You’ve probably heard good stuff about omega-3 fatty acids. Why are Omega-3 fatty acids all the rage? Healthy sources of dietary fat are a huge part of a wellness diet. Fats are used to:
- Stimulate proper cell health (all of our cells membranes are made of fatty acids)
- Help absorb certain vitamins (like A, D, E, and K)
- Promote healthy skin and joints
- Support brain and cardiovascular health (our brains are made up of 60% fat!)
Omega-3 is one of our “essential” fatty acids, which means that our body doesn’t manufacture it on its own so we have to take it in through our diet.There is accumulating evidence that genetic predisposition in genes like CD36, NOS3 and PPARG may also affect the need for fish oil supplements.
Omega 3s in particular have been associated with several specific health benefits, like helping to reduce inflammation, supporting the cardiovascular system, and promoting overall brain and neurological function.
There are a differences in omega-3s. Which ones do we need to know about?
There are 4 forms of omega-3s found in different food sources:
- EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid, C20:5, n-3*)
- DHA (docosahexaenoic acid, C22:6, n-3)
- DPA (docosapentaenoic acid , C22:5, n-3)
- ALA (alpha-linolenic acid, C18:3, n-3) – plants
…and forms of omega-6s found in many processed food sources.
- ARA (arachidonic acid
- LA (linoleic acid
Where can we find them exactly?
EPA, DHA and DPA are found mostly in wild, cold-water fish like salmon, sardines, shrimp, flounder, and trout (among others). These types of omega-3s have been associated with many of the brain and cardiovascular benefits related to healthy fats. These types are high in fish because they come from algae—that’s why algae oil supplements have become a popular plant-based alternative to fish and fish oils.
DHA is the most abundant omega-3 fat in the brain, making up 90% of the total omega content of the brain and 15-20% of the brain’s total lipid content.
The forth form of omega-3 is ALA, which is found in plant-based omega-3 sources like chia seeds, walnuts, hemp seeds, flaxseed, canola, and many other nuts and seeds. ALA can be converted to EPA and DHA in the body, but it requires larger amounts to do so.
Omega 3 v. Omega 6: What’s the diff?
Omega-3s are known to be more anti-inflammatory, while omega-6s are known to be pro-inflammatory. Omega-6 is found in vegetable oils and ultra-processed food, and since processed food currently makes up over 60% of the standard American diet, many people are taking in too much.
An aspect of fatty acids metabolism that gets a lot of attention is the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3. The standard American diet tends to be very rich in sources of omega-6 fats and deficient in adequate sources of omega-3 — this ratio has been reported to be as high as 10:1 to 20:1, while recommendations promote a balance closer to 4:1 or 2:1. The body will maintain the ratio as long as sufficient omega-3 is provided in the diet or as supplements.