Science Behind Omega-3

EPA and DHA Omega-3s:
What are They and Why are They Essential?

Why are EPA and DHA Important?

  • Omega-3s are essential nutrients; we need them and our body cannot make them
  • The omega-3 fats called EPA and DHA provide the most effective health benefits
  • Everyone needs EPA and DHA, which provide health benefits at every stage of life

Omega-3s Are Essential Nutrients

Omega-3s are healthy fats, that is, fats that provide important nutrition and support good health. Because our bodies cannot make omega-3 fats, we need to consume them in our diet or from supplements.  Most Americans do not consume enough omega-3s, yet research shows that we are healthier and live longer when we do [1-4].

Omega-3 fatty acids are not vitamins or minerals but they are essential nutrients.  When we consume the nutrients (vitamins, minerals) that our bodies need, we feel better, we have more energy and better health.  The same is true with omega-3s.

Omega-3s Are An Important Kind of Fat

There are three types of fat in the foods we eat:

  • Saturated fat (solid fat) is found in meat, dairy foods, and coconut oil
  • Monounsaturated fat (liquid at room temperature) is found in olive oil
  • Polyunsaturated fat (liquid oil) is found in fish, fish oils, seeds, nuts, and vegetable oils. Omega-3 and omega-6 fats are polyunsaturated fats

The Omega-3 Fats EPA & DHA Provide Effective & Important Health Benefits

There are different types of omega-3 fats. Flax seeds, chia seeds, and walnuts contain the ALA form of omega-3.  ALA is a healthy fat but it does not provide the same health benefits as EPA and DHA omega-3. The omega-3s that work the best and provide the most health benefits are EPA and DHA, which are found naturally in fish and fish oils [1][5][6].

How much EPA and DHA do we need each day?  This is determined by several factors.  For example, consuming refined and processed foods increases our need for EPA and DHA omega-3. The table below provides minimum recommendations for general health. Your dietician or healthcare provider may recommend higher amounts for you and your family.

Minimum Daily Recommended Intake of EPA & DHA Combined [ 5 ] [ 7 ] [ 8 ] §
For daily nutrition – Adults 250 – 500 mg per day
To support heart health and circulation 1,000 mg per day
To support healthy moods 1,000 mg per day
For daily nutrition – Teens 250 – 500 mg per day
For daily nutrition – Youth 250 – 500 mg per day

*This amount can be consumed by eating fatty fish, such as wild salmon or sardines, two or more times a week. Experts recommend that adults and children consume two or more servings of fatty fish per week [1] [9].
§ The US National Academy of Medicine has not yet established a Dietary Recommended Intake for EPA and DHA omega-3, but several national health organisations, including the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the American Heart Association have made recommendations.

What Do They Do?

Simply put, EPA and DHA omega-3s work in every cell of our bodies.
In the cells, they direct, manage, and regulate critical processes. This is why they have so many proven benefits [1][3][8][10-15].

EPA and DHA Provide Health Benefits at Every Stage of Life

  • They support healthy blood pressure levels, help keep our blood pumping from head to toe, and ease our response to stress
  • They improve our mood, help our brains function normally, and keep our central vision clearer as we age (DHA is a vital part of brain and eye tissue)
  • They strengthen our immune and muscular systems; they help keep our knees, hips, and shoulder joints rotating and moving with ease
  • Infants require them for normal and healthy development; new mothers need them for their physical and mental health, and must replenish their supply after giving birth

How Best To Get Omega-3 Fats

All fish contain some EPA and DHA, but fatty fish, such as salmon and sardines, contain more per serving. For people who don’t like fish or won’t eat fish, purified, concentrated fish oil supplements are an excellent alternative. They are convenient, too.

Regular consumption of EPA and DHA is important for you and your family. Make a plan that works for you and get your EPA and DHA omega-3s!

By Gretchen Vannice, MS, RDN ©  All rights reserved

About the author: Gretchen Vannice is a registered dietitian nutritionist and independent consultant who specialises in omega-3 fatty acids and natural foods. She is a strategist, trainer, speaker, and author. Gretchen is lead author of Healthy Dietary Fats for Adults, published by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and author of Live Long and Thrive with Omega-3s. A consumer’s guide to fish, fish oil, nuts, and seeds. She can be reached at www.omega3handbook.com.

Disclaimer:  Written by an independent nutritional expert, this information is provided for educational purposes only.
It is not intended as medical advice. Always consult your healthcare provider for medical advice.

References:

[1] Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. FAO Food Nutr Pap 2010;91:1-166.
[2] Mozaffarian D. Am J Clin Nutr 2008;87(6):1991S-1996S.
[3] Calder PC. Am J Clin Nutr 2006;83(6 Suppl):1505S-1519S.
[4] Danaei G, Ding EL, et al. PLoS Med  2009;6(4):e1000058.
[5] Harris WS, Mozaffarian D, et al. J Nutr 2009;139(4):804S-819S.
[6] Vannice G, Rasmussen H. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2014;114(1):136-153.
[7] Kris-Etherton PM, Harris WS, AHA Nutrition Committee. Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol 2003;23(2):151-152.
[8] Freeman MP, Hibbeln JR, et al. J Clin Psychiatry 2006;67(12):1954-1967.
[9] Uauy R, Dangour A. Ann Nutr Metabolism 2009;55:76-96.
[10] Serhan CN, Yacoubian S,Yang R.. Annu Rev Pathol 2008;3:279-312.
[11] Skulas-Ray AC, Kris-Etherton PM, et al.  Ann Behav Med 2012 ;44(3):301-308.
[12] Ginty AT, Conklin SM. Biol Psychol 2012;89(1):269-272.
[13] Mori TA, Beilin LJ. Curr Atheroscler Rep 2004 Nov;6(6):461-467.
[14] Carlson SE. Am J Clin Nutr 2009;89,678S-684S.
[15] Carlson SJ, Fallon EM, et al. J Parenteral and Enteral  Nutrition 2013;37(1):15-22.