3 Omega-3 Fatty Acids That Should Be Part of Your Diet
By Freydis Hjalmarsdottir
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats that have numerous benefits for health. However, not all omega-3 fatty acids are created equal—in fact, there are 11 different types, and some are better for you than others.
The three most important ones are ALA, EPA and DHA. ALA is mostly found in plants, while EPA and DHA are mostly found in animal foods like fatty fish.
Photo credit: Shutterstock
Omega-3 Fatty Acids: A Recap
Like all fatty acids, omega-3s are chains of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms.
Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated, meaning they have two or more double bonds (poly = many) in their chemical structure. Just like the omega-6s, omega-3 fatty acids cannot be made by the body and we must get them from the diet. This is why they are termed essential fatty acids.
Omega-3 fatty acids are not simply stored and used for energy. They have important roles in all sorts of bodily processes, including inflammation, heart health and brain function. Being deficient in omega-3s is associated with lower intelligence, depression, heart disease, arthritis, cancer and many other health problems (1, 2).
1. ALA (Alpha-Linolenic Acid)
ALA is short for alpha-linolenic acid. This is the most common omega-3 fatty acid in the diet. It is 18 carbons long with three double bonds.
ALA is mostly found in plant foods and needs to be converted into the EPA or DHA before it can be utilized by the human body.
When ALA is not converted to EPA or DHA, it remains inactive and is simply stored or used as energy, like other fats. Some observational studies have found an association between a diet rich in ALA and a reduced risk of heart disease deaths, while others have found an increased risk of prostate cancer (7).
This increase in prostate cancer risk was not associated with the other main omega-3 types, EPA and DHA, which actually had a protective effect (8).
ALA is found in many plant foods, including kale, spinach, purslane, soybeans,walnuts and many seeds such as chia, flax and hemp seeds. ALA is also found in some animal fats. Some seed oils, such as flaxseed oil and rapeseed (canola) oil are also high in ALA.
Bottom Line: ALA is short for alpha-linolenic acid. It is mostly found in plant foods and needs to be converted into EPA or DHA in order to become active in the human body.
2. EPA (Eicosapentaenoic Acid)
EPA is short for eicosapentaenoic acid. It is 20 carbons long, with 5 double bonds.
Its main function is to form signaling molecules called eicosanoids, which play numerous physiological roles.
Eicosanoids made from omega-3s reduce inflammation, while those made from omega-6s tend to increase inflammation (9).
For this reason, a diet high in EPA may reduce inflammation in the body. Chronic, low-level inflammation is known to drive several common diseases (10).
One study also found that EPA reduced the number of hot flashes experienced by menopausal women (13).
Both EPA and DHA are mostly found in seafood, including fatty fish and algae. For this reason, they are often called marine omega-3s.
EPA concentrations are highest in herring, salmon, eel, shrimp and sturgeon. Grass-fed animal products, such as dairy and meats, also contain some EPA.
3. DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid)
DHA is short for docosahexaenoic acid. It is 22 carbons long, with 6 double bonds.
DHA is an important structural component of skin and the retina in the eye (14).
Fortifying baby formula with DHA leads to improved vision in infants (15).
DHA is absolutely vital for brain development and function in childhood, as well as brain function in adults.
Early-life DHA deficiency is associated with problems later on, such as learning disabilities, ADHD, aggressive hostility and several other disorders (16).
A decrease in DHA during aging is also associated with impaired brain function and the onset of Alzheimer's disease (17).
DHA is also reported to have positive effects on diseases such as arthritis, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and some cancers (18).
The role of DHA in heart disease is also well established. It can reduce blood triglycerides and may lead to fewer harmful LDL particles (19).
As mentioned before, DHA is found in high amounts in seafood, including fatty fish and algae. Grass-fed animal products also contain some DHA.
Bottom Line: DHA is short for docosahexaenoic acid. It is a long-chain omega-3 fatty acid that is very important for brain development. It may also help protect against heart disease, cancer and other health problems.
Conversion Process: From ALA to EPA to DHA
ALA, the most common omega-3 fat, needs to be converted into EPA or DHA to become “active" (3).
Furthermore, the conversions are dependent on adequate levels of other nutrients, such as vitamins B6 and B7, copper, calcium, magnesium, zinc and iron. Many of these are lacking in the modern diet, especially among vegetarians (23).
The low conversion rate is also because omega-6 fatty acids compete for the same enzymes needed for the conversion process. Therefore, the high amount of omega-6 in the modern diet can reduce the conversion of ALA to EPA and DHA (5, 24).
8 Other Omega-3 Fatty Acids
ALA, EPA and DHA are the most abundant omega-3 fatty acids in the diet.
However, at least 8 other omega-3 fatty acids have been discovered:
- Hexadecatrienoic acid (HTA).
- Stearidonic acid (SDA).
- Eicosatrienoic acid (ETE).
- Eicosatetraenoic acid (ETA).
- Heneicosapentaenoic acid (HPA).
- Docosapentaenoic acid (DPA).
- Tetracosapentaenoic acid.
- Tetracosahexaenoic acid.
These fatty acids are found in some foods, but are not considered essential. However, some of of them do have biological effects.
Bottom Line: At least 8 other omega-3 fatty acids have been discovered. They are found in some foods and can have biological effects.
Which Omega-3 Fatty Acid is Best?
The most important omega-3 fatty acids are EPA and DHA.
If you don't eat a lot of these foods, then omega-3 supplements can be useful.
This article was reposted from our media associate Authority Nutrition.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE
The climate crisis already has a death toll, and it will get worse if we don't act to reduce emissions.
- 'Every Child Born Today Will Be Profoundly Affected by Climate ... ›
- Coronavirus Response Proves the World Can Act on Climate Change ›
- 5 Things About Climate Change and Coronavirus From WHO ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Stuart Braun
The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addressed the dire threat of climate change Wednesday in a speech on the state of the planet delivered at Columbia University in New York.
- UN: Climate Crisis Has Doubled Natural Disasters in Last 20 Years ... ›
- Countries Pledge to Reverse Destruction of Nature After Missing ... ›
- 13 Must-Read Climate Change Reports for 2020 - EcoWatch ›
- The UN Wants to Protect 30% of the Planet by 2030 - EcoWatch ›
By David Coman-Hidy
The actions of the U.S. meat industry throughout the pandemic have brought to light the true corruption and waste that are inherent within our food system. Despite a new wave of rising COVID-19 cases, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently submitted a proposal to further increase "the maximum slaughter line speed by 25 percent," which was already far too fast and highly dangerous. It has been made evident that the industry will exploit its workers and animals all to boost its profit.
- Amazon Sees Alarming Rise in Deforestation - EcoWatch ›
- Rainforest Deforestation More Than Doubled Under Cover of ... ›
- Brazil's Bolsonaro Unveils Bill to Open Indigenous Lands to Mining ... ›
- To Stop Amazon Deforestation, Brazilian Groups Take Bolsonaro to ... ›
- Deforestation in Brazilian Amazon Increases for 13th Consecutive ... ›
- New Study: China and EU Soy Imports Are Increasing Brazil's ... ›
By Kenny Stancil
"The state of the planet is broken. Humanity is waging war on nature. This is suicidal."
That's how United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres began a Wednesday address at Columbia University, in which he reflected on the past 11 months of extreme weather and challenged world leaders to use the recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic as an opportunity to construct a better world free from destructive greenhouse gas emissions.
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="323860226384e919845d4f7594026334"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/m6-HU3oS0nY?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="252a2c6d81efec92601a438b7307214e"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/2BpFEoGK4jU?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
- UN: Climate Crisis Has Doubled Natural Disasters in Last 20 Years ... ›
- 'Our War Against Nature Must Stop': UN Secretary General ... ›
- UN Secretary General Urges Public Pressure Against Climate ... ›