Did you know that there are several types of Omega-3s, and they are "not created equal"?!
I do not eat fish (unfortunately, can't stand the flavor!), which is one of the best sources of omega-3...so I am always interested in learning about how to get Omega-3s into my diet. I thought if I ate some walnuts, touted as a "good source of omega-3", then I was covered. Not necessarily so! Looks line walnuts contain the ALA-type of omega-3, so I may not be getting enough DHA- or EPA-types of omega-3 in my diet. Here's what I found:
The main types of (dietary) Omega-3s are:
- DHA (docosahexaenoic acid)
- EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid)
- ALA (alpha-linolenic acid)
- DHA: found in fatty fish, organ meat and seaweed (vegetarian option!), fish oil supplements
- EPA: same food sources as DHA
- ALA: flaxseeds, walnuts and canola
Health Benefits (for adults):
- DHA: essential for brain functioning and lowers risk of heart disease (lowers triglyceride levels & artery plaque)
- EPA: helps reduce chronic inflammation by modifying the immune response and improves cardiovascular health
- ALA: serves as a source of energy & is needed for skin health
- DHA: body naturally produces small amounts of DHA, but we need a larger amount through food sources. DHA is the most abundant omega-3 fatty acid in the brain and retina, representing about 97% and 93% of all omega-3 fatty acids in the brain and eyes respectively. It is an important structural component of the nerve cells in the brain and eyes and a key component of heart tissue.
- EPA: not a structural part of the body, like DHA, but helps improve cardiovascular health
- ALA: serves as a source of energy and is a building block for EPA
How Much Do I Need?
According to University of Maryland Medical Center:
- In the diet: 2 - 3 servings of fatty fish per week, which corresponds to 1,250 mg EPA and DHA per day.
- Fish oil supplements: 3,000 - 4,000 mg standardized fish oils per day. Read the label to check levels of DHA and EPA, which are not the same as mg of fish oil.
- Algal-derived (from algae) DHA supplements: 200 mg per day
According to National Institute of Health (NIH) MedlinePlus:
- Average Americans consume about 1.6 grams of omega-3 fatty acids each day, of which about 1.4 grams (~90%) comes from ALA, and only 0.1-0.2 grams (~10%) from EPA and DHA.
- Average Americans consume roughly 10 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids. This is important because because omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids "compete" with each other
- So, another way to increase omega-3? Decrease intake of omega-6 fatty acids. Sources of omega-6 fatty acids are found in vegetable oils containing LA, linoleic acid (for example: corn oil, safflower oil, sesame oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil, etc). Another great reason to use extra virgin olive oil for me! And, according to the American Heart Association, the ideal ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 consumption is: 1:1
- The World Health Organization recommend consuming 0.3-0.5 grams of daily EPA + DHA and 0.8-1.1 grams of daily ALA.
PLEASE NOTE: As with any new supplement, please check with your doctor or pharmacist, as there are some possible drug interactions and health conditions that should not take fish oil supplements:
Additional Research Information:
- Recent cardiovascular research has compared DHA alone against the effects of DHA and EPA, to find that DHA alone is equal to DHA and EPA or better.
- As there has been positive research on the role that DHA may play in adult brain and eye health (and, just to hit the point home, American's diets typically fall short of recommended levels, and the U.S. has one of the lowest levels of DHA consumption in the world!), there have been numerous studies on omega-3's, and lists of health benefits on a wide range of health conditions and another list of proven and possible health benefits:
- decreased risk of mental decline associated with aging (DHA only)
- decrease inflammation
- rheumatoid arthritis
- Crohn's disease
- depression (early findings suggest benefit)
- menstrual pain reduction (early findings suggest benefit)
So...after all of this research, I am still confused on my intake of DHA, since I am probably getting enough ALA through healthy nuts.
And, I have heard that supplements are not as good as the "real thing" (food!), but in these studies, it sounds like fish oil does provide the same amount and type of DHA and EPA that my body needs. Anyone confirm or deny this (please provide your source, so I can continue in my quest for research).
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