Omega 3 Fatty Acids – What You Need To Know
Updated: Sep 17, 2020
Why Is Omega 3 Important?
Omega 3’s are a group of polyunsaturated essential fatty acids, meaning our body cannot manufacture them and we must obtain them through the diet in adequate amounts for good health. Omega 3 fats nourish cellular membranes (they act with membrane proteins affecting the transport of substances into and out of the cell), modulate inflammatory signals through eicosanoid production and are vital to good brain, hormone and immune health.
There’s 3 Main Forms Of Omega 3: DHA, EPA + ALA
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) come mainly from oily fish (salmon, mackerel, anchovies, herring, sardines) and sometimes are referred to as ‘marine omega 3’. DHA and EPA are the biologically active forms of omega 3 and are crucial for long-term health.
Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), is a much more easily obtained form of omega 3 through Western diets, and is found in mainly plant-based sources i.e. vegetable oils, nuts (particularly walnuts), flax/chia seeds, leafy vegetables and also some animal fat; particularly grass-fed meat.
In the liver, ALA can convert to EPA and DHA through a series of enzyme reactions, these reactions additionally require a good supply of zinc, magnesium, b6, b3 and vitamin c – however this conversion is very poor, with reported rates of less than 15%… Therefore, consuming EPA and DHA directly from foods and/or dietary supplementation is the only reliable way to increase levels of these fatty acids in the body.
Relying on ALA dominant sources alone, i.e. walnuts and chia seeds just won’t suffice, but of course every little helps and these foods provide additional nutrients that are wonderful for our health.
So, What Can Vegans Do?
The good news is algae oil can be bought in supplemental form and can provide good DHA and EPA levels (dose to be advised by a nutrition professional) to combat this caveat for those who are vegan or do not eat fish.
How Much Do I Need?
In the UK there is no specific recommended daily intake for omega 3. Guidelines however for a minimum amount of combined EPA/DHA are 250–500 mg according to the World Health Organisation. The amount of omega 3 we require will vary person-to-person depending on age, current dietary intake and individual health status.
Supplementation can prove very helpful in instances but as a general guide, eating oily fish 2-3 times per week should provide a nice intake of omega 3 to support good health.