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Omega-3 fatty acids.

What Omega-3 Fatty Acids Really Do For Us

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What Omega-3 Fatty Acids Really Do For Us

Shockingly, we’ve not previously covered this in a main feature here at 10almonds… Mostly we tend to focus on less well-known supplements. However, in this case, the supplement may be well known, while some of its benefits, we suspect, may come as a surprise.


What is it?

In this case, it’s more of a “what are they?”, because omega-3 fatty acids come in multiple forms, most notably:

  • Alpha-linoleic acid (ALA)
  • Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
  • Docosahexanoic acid (DHA)

ALA is most readily found in certain seeds and nuts (chia seeds and walnuts are top contenders), while EPA and DHA are most readily found in certain fish (hence “cod liver oil” being a commonly available supplement, though actually cod aren’t even the best source—salmon and mackerel are better; cod is just cheaper to overfish, making it the cheaper supplement to manufacture).

Which of the three is best, or do we need them all?

There are two ways of looking at this:

  • ALA is sufficient alone, because it is a precursor to EPA and DHA, meaning that the body will take ALA and convert it into EPA and DHA as required
  • EPA and DHA are superior because they’re already in the forms the body will use, which makes them more efficient

As with most things in health, diversity is good, so you really can’t go wrong by getting some from each source.

Unless you have an allergy to fish or nuts, in which case, definitely avoid those!

What do omega-3 fatty acids do for us, according to actual research?

Against inflammation

Most people know it’s good for joints, as this is perhaps what it’s most marketed for. Indeed, it’s good against inflammation of the joints (and elsewhere), and autoimmune diseases in general. So this means it is indeed good against common forms of arthritis, amongst others:

Read: Omega-3 fatty acids in inflammation and autoimmune disease

Against menstrual pain

Linked to the above-referenced anti-inflammatory effects, omega-3s were also found to be better than ibuprofen for the treatment of severe menstrual pain:

Don’t take our word for it: Comparison of the effect of fish oil and ibuprofen on treatment of severe pain in primary dysmenorrhea

Against cognitive decline

This one’s a heavy-hitter. It’s perhaps to be expected of something so good against inflammation (bearing in mind that, for example, a large part of Alzheimer’s is effectively a form of inflammation of the brain); as this one’s so important and such a clear benefit, here are three particularly illustrative studies:

Against heart disease

The title says it all in this one:

A meta-analysis shows that docosahexaenoic acid from algal oil reduces serum triglycerides and increases HDL-cholesterol and LDL-cholesterol in persons without coronary heart disease

But what about in patients who do have heart disease?

Mozaffarian and Wu did a huge meta-review of available evidence, and found that in fact, of all the studied heart-related effects, reducing mortality rate in cases of cardiovascular disease was the single most well-evidenced benefit:

Read more: Omega-3 fatty acids and cardiovascular disease: effects on risk factors, molecular pathways, and clinical events

How much should we take?

There’s quite a bit of science on this, and—which is unusual for something so well-studied—not a lot of consensus.

However, to summarize the position of the academy of nutrition and dietetics on dietary fatty acids for healthy adults, they recommend a minimum of 250–500 mg combined EPA and DHA each day for healthy adults. This can be obtained from about 8 ounces (230g) of fatty fish per week, for example.

If going for ALA, on the other hand, the recommendation becomes 1.1g/day for women or 1.6g/day for men.

Want to know how to get more from your diet?

Here’s a well-sourced article about different high-density dietary sources:

12 Foods That Are Very High in Omega-3

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