Have you heard all about the great health benefits of fish oil, but still aren’t exactly sure what an omega-3 fatty acid is? Or what a fat is in general? Omega-3 fatty acids are considered essential nutrients. An essential nutrient cannot be made from the body itself but needs to be consumed in the diet. Omega-3 fatty acids are named for their organic molecule structure and belong to a family of polyunsaturated fats. Polyunsaturated fats are extremely beneficial; they can help reduce bad cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and reduce the risk of a stroke or heart disease.1 There is also evidence that omega-3s help the heart beat steadily, preventing dangerous and abnormal heart rhythms.1 If you are like everyone else trying to break down what this all means, we are here to give you a little clarity.
Saturated vs Unsaturated Fats
The difference between saturated and unsaturated fats is simply the addition (or lack of) a single double bond in their molecular structure. Saturated fats have no double bonds and can be found commonly in animal products (e.g. beef), dairy products (e.g. butter), and some plants (e.g. coconut). While saturated fats are not inherently “bad”, they do have the ability to raise LDL cholesterol, the type that you want to keep low.
Unlike saturated fats, unsaturated fats do contain double bonds in their molecular structure. They can contain either one, or multiple. If they contain just one, they are called monounsaturated fats (olive and canola oil) or they if they contain more than one (safflower and sunflower oil) they are called polyunsaturated fats. Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats.
Types of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
You can break down omega-3 fatty acids into three main types of omega-3s (even though there are many more): EPA, DHA, and ALA.
Eicosapentaenoic acid can be found mainly in fish, so it is often referred to as a marine omega-3 fatty acid.2 This fatty acid has been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects, as well as a potential protective factor against tumor cells.3
Docosahexaenoic acid is also considered a marine omega-3, mostly obtained from fish.2 This type of fat plays an essential role in the development of the brain in infants, as well as maintaining healthy brain function in adults. In addition, DHA has been shown to have a positive impact on hypertension, arthritis, depression, and diabetes.4
Alpha-linolenic acid is the most common type of omega-3, typically found in the Western diet. You can find ALA in vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, leafy greens, and even some animal fats.2 Alpha-linolenic acid is the precursor to creating EPA and DHA, although it doesn’t do a very good job of creating EPA and DHA in the body. Most research has focused on the health benefits of EPA and DHA, leaving ALA in the dust. However, some studies have shown that ALA may have anti-inflammatory properties and reduce the risk of stroke.5
The Alpha and Omega of Fatty Acids
Here’s the bottom line when it comes to fat: there is not just one type of fat that we should consume. A diverse diet is needed to ensure we are meeting our nutritional needs, including saturated and unsaturated fats, as well as the essential DHA, EPA, and ALA polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids. Can you say that three times, fast?
Whether you’re looking for the best omega-3 supplements or you have specific concerns, Persona offers a better way to get better vitamins. You can take our free 3 to 5-minute assessment to get personalized vitamin recommendations based on your unique needs. If you already know what you need or would like to see popular options, try our convenient Essential pre-packs. Ready to have the right vitamins for you delivered right to your door? Get Recommendations or See Essential Packs.