Mention "omega-3 fatty acids," and most people think about salmon.
Omega-3s are a type of polyunsaturated fatty acid associated with overall good health. There are several different omega-3s, but the majority of research focuses on three:
- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
ALA is found mainly in plant oils such as flaxseed, soybean, and canola oils. DHA and EPA are found in fish and other seafood. ALA is an essential fatty acid, which means that our bodies can’t make it so we must get it from foods. Our body converts some ALA into EPA and DHA, but only in small amounts. To get the amount of EPA and DHA that improves health, choose foods on a regular basis that contain higher amounts of these two types of omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3s and Health
Omega-3s are important components of the membranes that surround each cell in our bodies. They are also vital for several functions of the heart, blood vessels, lungs, immune system, and endocrine system. Research has shown the importance of omega-3s in cardiovascular health and there is some indication that omega-3s may play important roles in preventing some types of cancer, vision loss, and even rheumatoid arthritis.
The Role of Omega-3s in Immunity
The impact of omega-3s on the immune system has been investigated for decades and highlights a relationship between omega-3s, stress, our immune systems, and health. Our nervous systems, the endocrine system and the immune system interact with each other, and we know that stress can diminish the responses of our immune systems and even increase susceptibility to illness. Our food choices play important roles in a healthy immune system, and omega-3 fatty acids are one of the nutrients that can decrease inflammation within our bodies. It’s unknown whether regularly consuming foods that are high in omega-3s will prevent disease, but a stronger immune system certainly is beneficial.
So, how many omega-3 fatty acids do you need and how can you get them? Find all the details in the post How to Get Enough Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Good Health.
By Lynn Grieger, RDN, CDE, CPT, CHWC
- National Institutes of Health. Office of Dietary Supplements. Omega-3 Fatty Acids Fact Sheet for Professionals. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Omega3FattyAcids-HealthProfessional/ updated 10-1-20. Accessed 12-24-20.
- Gutiérrez S, Svahn SL, Johansson ME. Effects of Omega-3 Fatty Acids on Immune Cells. Int J Mol Sci. 2019;20(20):5028. Published 2019 Oct 11. doi:10.3390/ijms20205028.
- Kiecolt-Glaser JK, Glaser R, Christian LM. Omega-3 fatty acids and stress-induced immune dysregulation: implications for wound healing [published correction appears in Mil Med. 2016 Sep;181(9):1165]. Mil Med. 2014;179(11 Suppl):129-133. doi:10.7205/MILMED-D-14-00167.
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Advice About Eating Fish. https://www.fda.gov/food/consumers/advice-about-eating-fish content current as of 12-29-20; accessed 12-29-20.
Stephanie Ronco has been editing for Food and Health Communications since 2011. She graduated from Colorado College magna cum laude with distinction in Comparative Literature. She was elected a member of Phi Beta Kappa in 2008.