Omega-3: Definition, Benefits, Sources

December 4, 2014 (Updated: August 16, 2018)
Lily Moran

Omega-3 fatty acids are one of several types of essential fatty acids (EFAs). They’re called EFAs because they’re essential to human health, but the body can’t make them, so they must come from dietary sources. Omega-3-rich fish oil supplements are the easiest, most common, way to supplement your diet with extra Omega-3s, but cold water fish like salmon, tuna, halibut, sardines, herring and mackerel are rich in omega-3s as are certain types of algae, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds and walnuts (or their respective oils).

Research shows that a diet high in the omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)*, can help reduce inflammation and, in turn, reduce the risk of inflammatory diseases like arthritis, cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s, to name a few. Omega-3s have also been shown to help balance mood, boost cognitive function and overall brain health.

A diet high in Omega-3s can also help lower risk of heart disease. Because, beyond their anti-inflammatory properties, studies show that the Omega-3s, EPA and DHA, can help boost healthy HDL cholesterol while lowering dangerous triglycerides. They can also help lower blood pressure.

They’re even helpful for promoting strong, healthy, young-looking hair, skin and nails.

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To get the most from Omega-3s, experts recommend between 1,250 and 1,500 milligrams of EPA and DHA per day. But it’s important to note, that 1,500 milligrams of an Omega-3-rich fish oil is NOT the same as 1,500 milligrams of EPA and DHA. So be sure to read the labels on your Omega-3 supplement.

Best of all, when taken at the recommended dosages, and up to 3,000 milligrams daily, Omega-3s are almost completely devoid of negative side-effects. Anything more than 3,000 milligrams a day can increase risk of bleeding, so it’s best to stay below that threshold unless you’re working closely with your physician.

*Alpha linolenic acid (ALA), found in flax seeds, soy beans, pumpkin seeds and walnuts, is another form of Omega-3, but it needs to be converted to EPA and DHA in the body. Because some people aren’t able to make this conversion very effectively, focusing on EPA and DHA directly tends to offer the most benefit to most people.

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