red blood cells, immune cells, and cardiac tissue.1-3 These fatty acids also provide
a starting point for the creation of the hormones that moderate blood-clotting
and inflammation. Each fatty acid plays a role in your cardiovascular system, nervous system, immune system, optical system, and endocrine system.1-3

Normally the fat we need can be produced using materials already present inside
our bodies, but when it comes to ALA fatty acid, the body must rely on food or supplements.2,3 ALA is an essential short- fatty acid, meaning it has fewer than six carbon atoms and cannot be formed in the human body.1 EPA and DHA are long-fatty

acids (14 or more carbon atoms) that, along with the help of enzymes, are converted in the body from ALA.1,2,4 In fact, it takes three reactions to convert ALA to EPA and four to turn EPA into DHA.4 But a lack of enzyme activity can interfere with the conversion of ALA to EPA and DHA, ultimately affecting its efficiency.4 Thelackofenzymeactivitycan be due to genetics, age, poor dietary habits, and/or poor overall health. Thus, it might
be beneficial to your body to supplement it with EPA and DHA fatty acids (see the section “Should I Supplement?).2-4


ALA is found in plants and plant oils.2,5 Flax seeds, avocado, nuts (walnuts are loaded), seeds, soybeans, flax seed oil, vegetable oil (olive, soybean, peanut, canola), and leafy vegetables are the best sources.2,5 The daily recommend amount depends on factors

like age, sex, and pregnancy. Women (18 years of age or older) should consume at least 1.1g of ALA daily, and men (18 years of age or older) should consume at least 1.6g.6 ALA is the only fatty acid of Omega- 3s to have established recommended daily amounts to consume.6 ALA fatty acids reduce the risk of stroke, decrease the inflammation and oxidation that’s associated with cardiovascular diseases, has anti-inflammatory properties, and might improve symptoms of depression.5


EPA can support the heart by reducing blood vessel constriction while DHA is vital for neurological and visual development
and function; mass amounts can be located in the cell membranes of the retina.1-3,6,7 It also enhances memory, improves learning abilities, and basically strengthens the central nervous system.3,6,7 Both EPA and DHA support the immune system by turning off inflammatory responses.1,3,7 They both can be found in fish (primarily fatty fish
like salmon, tuna, herring, mackerel, and sardines), fish oil, and other seafood.6,7 The United States Food and Drug Administration suggests no more than 3g per day of EPA and DHA combined.6


Fish can cause toxicant-related damage
to the body due to pollutants in the water and environment.8,9 Man-made chemicals that contaminate salmon and other fish have been linked to cancer and Type 2 diabetes.8,9 The methylmercury found in most types of fish, for example, hinders neurological development and can cause brain damage, especially for young children.10 Taking an EPA/DHA supplement derived from algae is a safer, healthier, and effective plant-based option.11 Moreover, the primary producer of DHA in the marine food chain is the algae that fish consume.11,12 Consult with a healthcare provider for individual dosing amounts and recommendations.


High doses of Omega-3 supplements can lead to bleeding and immunity problems.6 Usually, higher levels of fish oil/Omega-3 supplements are prescribed for a pre-existing medical condition and are monitored by a healthcare physician. Over-consuming Omega-3s can cause temporary stomach issues like bloating and diarrhea.3 Most people in the United States get the recommended amount of ALA from their food alone, as well as the necessary small amounts of EPA and DHA.6 Though an Omega-3 deficiency is rare, the signs include rough, scaly skin and a red, swollen, itchy rash.6 Overall, eating and possibly supplementing based on your needs and lifestyle are the best ways to satisfy the daily recommended amount of Omega-3s.


  1. Cholewski M, Tomczykowa M, Tomczyk M. A comprehensive review of chemistry, sources and bioavailability of Omega-3 fatty acids. Nutrients. 2018;10(11):1662.
  2. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health site. Omega-3 fatty acids: an essential


fats-and-cholesterol/types-of-fat/omega-3-fats/. Accessed 27 Jan 2020.

  • Bradberry JC, Hilleman DE. Overview of omega-3 Fatty Acid therapies. P T.


  • DHA-EPA Omega-3 Institute site. Conversion efficiency of ALA to DHA in humans.

Humans. Accessed 27 Jan 2020.

  • Blondeau N, Lipsky RH, Bourourou M, et al. Alpha-linolenic acid: an omega-3 fatty

acid with neuroprotective properties-ready for use in the stroke clinic?. Biomed Res

Int. 2015;2015:519830.

  • National Institutes of Health: Office of Dietary Supplements site. Omega-3 Fatty

Acids. 2019.

Accessed 27 Jan 2020.

  • Oregon State University site. Essential fatty acids.

other-nutrients/essential-fatty-acids. Accessed 27 Jan 2020.

  • GrandjeanP,HenriksenJE,ChoiAL,etal.Marinefoodpollutantsasariskfactorfor

hypoinsulinemia. Epidemiology. 2011 May;22(3):410–417.

  • Guo W, Pan B, Sakkiah S, et al. Persistent organic pollutants in food: contamination

sources, health effects, and detection methods. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2019

Nov 8;16(22).

  1. Lando AM, Zhang Y. Awareness and knowledge of methylmercury in fish in the

United States. Environ Res. 2011 Apr;111(3):442–450.

  1. Röhrl C, Stübl F, Maier M, et al. Increased cellular uptake of polyunsaturated fatty

acids and phytosterols from natural micellar oil. Nutrients. 2020 Jan 5;12(1).

  1. Craddock JC, Neale EP, Probst YC, Peoples GE. Algal supplementation of vegetarian eating patterns improves plasma and serum docosahexaenoic acid concentrations

and omega-3 indices: a systematic literature review. J Hum Nutr Diet. 2017 Dec;30(6):693-699. NHR

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