Omega-3 Fatty Acids Benefits And Daily Requirement
The term ‘Omega’ is used to designate unsaturated fatty acid families. Saturated fatty acids, on the other hand, do not have an omega designation.
What Is Omega-3 Fatty Acid
Omega-3 refers to the family of fatty acids in which the first cis double bond (unsaturation) closest to the methyl end is in the third position. Omega-6 refers to the family of fatty acids wherein the cis double bond closest to the methyl end is in the sixth position.
Types Of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Three main types of omega-3s are
Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
Besides these three essential omega-3 fatty acids, there are about eight more; however, they are not considered essential.
ALA, EPA & DHA are all members of the polyunsaturated family (PUFA), and they are considered essential because your body is unable to make them on its own. Omega-3 is found within the cell membranes of trillions of human cells and plays a critical role in most fundamental body processes. 1https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14580707
Now, let’s take a look at some studies linking the consumption of omega-3 with good health.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids Benefits
Chronic inflammation is responsible for many diseases, including cardiovascular disease. 2https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19691834 Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce inflammation 3https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19593941, while most omega-6 fatty acids tend to promote inflammation. 4https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15259529
They are part of cell membranes and are anti-inflammatory. 5https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18692841, 6https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21159787, 7 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11201991 Omega-3 fatty acids are highly concentrated in the brain and appear to be important for cognitive and behavioral functions, such as brain performance and memory. 8https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17490978
More than 50% of the brain is lipids, with DHA being the most predominant of all structural fatty acids. 9http://medind.nic.in/icb/t05/i3/icbt05i3p239.pdf Omega-3 supplementation improved symptoms of anxiety and depression. 10https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16269019, 11 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19499625, 12 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21939614
Infants who do not get enough omega-3 fatty acids from their mothers during pregnancy are at risk of developing vision and nerve problems.
There have been studies done on pregnant patients who have been given Omega-3 supplementation, and the results have been positive and include enhanced infant problem-solving skills, significantly better scores of hand and eye coordination, decreased incidence of asthma in children at 16 years of age and decreased food allergies! 13https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17556695, 14https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17185423, 15https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20959577, 16 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19489765
High doses of omega-3 (3-5g/day) can reduce triglyceride levels! 17https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15259529, 18https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22113870 High doses of omega-3 proved to be beneficial for overall cardiovascular health. 19https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2571009, 20https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10465168
Symptoms of omega-3 fatty acid deficiency include fatigue, poor memory, dry skin, heart problems, mood swings, depression, and poor circulation.
It is important to have the proper ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in the diet. The typical American diet tends to contain 14 to 25 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids, which many nutritionally oriented physicians consider to be way too high on the omega-6 side. 21https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12442909
A 2016 study indicates that this ratio may even be more skewed, i.e., 20:1 or even higher! 22https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26950145 For optimal health, a ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 of [1-4]/1 should suffice!
Omega-3 Daily Requirement
Typical recommendations are 0.3-0.5 grams per day of EPA+DHA. 23https://www.who.int/nutrition/topics/5_population_nutrient/en/index13.html, 24https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/what-is-the-upper-limit-for-omega-3-fats When talking about the upper limit, I would say 2-4g can suffice as there is no scientific data that doses as high as 5g can be harmful. 25https://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/efsajournal/pub/2815, 26https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17307104
Omega-3 Food Sources
Top Animal-Based Omega-3 Rich Foods
100g of mackerel provides 4g of EPA &DHA!
100g of salmon provides 1.6g of EPA & DHA!
100g of sardines provides 2g of EPA & DHA
70g (one large egg) may provide 0.2g of EPA & DHA.
Top Plant-Based Omega-3 Rich Foods
It is easier for fish to convert alpha-linolenic acid from algae and other sea plants into EPA and DHA; humans can only do so to a very limited degree. The conversion rate of ALA into the usable form of EPA & DHA is 5% and 0.5%, respectively. 27https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17622276, 28https://www.researchgate.net/publication/6216354_Erratum_Extremely_limited_synthesis_of_long-chain_polyunsaturates_in_adults_implications_for_their_dietary_essentiality_and_use_as_supplements
ALA -> EPA 5%
ALA -> DHA 0.5%
To put things into perspective, let me give you an example.
Let’s say you ate 14 walnut halves which have 2.5g (2500mg) of ALA omega-3. Now, through a series of complex metabolic reactions, your body will have to convert the 2.5g ALA into EPA & DHA.
2.5g ALA -> 5% of 2.5g = 125mg of EPA
2.5g ALA -> 0.5% of 2.5g= 12.5mg of DHA
Since the recommended intake is between 300-500mg (0.3-0.5g per day), you would be required to eat chia/flaxseeds to get the right dose (or more walnuts which I guess you probably won’t be inclined to!).
Therefore the best strategy is to either supplement with krill oil/fish oil which I have discussed below. But if you are a vegan/vegetarian, seed oils like flaxseed/chia/hemp oils (oils are more concentrated than seeds, and they are way easier to consume than seeds).
Algae oil is also another good alternative.
1oz (~28g or 14 walnut halves) of walnuts provides 2.5g of ALA 29https://ods.od.nih.gov/pubs/usdandb/ALA-Content.pdf
Therefore, [5-15]% of 2.5g is [125-375]mg.
15g of flaxseed oil provides 7g of ALA 30https://ods.od.nih.gov/pubs/usdandb/ALA-Content.pdf
It has the highest omega-3 content of all plant-based foods!
28g of chia seeds has around 5g of ALA omega-3 31https://ods.od.nih.gov/pubs/usdandb/ALA-Content.pdf
28g of hemp seeds has around 2.4g of ALA omega-3 32https://ods.od.nih.gov/pubs/usdandb/ALA-Content.pdf
Why Krill Oil Is Better Than Fish Oil
Krill, or ‘okiami’ as the Japanese call it, are small, shrimp-like creatures that have been a cherished food source in Asia since the 19th century or possibly even earlier.
According to Dr. Mercola
Krill oil's antioxidant potency is 48 times higher than that of fish oil. It also contains astaxanthin, a marine-source flavonoid that creates a special bond with the EPA and DHA to allow the direct metabolism of the antioxidants, making them more bioavailable.
I have personally been consuming krill oil on a daily basis for the past few years, and my health has never been better. Of course, you should keep in mind that a supplement is only as good as its source and the way it’s processed.
Dr. Mercola’s quality process is second to none. You can watch the video here. 33http://shop.mercola.com/pages/quality.aspx
Fish and seafood are a major source of human exposure to contaminants like methylmercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). These levels are generally higher in older, larger, predatory fish.
Individual states and two federal agencies share the responsibility of regulating the quality of fish for human consumption. The Environmental Protection Agency regulates sport-caught fish, while the FDA regulates all commercial fish, including farm-raised, imported, and marine fish.
The Environmental Protection Agency or who could become pregnant as well as nursing mothers to limit their consumption of sport-caught fish to one six-ounce serving per week. 34https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/full/10.1161/01.cir.0000038493.65177.94
The Environmental Protection Agency also recommends that young children consume fewer than 2 ounces of sport-caught fish per week.
The FDA recommends that women who are pregnant or nursing young children eliminate shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish (also referred to as golden bass or golden snapper) from their diets completely.
In addition, they should limit their consumption of other fish to 12 ounces per week (approximately 3 to 4 servings per week) to minimize their exposure to methylmercury. 35https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/full/10.1161/01.cir.0000038493.65177.94
The consumption of a wide variety of seafood species is the best approach to minimizing mercury exposure and increasing omega-3 fatty acids. Limit your consumption of farm-raised fish because their contaminant levels are generally higher than wild water species.
At the same time, avoid larger fishes like sharks and swordfish, which have the highest amounts of contaminants. Instead, you should focus on eating shrimp, light tuna, and catfish.
What do you think about Omega-3?
Have any questions or queries? Let me know in the comments below.
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About Akash Sehrawat
Akash is a creator of 25+ programs and certificate courses in which more than 200,000 students have enrolled both on Udemy and Fabulous Body's native platform. Akash is also an author of three books that can be found on Amazon. His answers on Quora have gathered more than 12 million views in less than a year.