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What are omega-3 fatty acids?

Also known as polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), omega-3s are essential fatty acids, meaning the body needs them for building cell membranes. The body cannot make them, so you must get them through food. There are three primary types of omega-3s. Those that are considered most beneficial are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and fish is the best dietary source for these omega-3s.

Eating a diet rich in omega-3s has been shown to:
  • reduce risk of death from a sudden heart attack
  • lower risk of heart disease and stroke
  • reduce inflammation, helping to prevent chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer and arthritis
  • improve brain function such as memory and cognition
Leopold D. Galland, MD
Internal Medicine
Omega-3 essential fatty acids are essential to the healthy functioning of body and brain. Omega-3s help heal inflammation, promote a wide range of cellular activities, and improve or prevent depression, Alzheimer's disease, and other disorders. Plant sources of omega-3s include ground flaxseeds, walnuts, and beans, especially navy, kidney, and soy. Animal sources include fish, especially oily cold-water fish such as salmon or tuna.
Omega-3 fatty acid is a type of polyunsaturated fat that's particularly good for your heart. This type of fat can help lower your triglycerides and reduce inflammation. Good sources include:
  • Salmon (fresh or canned), herring, lake trout, mackerel, and sardines
  • Soybeans and soybean oil
  • Walnuts and walnut oil
  • Flaxseeds (ground) and flaxseed oil
  • Foods fortified with omega-3 fatty acid
William B. Salt II., MD
Gastroenterology
Omega-3 fatty acids are necessary for physical and mental health. The American Heart Association recommends omega-3 fatty acids for patients who had coronary artery disease as long as they obtained their doctor’s approval. Omega-3 fatty acids refer to a group of polyunsaturated fatty acids found in certain foods and particularly in fish. Omega-3 fatty acids derived from fish oils are naturally high in both EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). EPA supports heart health. DHA makes up membranes of nerve cells in the brain and is thought to play an important role in normal brain development and function.
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Omega-3 fatty acids is a family of polyunsaturated fatty acids that are found in the membranes of cells and that make them more flexible and pliable. Important omega-3 fatty acids in nutrition include alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Omega-3 fatty acids have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body.
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There are three main types of omega-3 fatty acids:

Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is the omega-3 fatty acid that's found in plants. ALA is critical to our survival; it's one of the two "essential" fatty acids that the body cannot make, so we must get it from foods (linoleic is the other essential fatty acid).

Sources: Have one of the following every day: flaxseeds or flaxseed oil, canola oil, walnuts, and foods enriched with omega-3s, such as these products sporting the Best Life Seal of Approval: Barilla PLUS pasta, Flatout Flatbread, Hellman's Canola Cholesterol Free Mayonnaise, Silk DHA Omega-3 & Calcium Soymilk (contains both ALA and DHA), Smart Balance Buttery Spread, Smart Balance Peanut Butter.

Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docohexaenoic acid (DHA) are the omega-3s found primarily in fish; there are also small amounts in meat from grass-fed animals. These seem to have more potent and direct benefits to the heart, brain, and joints than ALA and are what make up most omega-3 supplements.
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Omega-3s are a type of polyunsaturated fat that can be found in soybean oil, canola oil, walnuts, flaxseeds, salmon and trout. Several studies point to the likelihood that higher dietary intakes of these particular fatty acids can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and even heart attack. In fact, the evidence is so strong that the American Heart Association recommends eating fish (particularly oily types like salmon, sardines and halibut) at least twice a week.
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for the body to function appropriately; however, since we cannot synthesize them on our own, we have to obtain them from our diet. For possibly preventing heart disease, the important omega-3 fatty acids are EPA and DHA (eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid) which are found in fish-oil. In large population studies, there is a trend towards less heart disease in diets where higher amounts of fish are consumed (i.e. Mediterranean diet). Studies have shown that fish oil rich in EPA and DHA (taken in tablet form, or by increasing fish in your diet) can improve risk factors for heart disease, most notably by lowering triglycerides.
Omega-3 fatty acids are also known as essential polyunsaturated fatty acids. They have a double bond in the third carbon position, which is where the 3 in the name comes from.

They are known as essential fatty acids, since the body needs them for good health and is unable to make its own.

Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids are salmon, trout, herring, walnuts, halibut, sardines, flaxseed oil, albacore tuna, canola oil, shrimp, spinach, clams, catfish, cod, and chunk light tuna.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.