Omega-3 fatty acids are essential to support human health because our bodies cannot synthesize them.
What are the types of Omega-3?
There are three major Omega-3 fatty acids in our diet: alpha-linolenic acid ALA, eicosapentaenoic acid EPA, and docosahexaenoic acid DHA.
- ALA is presently the plant version of Omega-3 found in foods such as flaxseed, soybean, and canola oils.
- DHA and EPA are present in fish, fish oils, and krill oils, but they are originally synthesized by microalgae. Marine animals accumulate Omega-3 in their tissues over time as they ingest phytoplankton that consumes microalgae.
What are their roles?
ALA, EPA and DHA are all present in our body, but EPA and DHA are particularly enriched in our brains and eyes. Apart from being essential components of our cell membranes, Omega-3 fatty acids are also involved in supporting favorable lipid metabolism, immune function and skin health. On-going scientific studies continue to provide evidence for other health benefits of EPA and DHA, including supporting heart health, cognitive function, optimal mood, fetal development, and much more.
Where can we find them?
ALA can be converted into EPA and then to DHA in our livers, but the conversion is very limited. Therefore, consuming EPA or DHA directly from foods and/or dietary supplements is the only practical way to increase levels of these fatty acids in the body. US national health surveys revealed that most individuals have low consumption of oily-fish, thus equates to very little dietary EPA and DHA. Wild fish consumption can increase our exposure to mercury and heavy metal. Although heavy metal exposure is typically not a huge concern with the recommended fish intake of two-servings per week, it is unsustainable if we need to provide enough fish to support this dietary recommendation. Consuming enough EPA or DHA from foods is also a significant challenge for vegans and vegetarians, so vegan-friendly supplements are feasible solutions.