“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
Types of Omega-3 Fatty Acids- It Matters What Type You Eat
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.
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.
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 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
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|
|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.
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
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.
- 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
- Skin and acne
- 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.