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Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Facts About the Healthy Fats

Omega-3 Fatty acids are healthy fats you eat without the guilt and with huge health benefits” –Anonymous celebrity nutritionist

 

Want to shed some weight?

Thinking of an intelligent kid?

Are you suffering from terrible joint pain?

Want a celebrity-like skin?

What about a healthy heart?

Are you depressed and anxious?

Omega-3 comes as a one-stop solution for all these questions and many more.

Let’s delve into some fact findings of this powerful healthy nutrition.

This blog will cover:

  • Types of Omega-3 Fatty Acids- It Matters What Type You Eat
  • The Structural Diagram of Omega-3 Acids
  • ALA, EPA, and DHA- Omega-3s- Composite Health Benefits
  • The Recommended Daily Intake (RDI)
  • Omega-6 and Omega-3 Fatty Acids- Ratio Matters
  • All Omega-3’s are not Created Equal
  • Side Effects of Omega-3S
  • Takeaway

Types of Omega-3 Fatty Acids- It Matters What Type You Eat

Sampling-of-omega-3-fatty-acids-ALA-EPA-and-DHA

They are long chain fatty acids, the body can’t produce. So we need to incorporate them to our daily diet.

There are primarily three omega-3 fatty acids under the umbrella of Omega-3 fatty acids:

alpha-Linolenic acid (ALA)

Icosapentaenoic acid (EPA)

Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)

ALA offers different health value than more critical EPA and DHA. Collectively, they offer a repertoire of benefits to our overall health from brain health to up-keeping the cell membranes and providing younger looking skin.

If you are really curious about what omega 3 is in a chemical sense, then read the following paragraph and check the chemical structure to find the clue for omega-3.

The Structural Diagram of Omega-3 Acids

Are you up for a bit of chemistry! The term -omega-3 (kind of weird terminology! and probably confusing to some) comes from the nomenclature (1). As seen in the picture for all the three acids, the right end carbon is omega-1 and the first double bond is the omega-3 position with the –COOH (acid group) at the other end. That is the simple reason they are called omega-3 acids. The long carbon chain offers oily attribute to the food containing omega-3 fatty acids.

Diagram-of-ALA-EPA-DHA

Sources of Omega-3s 

Plenty of nuts and seeds, fruits and vegetables from plant sources carry rich sources of omega-3 (2). Flax seeds and oil, chia seeds, almonds offer a good amount of ALA. Walnuts and flax seeds are two of the best sources.

A superior kind of fat, EPA and DHA come from varieties of fatty fish like sardines, salmons, herrings, mackerel, tuna, and trout. (3). Salmon is one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids.

Consumption of fatty acids to enhance good omega-3 is helpful. Keep in mind the poisons’ methyl mercury contamination with fish can be a daunting health problem.

Some fishes are more contaminated naturally than others. Swordfish, Mackerel, tilefish, and shark are contaminated. Codfish is a moderate source of mercury. Farm raised fishes tend to be more marinated with toxins.

Methyl mercury stores inside the body and its purge rate is close to zero.

Be extra careful if you are pregnant and for children and do not have them. Other individuals may limit to 7 ounces per week.

Benefits of Omega-3s

Consuming ALA, EPA+DHA foods provide multitudes of health benefits (4), e.g.

Heart: 
Omega-3 fish oil supplement, EPA and DHA offer cardiovascular benefits and reduces risk.

  • Lowers the risk of heart failure
  • Lower the triglyceride level-High levels put you at risk of heart disease
  • Lower blood pressure
  • A significant reduction of cardiac death

Brain Function and Cognitive Performance: Omega-3s improves brain function – from cognitive performance to brain development for the baby inside the womb and the youngsters during their development. The mothers also benefit from postpartum depression using these healthy fats.

Eye – Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD): Biological importance of DHA in the development of brain and retina are well-established. People who consume higher amounts of fatty fish and/or dietary LC omega-3s have a lower risk of developing AMD

Alzheimer, Dementia: Combination of (ω)-3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA are beneficial to improve the cognitive function in very mild AD (Alzheimer) and major depressive disorder.

Lower intake of DHA and EPA is related to an age-related decline of cognitive function or dementia.

Rheumatoid Arthritis: Omega-3s reduce joint pain, swelling, morning stiffness of rheumatoid arthritis patients.

Recent research demonstrated the beneficial effect of ω -3 fatty acids of fish oil, Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) against rheumatoid arthritis.

Asthma: A diet high in omega 3 lowers inflammation which is a key component in asthma. Omega-3s help attenuates inflammation- which now relates to almost every health condition.

Colorectal Cancer: Higher total EPA and DHA intakes were positively associated with colorectal cancer risk. Risk also varied by gender. Among men, the use of fish oil supplements reduced colorectal cancer risk by an average of 34% or more depending on the frequency and duration of use, but this effect did not occur among women.

Depression:

Depression can be a crippling disease. The individuals suffering from it shows lack of interest in work, lethargic, showing lack of interest for life. Higher intake of Omega 3 may lower depression. More research is necessary to confirm. Depression frequently associates anxiety (5).

Ref: (Appleton KM, Sallis HM, Perry R, Ness AR, Churchill R. Omega-3 fatty acids for depression in adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2015;11: CD004692. [PubMed abstract])

ADHD: Significant improvement in emotional lability and oppositional behavior was seen consuming omega-3 supplement among the suffering children.

Improved Skin Health: They play a critical role in skin health (6). dietary supplements and topical supplementation reduce skin aging

They also keep the skin membrane fluid thereby staving off the wrinkles. Omega-3s further hydration and along with the control oil production preventing acne (7,8).

Psoriasis: Essential fatty acid supplementation along with medication has helped psoriasis than just taking medication alone (Ref: Clinical, Cosmetic, and Investigational Dermatology 4 (2011): 73-77.

Weight Loss: By eating fish like salmon and snacking over sardine regularly, I decreased my physical weight from ~178 to 148 (9) over 2 and half year and have consistently maintained that weight over ~5 years. No dieting was involved.

The Recommended Daily Intake (RDI)

There is no set guidance of omega-3 intake, although some mainstream organizations 250-500 mg of EPA+ DHA as a daily intake. In the case of heart disease, the amount could be doubled. Consult your physician before you decide to take a supplement.

The recommended intake of ALA depends on the age, and sex, (9). Motherhood has different nos. This table shows the rundown of the daily amounts.

Life Stage Recommended Amount of ALA
Birth to 12 months* 0.5 g
Children 1-3 years 0.7 g
Children 4-8 years 0.9 g
Boys 9-13 years 1.2 g
Girls 9-13 years 1.0 g
Teen boys 14-18 years 1.6 g
Teen girls 14-18 years 1.1 g
Men 1.6 g
Women 1.1 g
Pregnant teens and women 1.4 g
Breastfeeding teens and women 1.3 g

*As total omega-3s. All other values are for ALA alone.

Ref for the table-Institute of Medicine, Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary reference intakes for energy, carbohydrate, fiber, fat, fatty acids, cholesterol, protein, and amino acids (macronutrients). Washington, DC: National Academy Press; 2005.

Omega-6 and Omega-3 Fatty Acids- Ratio Matters

While the ratio of omega 6:3 will be a separate subsequent blog, one should know the current American diet particularly in the fast-food chain is loaded with omega-6 fatty acids which are connected to the obesity, diabetics, heart disease.

The ideal ratio of omega 6: omega 3 is 1-2:1. The current American diet is 20-30:1 and the Indians are getting an even higher ratio of 38-50:1.

Omega 6 counteracts the effect of omega-3 and in effect reduces the beneficial effects of omega-3.

However, omega-6 has many benefits as well.

All Omega-3’s are not Created Equal 

Omega-3 from nuts and seeds help brain function from a different angle than those obtained from omega-3 derived from fish.

So eating a handful of walnuts or couple spoons of chia seeds do not offer you same Omega-3 if you consume fish oil, salmon or sardine.

But in the liver, there is can be small conversion ALA to EPA and DHA (0-5-9%) which is quite small compared to your need.

Conversion-of-ALA-to-EPA-DHA

So if you are not a fish person, consider supplements that are rich in EPA and DHA.

ALA (omega 3s from plant sources) are not interconvertible with EPA and DHA (obtained from fish). EPA and DHA from fish are better omega-3s than ALA from plant sources. More research has been done with EPA, DHA compared to ALA. But regardless both types of fats have enormous health benefits combined.

Side Effects of Omega-3S

Omega-3s foods are mostly safe and have very mild side effects if any (10, 11).

Excess uptake of omega-3 EPA plus DHA can cause the following side effects:

  • It may cause blood thinning, and excessive bleeding. If you are on a medication that affects blood clotting or if you are allergic to fish, take the advice of your health care provider for before using omega-3 supplements.
  • Doses more than 900 mg/ day of EPA in addition to 600 mg/day DHA or more for several weeks might suppress the inflammatory response and reduce immune function.
  • ALA from natural sources is mostly tolerated without side effect.
  • If you have prostate cancer or at risk of getting it because of your father or brother has it, the safety of omega-3 intake is conflicting as per research (12).
  • Pregnancy and breastfeeding time –Natural food sources are less likely to be a concern but be safe than sorry and do not consume supplements.

Takeaway

  • The diagrammatic representation of ALA, EPA, and DHA provides a visual difference in their structures.
  • ALA basically comes from plant sources and the more critical EPA and DHA comes from fish sources.
  • The three Omega-3 fatty acids have individually and cumulatively can benefit your health in multiple ways. They provide benefits to
    • Heart
    • Brain
    • Lungs
    • Eyes
    • Joints
    • Skin and acne
    • Cancer
  • Consumption of omega-3 from natural food sources are less likely to give side effects.

However, always talk to your health provider when taking supplements and you might have diseases that can be badly impacted.

Anusuya Choudhury

16 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing this article on Omega 3 Fatty Acid. This article is really rich in information and is very educating and helpful. I am intrigued to know the about the numerous benefits of Omega 3 to human health in preventing heart attacks, helping in proper brain functioning, lowering blood pressure and so on. This is very helpful and it’s a must read for everyone. My question is can children take Omega 3? Or is only meant for adults alone? Thanks in advance. 

    • Hi Fortune,

      I am glad you found my article informative. Omega-3 is smart nutrition.

      It helps the pregnant mother and early childhood. Omega-3, especially from fish, helps developing brain for kids. These kids turn out to be more focused and have better cognitive power. Infant formulas, cereals and lots of foods are available doped with Omega-3. 

      As per my research, all would benefit from Omega-3.

      Thank you so much for taking the time to read my article.

  2. Your article was really informative. I learned a lot about using omega 3 fatty acids in my diet to get great hair and skin. I have proved this when I eat lots of nuts and fatty fish (especially Salmon). However, it was interesting how you commented on not all omega-3 is the same. I always thought eating a lot of nuts would give me a lot of omega-3, and now that I have just read your article, it turns out that this is not the case. 

    I can only eat so much fish, before I get sick of it, so I am impressed that you were able to lose so much weight just snacking on sardines and eating fatty fish. I am curious to your diet, because I need to lose some weight also.

    How did you take the fish? was it eaten regularly? every day and every meal or just more than other food types. Also, did you stop eating meat when just eating fish?

    I would like to try this if you have a fish diet plan. Thank you for so much useful information.

    • Dear IIlaisanne,

      Thank you for taking the time to read through my article.

      I am glad you found it informative. 

      Let me clarify-I did not lose all this weight just by eating fish. It sure did help. 

      I was recommended by my dietician to eat fish, which typically 2 servings per week and she told me to eat Salmon. I buy wild caught and typically cook it over cedar plank. It is steaming! It was easy for me. Sardines in a can, eat two pieces as an afternoon snacks couple times in a week.

      I sun-expose at the right time for vitamin-D for helping my diabetes.

      I have a regular exercise schedule and follow strictly.

      I was lucky to have a PCC store where a lot of organic fruits and vegetables are available to buy. I eat a small organic apple every day at ~10 am. My breakfast oatmeal and I drank almond milk. This was all recommended by my dietician.

      I eat quite a bit of fresh vegetable every day as part of my meal.

      This all added to lose weight which I was not doing earlier.

      Nuts and seeds all help but they are not that great to provide the important omega-3 that fish provides.

      I hope I answered all your questions. 

  3. Hey Anusuya,

    I never knew that consuming Omega 3 has so many great benefits. All the while, l thought it was only good to help my children brain development. I have a history of high blood pressure and severe depression and presently depending on the medication prescribed by my family doctor. Can l take Omega 3 together with the medicines and what is the best natural food for omega 3 for my intake?

    Thank you.

    • Hey Sui,

      Thank you for reading the article. 

      Please ask you, doctor, if you are on medication to add omega-3 to your diet. 

      The fish (salmon, sardine, anchovies) are great sources of natural Omega-3. I use canned salmon and sardines (by the way they are on sale at Costco now). 

      Walnuts, flax seeds, chia seeds carry omega-3-ALA. 

      The fish derived  omega-3 containing EPA and DHA are more important sources of omega-3.

      I hope I answered your questions. Have a good one.

  4. Thank you for the wealth of information presented here. I find this to be a very interesting post, and one that should have a lot of traffic, for many reasons.

    Firstly, given the prevalence of type 2 diabetes, and the great wealth of information presented, you’ve  encouraged  your readers that a diagnosis of  prediabetes  is reversible.

    Secondly, you’ve taught us well about the benefits of Omega 3 fatty acids, as well as the  link between dietary deficiencies, lifestyle and type 2 diabetes.  I have had experience with family members dying from type 2 diabetes. And who knows? Perhaps if the information presented here had been made available twenty years ago, their lives might have been saved. And I know that I am not alone in this sentiment, so your readers will continue to love it. 

    Thirdly, you’ve taught us that health and beauty are intertwined!

    Just out of curiosity, there is one  question that I’d like to ask, if you’d care to give a response: 

    Given  that you’ve established  a direct link between inadequate exposure to sunlight, such as happens in NY (cold winters) inadequate consumption of fish and the development of type 2 diabetes:  would you care to suggest why type 2 diabetes is so prevalent in tropical climates, where there is an abundance of sunlight, along with a high consumption of fish?

    I’ll understand if you don’t have an immediate answer for me, because I think  you’ve already done a great job here! Best regards in your continued efforts to spread the word about the  benefits of omega 3 fatty acids, to health, as well as to beauty!

    • Hi  Lornafraserja,

      I appreciate you taking the time to read the article.

      I like your question and will answer you with the knowledge, understanding, and experience I have.

      An abundance of sunlight in a tropical climate and sensible exposure to sunlight are entirely different.

       In this connection, I had interviewed a couple of people who are from India and suffering from type 2 diabetes. They are vitamin-D deficient as well. These individuals are highly educated. 

      They believe because they live in a tropical climate they are automatically getting sun. They are not aware of the fact that they have to expose their bare body to sunlight at 297 nm and there is a time span where the sun is radiating at this particular wavelength or around that region.

      They turn their air conditioner on and sit inside and expect to get the sun inside. 

      You get to come outside for a few minutes between 11-1 pm to get that exposure and it is not done.

      In summary, they live in a sunny place but do not get the vitamin-D producing sunlight. It is lack of awareness.

      Eating fish: Every fish does not have a good amount of omega-3. Monkfish has none. 

      The fish that lives in the deep cold water eating algae carry omega-3. Farmed fish are not fed with the food to get omega-3 either in India Another very important aspect: of omega-3 action is subsided by omega-6. Particularly in India, the oil they use for cooking and frying is loaded with omega-6. 

      The history of the prevalence of diabetes is seen to relate to the use of oil with omega-6 which takes of the benefits of omega-3. People tend to eat more processed and packaged food which are sources of omega-6.

      The ideal omega-6 :3 ratio is 1-2:1. It is 15-20:1 in and 38-50:1 in India now. 50 years back it was 1:1.

      People wrongly think eating flax seed and some walnut is good enough for getting their omega-3 dose. The fact is these nuts have ALA, not the important EPA and DHA found in fish. ALA does convert to (0-9%) in liver but the conversion is not efficient.

      People have a sedentary lifestyle. That is another cause of type-2 diabetes. Physical exercise has been reduced these days. 

      Yes, type-2 diabetes is curable if you eat right, exercise, have your vitamin-D level right and sleep well. 

      I hope I answered your questions about diabetes. 

  5. Your article about omega-3 is rich in information. Learned a lot about omega-3. Often in food omega-3 and omega-6 both are present. So can omega-6 be departed from omega-3?

    • Dear Ivy,
      I am glad you found the article informative.
      Omega-3 fatty acids are the reservoir of healthy fat, protein, minerals with low calorie attached to them. Scientific research has connected cure and prevention to many life-threatening diseases. So it is a healthy addition to your meal.
      The ideal diet should have 1:2 to 1:10-15 ratio of omega-3 to omega-6.
      But the current ratio that America eats 1:50 and has been a concern.
      We do need omega-6 for our body but too much of it can deplete the beneficial effect of Omega-3. Processed food, fast food are loaded with Omega-6. One should read the label before buying the food.
      I am sure omega-3 and 6 are structurally different enough and can be separated chemically.
      I hope, I have answered all your questions.
      Thank you for taking the time to read the article and for an intriguing question.

  6. The scientific approach towards health issues have produced the best results. Omega 3 has numerous positive effects as you’ve mention. But in a country like India, few people are aware of it. It’s high time, people are made aware of the positive effects and consume healthy food in order to live a disease free, happy life. Everybody has the right, to know the advantages and disadvantages of the food they are consuming. Your article provides a brilliant exposure and shows the bright side of eating a healthy meal.
    Thank You

    • Hi Sam,
      You are absolutely right. Nutrition is very important and can make or break. Nutrition as therapy is currently emerging based on research.
      Omega 3 fatty acids have multiple health benefits and they are capable of preventing many chronic diseases. Including them as a part of your daily diet will nourish your health well.
      Thank you for your time and visit the site for more helpful information.

  7. Extremely well written. Is omega-6 intake directly linked to heart disease?

    • Dear Kabita,
      Thank you for taking the time to read the article. I am glad to find that you found it as important. More importantly, your question is what many people ask. There is a huge amount of clinical studies on cardiovascular benefits with Omega-3 fatty acids and fish oil. The final conclusion from fish oil supplement is “there may be small benefits but it is minimal.
      Let me just tell you, Fish containing omega-3-fatty acids have benefited from Vitamin-D, anti-oxidant selenium and other health-boosting minerals.
      I hope I answered your question.

  8. People live a sedentary life style, it’s hard on their part to change it.
    But education has the power to change anything and everything. This article illuminates the advantages of Omega 3.I belong to India and in a country like this, people are not aware of the advantages and disadvantages of the food they are consuming.This article must be shared well to extend the awareness and make people globally understand the effects of consumption of certain foods so that they eliminate the wrong food choice and alter it with healthy and good food. Omega 3 has the best advantages.One must add it to their regular meals by understanding it’s true results and the article is extremely informative.
    Thank You.

    • Hi Sam,
      Thanks for offering a local and global perspective on the importance of nutrition and how awareness is so crucial in this regard.
      That is exactly the reason this post was written for. I hope reaches people to help them.
      What one can do is spread the words around, share the posts as much as possible.
      Thank you again for your time reading my post.

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