Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids can support health in a variety of ways, including reducing joint pain, improving nerve conduction, supporting cardiovascular health and much more.
Here are some common terms:
EFAs: Essential Fatty Acids
Essential Fatty Acids: a type of fats that includes omega-3’s and other omega EFAs
Omega-3’s: a certain form of EFAs that have shown health benefits
Other omega EFAs include omega-6’s, omega-9’s, etc.
EPA: a form of omega-3’s with benefits, including anti-inflammatory effects
DHA: a form of omega-3’s with benefits, including neurological support
ALA: not to be confused with alpha-lipoic acid (another ALA), this is a form of omega-3’s that can convert to EPA and DHA
What’s the best source of all these wonderfully healthy omega-3’s? Fish is the most common source for omega-3’s. Other sources include algae, krill oil and specific types of fish oil, such as cod liver oil. Plant sources of ALA in particular include flaxseed, hemp, walnuts and chia.
The difference between omega’s is related to the molecular structure of the fats. Different structures mean different utilization and benefits by the body. Omega-3’s specifically contain a long-ish chain of carbon atoms with a double bond located 3 carbon’s from the end of the chain.
EFAs are called “essential” because the body cannot make them on its own. Omega-3 EFAs include EPA and DHA, arguably the two most therapeutic omega’s.
EPA (eicosapentanoic acid) is a 20 carbon chain with benefits for cholesterol balance, blood viscosity, reducing inflammation and more.
DHA (docosahexanoic acid) is a 22 carbon chain that is especially important in neurological development and also helps to reduce inflammation.
Alpha linolenic acid (sometimes abbreviated ALA, but again, not to be confused with alpha-lipoid acid, which is usually abbreviated ALA as well) is an 18 carbon chain that can be converted to EPA and DHA, although generally in smaller amounts.
Where omega-3 EFAs have shown health benefits, omega-6’s can play into the inflammatory picture more. As omega-6’s tend to be much more common in the American diet, it’s important to make sure you have some intake of omega-3’s to help balance out the EFA ratio.
If you can consume a variety of wild-caught fish, you’ll benefit from dietary intake of omega-3’s. If it’s hard to eat quality fish often, you may benefit more from supplemental omega-3’s, such as fish oil.
Not all fish oil products are created equal – far from it – and this is one supplement where you really do need to pay attention to quality. Fish oil is from fish, and fish naturally accumulate toxins including heavy metals; high-quality fish oils go through appropriate purification processes and third-party testing and verification of purity. This means that lower-quality fish oil could contain toxins that would actually be detrimental to health – it’s not just less of a benefit, it’s actually potentially damaging.
On that note, it’s always a good idea to talk with your doctor prior to starting fish oil or omega-3 supplementation, to make sure it’s a healthy choice for you in the context of your individual health and any medical conditions.
Bottom line: If you could to use fish oil, it’s one supplement that is important to: 1) confirm with your doctor first and 2) purchase high-quality. See your naturopathic physician or your trusted primary care doctor for specific recommendations.
There’s lots more to talk about here, but this is a good overview – please feel free to send any questions.
May you be well.
The information provided here is not intended to replace medical advice or to treat or diagnose any medical condition. Please consult your doctor with specific questions and prior to beginning any significant diet, supplement or lifestyle changes.