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Omega-3 fatty acids: Fact sheet

Omega-3 fatty acids are 'good' fats found in some foods, such as oily fish.

The NHS says there is evidence that when eaten as part of a healthy diet, omega-3 fatty acids, primarily those found in oily fish, can help maintain a healthy heart and reduce the risk of heart disease. The British Heart Foundation concurs, saying it is well established that a dietary intake of omega-3 is good for heart health. Oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel or sardines, is a nutritious source of omega-3.

There are many health benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids. Research shows strong evidence that the Omega-3s, EPA and DHA, can boost heart health and lower triglycerides. There are compelling studies showing Omega-3 fatty acids may help with other conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis and many more.

Just what are Omega-3 fatty acids exactly? How much do you need? And what do all those abbreviations, EPA, DHA, and ALA, really mean? Here's a rundown of the essential Omega-3 facts you need to know.

Omega-3 fatty acids: Basics

  • Omega-3 fatty acids are considered essential fatty acids. We need them for our bodies to work normally. Because essential fatty acids (ALA, DHA, EPA) are not made in the body or are inefficiently converted from ALA to EPA and DHA, we need to get them from food
  • Omega-3s have a number of health benefits. Omega-3s reduce inflammation throughout the body, in the blood vessels, the joints, and elsewhere. Omega-3 supplements (EPA/DHA) also seem to thin the blood and aid cell function
  • There are several types of Omega-3 fatty acids. Two crucial ones, EPA and DHA, are primarily found in certain fish. Plants like flax contain ALA, an Omega-3 fatty acid that is partially converted into DHA and EPA in the body. Algae oil often provides only DHA
  • Experts say that DHA and EPA, from fish and fish oil, have better established health benefits than ALA. DHA and EPA are found together only in fatty fish and algae; while flaxseed and plant sources of Omega-3s provide ALA, a precursor to EPA and DHA, and a source of energy

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