Omega-3 fatty acids are among the most critical and well-studied nutrients in the nutrition world. However, unlike vitamin C, protein, zinc, and many other popular nutrients, most people know very little about omega-3, if anything at all.
But since omega-3 fatty acids are an essential nutrient that the human body doesn’t produce on its own, we believe everyone should know about them so they can start implementing them in their nutrition regime.
So follow along as we explain everything you need to know about omega-3 fatty acids in this article, such as their different types, sources, and more.
What Exactly Is Omega-3?
Omega-3 are polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are the building blocks of fats in the human body.
Omega-3 fatty acids are considered an essential group of nutrients for us. And since our bodies can’t make them on their own, we have to rely on our diet to obtain them.
And we can’t ignore omega-3 since it plays a vital role in brain and eye retina functions. It’s also excellent for pregnant women for healthy baby development.
Unfortunately, omega-3 levels are generally low in Western countries since their sources aren't as common in Western diets as many other essential nutrients are. Still, you can remedy this by knowing what to eat or by taking supplements if your diet doesn't provide enough omega-3.
Types of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA)
DHA is the most important type of omega-3 since it’s a crucial structural component in the brain's nerve cells, eye retinas, and some other organs, and it plays an important role in their functions. These benefits extend to developing infants too! And that's why taking omega-3 in pregnancy is important for the baby's development. Even more, many baby formulas use it for its benefits to newborn babies and their development.
DHA has more benefits still, like improving cardiac health and blood pressure as well as helping combat neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's later in life.
DHA omega-3 is mostly found in seafood. And since Western diets are more red meat and nut heavy, DHA omega-3 levels are relatively low in the West.
Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA)
EPA is the second most important type of omega-3 since part of it can convert to DHA while the rest plays an essential role in some body functions. The most important role of EPA is forming eicosanoids signal molecules, which reduce inflammation levels.
And by reducing inflammation, EPA helps alleviate the many conditions that inflammation can cause, such as arthritis, asthma, menstrual pain, and more.
Research even shows that the EPA is the best type of omega-3 fatty acids to reduce depression and anxiety, which is another great benefit in our book.
Like DHA, EPA is mostly found in seafood.
Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA)
Lastly, ALA omega-3 is the least crucial of the three main types and is the most abundant in our diets since we can easily find it in many high-fat foods like seeds and walnuts.
And while ALA can convert into EPA and DHA, our human bodies aren't very good at this process since only a small yield of the ALA successfully converts to its more useful siblings.
Instead, your body will use up most ALA omega-3 for energy, so you shouldn't rely on ALA to be your primary source of omega-3 fatty acids.
Why Is Omega-3 Good for You?
Omega-3 has many health benefits, and we'd need an entire research paper to cover them all. However, we've picked the most significant benefits of omega-3 and listed them here for your convenience.
- Reducing the Risk of Heart Disease
Even before omega-3 was discovered, people always knew that fish was important in reducing the risk of heart disease since communities that mainly ate fish had lower rates of these diseases than others.
Now we know that omega-3 is the reason as it carries many benefits that all collectively reduce the risk of heart disease.
These benefits include lowering blood pressure, reducing blood clots and plaque, and increasing HDL (good cholesterol) levels.
Moreover, omega-3 has anti-inflammatory properties and reduces LDL (bad cholesterol) levels.
- Anti-Inflammation Benefits
Chronic inflammation happens when inflammation goes on for too long, and it's one of the leading causes of most injuries and diseases in the West, such as heart diseases, arthritis, and anxiety.
And by lowering inflammation levels, omega-3 helps lower the risk of diseases associated with chronic inflammation, such as arthritis and asthma in children.
- Improving Eyesight
Since DHA is an important component of the nerve cells in your eye retina, it’s no surprise that DHA omega-3 helps improve eyesight.
Research has shown that people with omega-3 deficiency symptoms have problems with vision and eyesight. And on the other hand, people who get adequate DHA omega-3 are less likely to develop vision-related diseases.
- Anti-Ageing Benefits
Omega-3 can slow down the ageing process by inhibiting neurodegenerative diseases and reducing the risk of developing Alzheimer’s, mainly when the symptoms are still mild.
Moreover, DHA omega-3 is a big player in skin health and the health of cell membranes, which make up a big chunk of your skin. So maintaining good DHA levels can help slow down skin ageing, reduce acne and other skin diseases, and keep your skin moist and hydrated.
- Bone Health
By boosting calcium levels in your bones and reducing inflammation, omega-3 improves bone and joint health and even treats skeletal disorders like arthritis and osteoporosis.
- Improving ADHD Symptoms in Children
Omega-3 for kids can help improve attention spans and fix children’s inability to complete specific tasks, which are common symptoms of ADHD.
This isn't surprising since we already discussed how DHA omega-3 is a crucial component of nerve cells in the brain.
If the child has had adequate omega-3 levels for most of their life, then they have a much lower chance of developing ADHD in the first place.
- Alleviating Mental Disorders
We’ve known for a while that omega-3 can combat mental disorders like depression and anxiety but weren’t sure which type is the most effective. But we now know that EPA is the best type of omega-3 at treating mild to moderate depression.
Moreover, some studies have shown that omega-3 can inhibit or prevent mood swings and psychotic episodes in schizophrenia and manic patients.
- Baby Development During Pregnancy
The benefits of omega-3 fatty acids aren’t exclusive to children and adults; they extend to infant formation in the womb, too.
DHA is particularly useful for baby development in the womb since it supports the development of their brain and eyes.
Even newborn babies can benefit from omega-3. Therefore many baby formulas include it, as eyesight in babies who take DHA-supported formulas is better than in babies who don’t.
And as mentioned above, babies who get adequate omega-3 are less likely to develop ADHD later as children.
Why Is It Hard to Get Enough Omega-3?
We mentioned earlier that the typical Western diet generally results in an omega-3 deficiency. Now let’s see why exactly that is.The Omega-3 to Omega-6 Ratio
For starters, both omega-3 and omega-6 are essential fatty acids that our bodies don't produce, so we have to rely completely on our diet to get them.
However, unlike most nutrients, omega-3 and omega-6 don’t need to exist in a fixed quantity for our bodies to get their benefits.
That’s not to say you can have zero or an infinite amount of either, but rather that your body cares more about the ratio between them than the quantities you take them in.
But when it comes to their sources, omega-3 is common in seafood, while omega-6 is common in nuts, vegetable oil, and eggs.
Considering how in the West, we tend to eat more nuts, oil, and eggs than seafood, it’s no surprise that omega-6 tends to exist in much larger quantities than omega-3.
Even when we eat chicken or meat, we know they're often fed foods rich in omega-6 during their lives, which moves on to our bodies.
On the other hand, communities that prominently eat fish can have an unbalanced ratio of omega-3 to omega 6, such as 4:1, which is also bad.
The optimal ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 is often considered to be around 1:4. However, some studies show that these ratios are around 1:17 in most modern Westerners and can sometimes reach a whopping 1:30.
How Much Omega-3 Is Too Much?
Omega-3, just like everything else, should be taken in moderation. And fortunately, you can take a lot of omega-3 before any adverse effects appear.
The USA Food and Drug Administration RDA for omega-3 caps at 3g of DHA and EPA a day, while the European Food Safety Authority puts that number at 5g.
It’s important to avoid taking too much omega-3 since the vitamin A in omega-3 can be toxic in high quantities.
Algae is the primary natural source of omega-3. We can find omega-3 in fish since they eat algae or other fish that eat omega-3 algae, but they're the middleman. That's why getting your omega-3 from algae is the better choice for you.
Moreover, if you follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, you can get your omega-3 plant-based without contributing to the fish farming cycle that disrupts the environment.
Fish is a rich source of omega-3, but they get their omega-3 from algae since their bodies can’t produce it.
So if you’re solely looking for omega-3, we recommend you stick to algae since fish aren’t the best option for this.
That’s because fish can contain industrial waste or other artificial toxins from modern agricultural practices that focus on quantity over quality.
Moreover, fish oils are an unsustainable source since the industry produces so much environmental damage and the end product isn’t even pure in most cases.
Knowing how hard it is nowadays to get adequate omega-3, you might have to resort to supplementation, and we’re happy to offer you the best option in the market here at Ethical Nutrition.
We recently launched our new fish-free omega-3 tablets, which are 100% vegan as they’re made from algae.
Moreover, our omega-3 algae capsules provide you with all the essential DHA and EPA your body needs.
Supplement Forms: Triglycerides vs Ethyl Ester
In their natural form, omega-3 fatty acids exist as triglycerides in algae and the fish that eat them.
However, most food chemists convert omega-3 from triglyceride to ethyl ester because this allows them to manipulate how much DHA and EPA exist in the supplement.
And while ethyl esters can convert back into triglyceride form when you take them, we recommend you stick with triglycerides to skip this step, which we find unnecessary.
Moreover, since humans evolved to eat fish and the omega-3 in them in their natural triglyceride form, it’s unsurprising that this is the better way to intake it now. And research even shows that our bodies absorb triglycerides better than ethyl esters.
That’s why our fish-free omega-3 algae supplement is in triglyceride form.
We’ll wrap our guide on omega-3 fatty acids up with a quick recap.
First, DHA and EPA are essential omega-3 fatty acids that boost brain function, eye retina health, and anti-inflammation, among many other benefits.
Unfortunately, these omega-3 fatty acids are neglected in the modern Western diet that inadvertently focuses on omega-6 sources over omega-3 sources.
And while both fatty acids are essential, you need to maintain an omega 3 to 6 ratio of about 1:4 to reap the benefits of both.
So if you’re struggling with getting enough omega-3 in your diet, we encourage you to try our fish-free omega-3 capsules, an omega-3 vegan supplement that provides you with enough omega-3 to maintain a balanced diet as well as support and boost your overall health.