Omega-3 Fatty Acids Explained

What is omega-3? What benefits do these fatty acids have?

Omega-3 Fatty Acids Explained
6 min. read 2/11/2022, 12:13 AM

Not all fat is bad! One of the good fats that you want to make sure you get enough of is omega-3 fatty acids. This fatty acid is incredibly important and is closely connected to weight loss, brain function, and many other important functions in our bodies. Unfortunately, like many nutrients, there is a chance that you might not be getting enough of it. And with omega-3, you need to be consistently getting it in order to reap the wonderful benefits it has!

So ready to learn more about omega-3 and how to get enough of it? Let's get started!

What is it?

Omega-3 is a family of essential fatty acids that are found in fatty fish, fish oil, and some seeds and nuts. They’re vital for many reasons like it helps our metabolism to work correctly. The problem is that they aren’t made by your body. This is why it is so important to have a diet that supplies you with this fatty acid. A diet without omega-3’s may be doomed for failure, but you also need to remember that omega-3’s won’t make up for having pizza every night (sadly).

Three main types of omega-3

The three most important types of omega-3 fatty acids are:

1. ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) - This is the most common form of omega-3. Your body uses it for energy and it is found mostly in plant sources.

2. DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) - This is the most important omega-3 fatty acid. That's because it is a key part of the retina of your eyes, and the cerebral cortex (a part of the brain). It is found mainly in animal products like fatty fish and fish oil.

3. EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) - EPA is best known for the omega-3 fatty acid that helps the body synthesize chemicals involved in blood clotting and inflammation. Like DHA, it is found mostly in animal products. [1]

What does it do?

As you can see, the three main types of omega-3 fatty acids play a vital role in your body's energy, eyes, and brain function. So they play key roles in your body and brain to provide you with powerful health benefits... Here are the most important ones:

Helps with your cardiovascular health

Omega-3’s are such a big deal when it comes to your heart, in fact they help reduce risk factors of cardiovascular diseases.

Omega-3 was linked to good heart health several years ago when researchers observed a fish-eating community that had low rates of heart disease and other ailments, even though they ate a high-fat diet. That was the first link to omega-3 fatty acids and heart health. From then study after study confirmed that omega-3 found in fish had an effect on reducing the risk of heart diseases. [2]

Here are a few ways it works to improve cardiovascular health:

  • Prevents irregular heartbeat
  • Reduces fatty plaques inside artery walls
  • Decreases blood clotting
  • Decreases triglyceride levels (blood fat)
  • Increases HDL (good cholesterol)
  • Decreases inflammation

The American Heart Association recommends eating fish (oily fish) at least twice a week to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. [3] Although omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce the risk of heart disease, it's important to note that they do not prevent heart attacks or strokes. To make sure you're getting the most out of this fatty acid is by pairing it with a healthy and balanced diet.

Can improve mental health

This one might be surprising... But there are studies that show omega-3 can help fight mental disorders like depression, anxiety, and even help reduce the frequency of mood swings (common among people with bipolar disorder). Emerging research is starting to show that it helps boost serotonin and dopamine levels in the brain.

One study in particular studied a group of people with depression and/or anxiety and had them start to taking an omega-3 supplement. The group that started taking the supplement saw improvements in their symptoms. [4]

It seems that EPA is the omega-3 fatty acid that helps reduce the symptoms of certain mental disorders mentioned earlier.

Can help reduce inflammation

Inflammation is the bodies natural response to infection or damage in your body. But there is such a thing as chronic inflammation. That is when inflammation persists for a long time without having any infection or damage in your body.

That's when omega-3 comes in with its anti-inflammatory effects. They can reduce the production of molecules and substances linked to inflammation, such as inflammatory eicosanoids and cytokines. [5] The researcher further confirmed this by conducting multiple studies throughout the years and have consistently linked omega-3 fatty acids to reduced inflammation. [6]

Can help with fetal growth and development

Omega-3 fatty acids, specifically DHA, is crucial for brain growth and development in infants - during pregnancy and early life.

It is recommended that women eat enough omega-3's during pregnancy and/or when they breastfeed for the benefits it can provide to the child. They are recommended to consume 8-12 ounces of seafood that are low in methyl mercury (avoid tilefish, shark, swordfish, and king mackerel). [7]

Some benefits omega-3 has been linked to in child development are:

1. Higher intelligence [8]

2. Decreased risk of developmental delay [9]

3. Decreased risk of ADHD, autism and cerebral palsy [10]

Other awesome benefits omega-3's can have are..

  • Helps boost your metabolism and reduce metabolic syndrome symptoms
  • Help reduce the risk of (not prevent) Alzheimer's disease or age-related mental decline
  • May improve bone and joint health
  • Improve sleep
  • Improve eye health
  • Help keep your skin healthy

It really seems like these fatty acids can do it all! Jokes aside, they really do play a major role in your body's health, but they can't do it all on their own. All these amazing benefits it can have are really dependent on your diet and lifestyle. So just remember to eat a healthy balanced diet and exercise!

How do I take it?

If you're going to take Omega-3 or fish oil supplements because your diet isn’t giving you enough, then the biggest thing to remember is that it’s about consistency. The benefits of Omega-3’s generally don’t show up all at once; they usually come little by little. There really is no official dosage guideline. But according to the World Health Organization and the U.S Department of Health and Human Services recommend a minimum of 250–500 mg of combined EPA and DHA each day for healthy adults.1,000mg would be the max to have, so just stay between that range if you're thinking about adding a supplement.

It also doesn’t matter when you take the supplements (morning or night). Most people eat something directly after, but this is more for the after taste and not something you have to do.

Now if you’re looking to get more Omega-3’s into your diet naturally, here are the best food sources:

  • Salmon
  • Mackerel
  • Sardines
  • Herring
  • Oysters
  • Flaxseed oil
  • Chia seeds
  • Walnuts
  • Soybeans
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Kale
  • Spinach
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower

By adding some of these into your weekly menu, you should be able to get enough omega-3's to help boost your metabolism and keep you healthy.

Just as one last reminder, omega’s do help your brain function, help with cholesterol levels, metabolism, and more but, alone, they cannot overcome an unhealthy diet that doesn’t have the nutrients it needs.