What Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids (also known as n-3 fatty acids) are polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) commonly found in cold-water fatty fish such as salmon, herring and mackerel. These fatty acids are termed “essential” because we need omega-3 fatty acids for numerous normal body functions, such as building cell membranes in the brain, but the body cannot synthesize them in adequate quantities; we must obtain them from food sources or from supplements.

There are three essential fatty acids (EFAs) that compose the omega-3 family: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).  ALA is found in plant sources such as some types of beans, and in canola, soybean, flaxseed/linseed, and olive oils, however ALA is useless to the human body.  It must first convert ALA into DHA and EPA, the only forms of opmega-3 the body can utilize.  The conversion process is very inefficient and yields little omega-3 the body can use.  The body must obtain its DHA and EPA either from fish or “fish oil” supplements.

Other than the normal body functions that require Omega-3s, they can also:

  • Reduce inflammation throughout your body
  • Maintain the fluidity of your cell membranes
  • decrease platelet aggregation, preventing excessive blood clotting
  • increase the activity of another chemical derived from endothelial cells (endothelium-derived nitric oxide), which causes arteries to relax and dilate
  • reduce the production of messenger chemicals called cytokines, which are involved in the inflammatory response associated with atherosclerosis
  • improve the body’s ability to respond to insulin by stimulating the secretion of leptin, a hormone that helps regulate food intake, body weight and metabolism, and is expressed primarily by adipocytes (fat cells)


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