Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids and DHA

23 Feb

Last week we talked about how fish oils are a great source of Omega-3s and DHA.  In this post, we will explore the health benefits of Omega-3s and DHA as well as list additional food sources for this health promoting compounds!

What are Omega-3 fatty acids?

Omega−3 fatty acids can be found in marine and plant oils. They are polyunsaturated fatty acids and are called N-3 fatty acids due to the placement of their double bonds.

N-3 fatty acids are called “essential fatty acids” because our bodies need them for metabolism but cannot create them.  Our bodies do have the ability to form some long chain n-3 fatty acids such as EPA and DHA and ALA (3 of the most important ones for human health)

So when someone says Omega-3 fatty acids, they are actually referring to a large collection of different fatty acids that differ based on their length.


What are healthy sources of N-3 fatty acids?

  • Cold water fish such as mackerel, salmon and sardines (as mentioned before, be careful to choose fish with low mercury levels or a supplement made from fish with low mercury levels)
  • Plant seeds such as flax (18% of its weight is actually ALA!) (flax seeds must be ground to properly digest them so try flax meal or grinding them yourself) and hemp (read all about hemp here!)
  • Hemp seeds

  • Eggs (especially those fed special diets-usually labeled on the carton)
  • Grass-fed (not grain fed) beef

  • Mammal brain and eyes (if that’s your thing!)
  • Algae (great if you are a vegan/vegetarian)

Why are they good for us?

N-3 fatty acids have numerous health benefits due to their ability to modulate inflammation.  Below is just a small sampling of the studies that have been done.  N-3 fatty acids have shown to:

  • Lower plasma triglycerides, resting heart rate, and blood pressure and might also improve heart function and lower inflammation.  National and international guidelines recommend the general population to consume at least 250 mg/day of long-chain n-3 PUFA or at least 2 servings/week of oily fish (source)
  • Help  recovery following traumatic brain injury and they may be beneficial before injury, as well (source)(source)
  • Reduce triglycerides (source)
  • Have some indication for helping bipolar depression (source)
  • Be essential for neurodevelopment and cognitive maintenance in older adulthood (source)
  • Be effective in the treatment of ADHD (source)
  • Help babies have a faster immune maturation  (source)
  • Reduce pain, number of tender joints, duration of morning stiffness in Rheumatoid Arthritis patients (source)


The US FDA  Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, has said that known or suspected risks of EPA and DHA consumed in excess of 3 grams per day may include the possibility of:

  • Increased incidence of bleeding
  • Hemorrhagic stroke
  • Oxidation of omega-3 fatty acids, forming biologically active oxidation products
  • Increased levels of low-density lipoproteins (LDL) cholesterol or apoproteins associated with LDL cholesterol among diabetics and hyperlipidemics
  • Reduced glycemic control among diabetics (source)

What are Omega-6 fatty acids and what is the meaning of the ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6?  Tune in next week to find out!


How do you get healthy fats into your diet?  Do you try to eat foods with them or do you take a supplement?


2 Responses to “Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids and DHA”

  1. Corinne @ RI Nutrition Housecalls February 23, 2012 at 8:57 am #

    I get lots of healthy fats in my diet by eating walnuts, flax seeds, cashews, almonds, pistachios, brazil nuts, peanut butter, pumpkin seeds, tahini, almond butter, sunflowerseed butter, coconut, and avocado. No need for supplements here!

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