Fish – especially fatty fish – is an excellent source of EPA and DHA, and the American Heart Association recommends eating at least two servings weekly. However, some fish, especially larger, predatory species, may contain mercury, PCBs and other harmful toxins that can cause serious health problems.
Vegetarian sources of omega-3 fatty acids such as walnuts, soybeans and flaxseed are free of such toxins. These sources provide omega-3 fatty acids such as ALA, which the body must convert into EPA and DHA. The extent to which ALA is converted to EPA and DHA is still undetermined.
Supplements may be the best option for those who wish to ensure safe, optimal intake of omega-3 fatty acids. Fish oil supplements provide high levels of EPA and DHA and are generally free from mercury and PCBs. Krill oil, a newcomer to the supplements scene, is also an excellent choice. In addition to omega-3 fatty acids, krill oil contains astaxanthin, a potent carotenoid antioxidant. Plus, krill oil is free of the fishy aftertaste associated with fish oil. For people who want vegetarian EPAs, flaxseed oil is a rich source of ALA.
The Bottom Line
Omega-3 fatty acids provide the body with vital building blocks that affect nearly every body system. From preventing cancer to battling arthritis to promoting heart health, these essential fats can do wonders for disease prevention and treatment. Fish oil and flaxseed oil are associated with a wide range of scientifically confirmed health benefits, making them some of today’s most valuable and popular dietary supplements.
Omega-3 Fast Facts
The Three Types of Omega-3 Essential fatty acids include EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), and ALA (alpha-linolenic acid).
Uses and Benefits: Omega-3 fatty acids may benefit people with angina, arthritis, asthma, breast cancer, colon cancer, constipation, dermatitis, gout, heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, inflammatory conditions, irritable bowel syndrome, lupus, migraines, mood disorders, multiple sclerosis, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, sciatica, stroke and suppressed immunity.
Sources: Dietary sources of EFAs include fatty fish (such as albacore, bluefish, herring, mackerel, rainbow trout, salmon), walnuts, flaxseed, soybeans and canola oil. EFA supplements include fish oil, flaxseed oil and krill oil.
Special Considerations: Because of their blood-thinning capabilities, omega-3 fatty acids may increase bleeding time, leading to more frequent nosebleeds and easy bruising. Do not take EFAs if you have a bleeding disorder, if you are on anticoagulants or if you are allergic to fish. Diabetics should consult with their physician before using EFAs. Flaxseed is generally regarded as safe.