What are omega 3 essential fatty acids

These are a family of essential fatty acids that play important roles in your body and may provide several health benefits. They are called essential fatty acids because the body cannot produce them on its own, they are sourced externally from the diet or supplementation. 

There are three most important types are ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). ALA is mainly found in plants, while DHA and EPA occur mostly in animal foods and algae [1]

  • ALA (alpha-linolenic acid),

This is the most common type of omega 3 which is mainly used by the body it for energy. It can also be converted into the biologically active forms of omega-3, EPA and DHA.  However, this conversion process is inefficient. Only a small percentage of ALA is converted into the active forms [1]

Common food sources:  flax seeds, flaxseed oil, canola oil, chia seeds, walnuts, hemp seeds, and soybeans.

  • DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid) 

This is the most important omega-3 fatty acid in the body. It’s a key structural component of the brain, the retina of the eyes, and numerous other body parts.  

Common food sources:  fatty fish and fish oil. Meat, eggs, and dairy from grass-fed animals also tend to contain significant amounts. Vegans and vegetarians get DHA from microalgae [1]

  • EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid)

Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) is mostly found in animal products, such as fatty fish and fish oil and microlalgae, part of EPA is converted into DHA [1]

Omega 3 fatty acids dosage: 

To date, there is no official recommended daily allowance for omega-3 fatty acids. However, most health guidelines from various health associations agree that 250–500 mg of combined EPA and DHA is enough for adults to maintain overall health. However, these may differ per individual depending on health status and need.  The therapeutic dose for heart health is 1000mg EPA and DHA combined which is equivalent as eating 3 servings of oily fish a week e.g. Salmon, pilchards, trout amongst others [1]

Verdict on Omega 3 fatty acids & heart health: 

Heart and heart related diseases are the world’s leading causes of death

Researchers observed that fish-eating communities had very low rates of these diseases which was later linked to omega 3 fatty acids. 

These benefits address:

  • Triglycerides: Omega-3 fatty acids may reduce triglycerides, usually in the range of 15–30% [3]
  • Blood pressure: Omega-3 fatty acids may reduce blood pressure levels in people with high blood pressure 
  • “Good” HDL cholesterol: Omega-3 fatty acids may raise “good” HDL cholesterol levels [2] There is mixed evidence when it comes to “LDL” cholesterol, some studies have shown an increase in “LDL” cholesterol.
  • Blood clots: Omega-3 fatty acids may keep blood platelets from clumping together. This helps prevent the formation of harmful blood clots [1]
  • Plaque: By keeping your arteries smooth and free from damage, omega-3 fatty acids may help prevent the plaque that can restrict and harden your arteries [3]
  • Inflammation: Omega-3 fatty acids reduce the production of some substances There is mixed evidence when it comes to “LDL” cholesterol, some studies have shown an increase in “LDL” cholesterol released during your body’s inflammatory response [1]

Research shows that there is a link between omega 3 fatty acids and heart health. At least, markers that if left unattended such as high cholesterol, plaque, triglyceride were reduced by omega 3 supplementation. All the benefits stated above are linked to improving heart health, however there is no evidence at this point that really shows that omega 3 fatty acids help reduce actual heart attacks and stroke. More data and research is needed in that area of medicine. 

Omega 3 fatty acids supplements: 

1. Omega-3 fatty acids Capsules

Omega-3 oils are commonly found in capsules or soft gels, these are the preferred form as they are easy to swallow.  The capsules are usually made from a soft layer of gelatine, and many manufacturers also use enteric coating. If you take omega-3 capsules, it may be a good idea to open one from time to time and smell it in order to make sure it hasn’t gone rancid.

2. Omega-3 supplement doses

The American Heart Association (AHA), among other organizations, recommends that people with coronary heart disease take 1,000 mg of combined EPA and DHA daily, while those with high triglycerides take 2,000–4,000 mg daily [1]  The maximum dose is 3000 mg EPA and DHA combined. 

Ascendis Direct has supplements that contain omega 3 fatty acids (EPA/DHA) in the sportron & swissgarde range. Kindly follow the recommended dosage on the label or product insert provided. Consult with your healthcare provide before the use of dietary supplements. 


The recommended omega 3 intake differs as per individual need, the dose increases significantly from maintenance to therapeutic dose. People with high cholesterol and triglycerides already existing may need a much higher dosage. Always make sure the supplement contains what it says it does and pay special attention to the EPA and DHA content.  EPA and DHA are best found in animal-based omega-3 products. Vegetarian options are available, but they usually only contain ALA with an exception of algal oil. It is best to take omega 3 fatty acids supplements with a meal that contains fat, as fat increases the absorption of omega-3 fatty acids. Finally, keep in mind that omega-3s are perishable, just like fish, so buying in bulk is a bad idea and it 

Always consult with your healthcare provider before taking a supplement. 


  • Thusgaard M, et al (2009). Effect of fish oil (n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids) on plasma lipids, lipoproteins and inflammatory markers in HIV-infected patients treated with antiretroviral therapy: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19685375

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