The ABC's of Omega-3s

Omega-3 fatty acids are one of the major stars of the nutrient scene, for many good reasons.

The result has inspired the evolution of fish oil from the not-so-fondly-remembered cod liver oil to the easy-to-swallow fish oil softgels of today. 

Why? Because omega-3 fatty acids are extremely beneficial to your health. In fact, they are one of the few nutrients for which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has actually approved a health claim:

"Supportive but not conclusive research shows that consumption of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease."

ALA, DHA, and EPA Are The Most Important Omega-3s

Among the omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) are recognized as being the most important to human health.

Alpha-linolenic acid converts to EPA and DHA in the body, but the efficiency of this conversion varies between individuals and is believed to be inefficient.

Hence, we have often heard the advice to supplement directly with EPA and DHA rather than rely on the conversion of ALA to these beneficial omega-3s.

Are Vegetarians Omega-3 Deficient?

Whether they choose to supplement with algae-derived DHA or consume more high-ALA foods, vegetarians need to be concerned about getting enough omega-3s.1

A study published in the journal Lipids revealed a significantly higher omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio, which is a marker of increased heart disease risk, among vegetarians compared to omnivores (a person that eats plants and meat).

However, other components of a vegetarian diet may help to protect against heart disease.

How Can Vegetarians Get More Omega-3s?

While fish and fish oils continue to be the most popular omega-3 source, vegetarians are faced with a dilemma: how to benefit from higher amounts of omega-3 without introducing animal products into their diets.

However, a recent review by Penn State researchers published in Advances in Nutrition suggests that ALA, which occurs in such plant sources as flaxseeds, walnuts, chia seeds, and canola oil, could actually be as viable as omega-3 from fish oil.2

For those who remain unconvinced, microalgae — tiny water-borne plants consumed by fish in the wild which are the source of fish's own omega-3s are now being harvested as a direct source of omega-3, particularly DHA.

DHA is often considered the more important of the EPA/DHA duo, primarily because of its brain benefit that has been demonstrated in the unborn and senior citizens.3-8

The Bottom Line

For those who dislike fish or don't relish the thought of eating them, there are alternative ways to get your omega-3s from sources such as algae.

Whatever your preference, do make sure to get enough of these fats in your diet for optimal cardiovascular health and maybe even a longer life.


  1. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014 Jun 4;100(Supplement 1):329S-335S. 
  2. Adv Nutr. 2014 Nov;5(6):863S-876S. 
  3. Pediatr Res. 2015 Mar 12;77(3):489-97. 
  4. Pharmacol Res. 2013 Apr;70(1):13-9. 
  5. JPEN J Parenter Enteral Nutr. 2013 Jan;37(1):15-22. 
  6. Nutrients. 2012 Jul;4(7):799-840. 
  7. Adv Nutr. 2012 Jan;3(1):1-7. 
  8. Nutrition. 2015 Feb;31(2):261-275.


beefeater said...

The cows of the land, eating the greens, also produce Omega 3 fatty acids in similar and greater amounts to most fish, with only Herring, Mackerel and wild salmon of the cold water fish being greater. Ground codfish is actually lower on average than tests of our grass fattened beef which tests over 200mg/100g in ground and 900 to 1500mg in bone marrow/broth concentrate. Yet this evolutionary ruminant grass fat, with domesticated beef being of the best, never gets mentioned, and it is these grass fats of the land that indicate development of humans and our brains, long before we learned how to fish. Historical record and enquiry indicate it is such animal fats and wild eggs gathered in spring, that gave humans the brains and stamina to survive, inhabiting land wherever annual greening from the sun takes place.

Life Extension said...

beefeater- Thanks for sharing this information with us! Grass-fed beef does contain more omega-3 fats than beef from grain-fed cows.

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