Omega 3 fatty acids: what are they and its uses?

Dr. Sneha Ganatra
January 28, 2021

Omega 3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) which are essential nutrients that helps the cardiovascular system in many ways. Our body cannot make Omega 3 fatty acids on its own. And hence it has to be derived from food. The types of Omega 3 fatty acids include: 

  • Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) 
  • Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) 
  • Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) 

Plant oils like walnuts, flax seeds and chia seeds consist of ALAs whereas EPA and DHA can be found in fatty fish such as salmonmackerel, herring, and sardines. Plant oils are good option for vegetarians who cannot derive the nutrient from fish oil. They can also opt for oral supplements. 

Let us see the benefits Omega 3 fatty acids provides to the body and then we shall investigate the top food sources of them along with its side effects. 

How does Omega 3 fatty acids benefit the Heart? 

  • The risk of heart disease and stroke can increase due to high levels of triglyceride and blood clots. Omega 3 fatty acids is beneficial in reducing the levels of triglyceride and avoids platelets to clump together which forms clots. 
  • Patients with high blood pressure can be benefited with Omega 3 fatty acids as they help lower the blood pressure. 
  • Whether Omega 3 fatty acids are beneficial in lowering the bad or LDL cholesterol is still not clear as there is not much evidence to support it, but it does help raising the good or HDL cholesterol. 
  • Plaques can cause hardening of the arteries and restrict the blood flow to the heart which can cause cardiac damage. Omega 3 fatty acids help in preventing this plaque formation. 

How does Omega 3 fatty acids help in pregnancy? 

  • Brain growth and higher intelligence is linked with Omega 3 fatty acids in infants. 
  • Reduced risk of developmental delay and better communication skills are other benefits when pregnant women take enough Omega 3 fatty acids. 
  • Omega 3 fatty acids is also associated with visual development of infants. 

How does Omega 3 fatty acids help fight depression?

  • There are studies that showed that people who regularly took Omega 3 fatty acids were less likely to get depressed. 
  • There was improvement seen for the people who had anxiety disorders and depression. 
  • Out of the 3 types of Omega 3 fatty acids, EPA was shown to be most effective in fighting depression. 

How does Omega 3 fatty acids help in the process of ageing?

  • Ageing can cause deterioration in not just physical but also mental abilities. Omega 3 fatty acids help in slowing this process. 
  • Lowered risk of Alzheimer’s disease is another benefit of Omega 3 fatty acids. 

What are the other benefits of Omega 3 fatty acids? 

  • Omega 3 fatty acids is shown to improve the quality and length of sleep for those who have sleep problems. 
  • Skin benefits by Omega 3 fatty acids are known since long, as they slower down the process of ageing and due to its anti-inflammatory properties, it helps in preventing acne and healing them. 
  • Menstrual pain is the most troublesome for women all over. Omega 3 fatty acids is seen to be beneficial for lowering this pain. 
  • Risk of certain cancers are shown to reduce with regular intake of Omega 3 fatty acids. 
  • People with Rheumatoid arthritis can have relief in symptoms and reduced requirement of the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs due to regular intake of Omega 3 fatty acids. 

Are there any side-effects of Omega 3 fatty acids?

Unless taken in high doses, Omega 3 fatty acids do not have any serious side effects. Few mild ones are as follows: 

  • Nausea 
  • Loose motions 
  • Bad smelling breath 
  • Headaches 
  • Heartburn 

What are best food sources for Omega 3 fatty acids? 

Fish is the best source for Omega 3 fatty acids, although there are other alternatives as well for those who don’t eat fish including vegetarian options as well. Let’s look at all the good sources loaded with Omega 3 fatty acids: 

  1. Mackerel: 100 grams serving consists of 2.5-2.7 grams of Omega 3 fatty acids. 
  2. Salmon: 100 grams serving consists of 1.8-2.1 grams of Omega 3 fatty acids. 
  3. Cod liver oil: 2,682 mg per tablespoon 
  4. Flax seeds: 2,281 mg per tablespoon 
  5. Chia seeds: 1,783 mg per tablespoon 
  6. Walnuts: 2,570 mg per ounce (28gms) or 14 walnuts halves 
  7. Soybeans: 1,443mg per 100 grams 

Other sources include Tofu, avocados, brussels sprouts, navy beans and canola oil. 

Choose what suits you the best according to your dietary habits and choices! 

What about Omega 3 fatty acids oral supplements?

If you opt for taking omega 3 fatty acids supplements, it is best to consult your doctor first to rule out if any of your current medications can interact with them. Also, your doctor shall prescribe the optimum dosage according to your health conditions and age. For example, if you have high triglycerides levels, you might be prescribed a little higher dose. A combination of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is generally preferred as each of these fatty acids provides different health benefits.