The Benefits Of Omega-3s
All about the incredible, edible, health-promoting omega-3s.
What are omega-3 fats?
Omega-3 fats are a specific type of fat found most usefully in marine life, such as cold water fish, shellfish, and algae.
Curious why biology did that?
Omega-3 fatty acids help keep cold-water marine life from freezing. They stay liquid at low temperatures, omega-3s are like natural antifreeze. Cool… literally. 😉
The most important forms omega-3 fats are the following:
- ALA (alpha-linolenic acid)
- DHA (docosahexaenoic acid)
- EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid)
In addition to marine life, other nuts and seeds (such as flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, and hemp) are also rich in omega-3s. The reason they’re not as notable sources as marine life is that those plant-based sources omega-3s are in the form of ALA.
Our bodies mostly use DHA/EPA, which comes almost exclusively from marine life.
ALA from plant-based sources can be converted in the body to DHA/EPA, but most people convert it very inefficiently. So, it’s hard to get enough DHA/EPA from plant sources like flax seeds. Marine sources are essential for balancing fats.
Fats: Your body’s signal system
Not all fat we eat gets stored on our bellies and butts.
Our bodies like to use healthy fats to do other important things, like:
- Make fat-based tissues, like our brains and the fatty sheath that insulates our spinal cord and nerves.
- Make many hormones, such as testosterone and estrogen.
- Make the membranes for all our cells.
The fat we consume literally becomes an essential part of every one of our cells.
Fat can powerfully influence how our cells communicate and interact.
For example, fat can affect signaling molecules that influence blood vessel constriction, inflammation, blood clotting, pain, airway constriction, etc.
Since our brains are fat-based, changes in fat composition can affect how nerve impulses are transmitted.
This can affect our moods, how well we think, our overall mental health, and even our brain’s longevity.
In summary, fats have many beneficial functions:
- keep hearts and brains healthy (e.g., some evidence suggests that omega-3s might help reduce some symptoms of depression, anxiety, and ADHD)
- lower inflammation
- improve cells’ communication
- regulate metabolism and blood sugar
- keep joints mobile
- help us stay lean
- help build muscle
Dosing and for EPA/DHA
Flax seeds, chia seeds, and walnuts are all rich sources of omega-3s. And they are incredibly healthy foods in their own right. However, those plant-based sources won’t be significantly helping you meet the essential requirements of EPA/DHA.
If fish is an option in your diet, try bringing it into your life more regularly. A general guideline from health organizations (specifically, the American Heart Association) is 2-3 servings of fatty fish or other seafood per week to meet recommended EPA/DHA dietary levels.
(It is generally beneficial to choose fish and seafood that is rich in EPA/DHA and also low in mercury, such as salmon, sardines, mussels, oysters, rainbow trout, pollock, herring, and Atlantic mackerel.)
If you’re not regularly eating fatty fish or other seafood, then consider omega-3 supplementation.
Supplementing with fish oil
Supplement daily with 3–6 grams of total fish oil, giving you around 1–2 grams of total EPA+DHA.
This is a minimum effective dose (MED) to give you all the health benefits listed above.
Supplementing with krill/algae oil
If you prefer an all plant-based diet, you can also supplement with krill oil or algae oil (which is plant-based).
With these products, use smaller doses. Aim for 300 mg of total EPA+DHA from these.