Currently not everything is known about omega 3s. They are being researched and there are contradictory findings. We hope you find this summary useful.
ALA, EPA and DHA
There are three important omega 3 fatty acids:
- ALA—alpha-linolenic acid; found in a wide range of foods.
- EPA—eicosapentaenoic acid; found mainly in fish.
- DHA—docosahexaenoic acid; found mainly in fish and seaweed.
Our body can convert ALA into EPA and DHA. ALA is efficiently converted to EPA, but it may require large amounts of ALA to produce optimal amounts of DHA.
Omega 3 fatty acids are produced by sea plants. Fish are a source of omega 3s because they eat plants or other fish that may have eaten plants. It may be possible to get sufficient omega 3s from plants.
What do omega 3 fatty acids do?
Omega 3 fatty acids may be useful in the prevention and treatment of heart disease, arrhythmias and depression. DHA deficiency could cause neurological problems. There are various studies but it is difficult to be very sure of the effects as of now. One of the main things they do is reduce clotting which helps blood circulation to all organs. On the downside too much DHA can also cause bleeding disorders.
Balancing omega 3s and omega 6s
Omega 3s should be in balance with omega 6s. Omega 6 is found in higher quantities in most vegetable oils such as corn, soy, safflower, sunflower and sesame. Therefore if one is consuming a lot of omega 6 oils, one needs even more omega 3s to balance them out. Vegans and vegetarians may have low omega 3 intakes and blood levels; this may be of special concern in older vegans.
- Eat mainly fresh whole plant foods, and make sure whole plant foods are a major source of your fat intake. Avocadoes and coconut are good sources.
- If using oils for cooking, favour those rich in monounsaturated fats like olive, canola or peanut. Oils rich in omega 3s may be used (flaxseed, hemp) but should never be heated.
- Avoid fried foods and processed foods rich in transfats and omega 6 fatty acids.
- Avoid foods rich in saturated fats and cholesterol (animal fats).
- Although there is not enough data on this, Dr Joel Furhman has noticed clinical improvements in health by taking DHA. In case LDL levels are consistently high, you may want to try taking DHA supplements and see if there is an improvement in health. Excess DHA can be dangerous.
Recommendations for DHA supplementations are as follows:
- Under 60 years old: 200 – 300 mg every 2-3 days
- 60+ years old: 200 – 300 mg per day
In India, a vegan source (seaweed) of DHA is now available with Unived.