Studies suggest that the omega-3 in fish oil can provide plenty of possible benefits to the human body. In general, fats have a bad reputation, so it’s important to remember that not all fat is bad! There are three different types of fatty acids: saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are comprised of the omega-6 and omega-3 families, have received a lot of attention in recent years because they are considered to be “good” fats. Since our bodies can’t make these fats due to a lack of the appropriate enzymes and they are necessary for numerous body functions, including growth, reproduction, vision, and brain development, we must get them through food. Omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are therefore collectively referred to as essential fatty acids and are one of the four building blocks of good health along with multivitamins, Vitamin D, and probiotics/greens. A deficiency in essential nutrients, whether it’s vitamin A, vitamin C, zinc, or essential fatty acids, will promote disease.
The principal omega-6 fatty acid is called linoleic acid, and it is found in animal fats and vegetable oils, such as corn, safflower, sesame, soybean, and sunflower oils. Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) is another omega-6 fatty acid that can be found in a wide variety of common foods, notably organ meats. It is also found in the plant seed oils of evening primrose, blackcurrant, and borage oils. Finally, dietary arachidonic acid (AA) comes primarily through the consumption of eggs and animal fats. There are two major types of omega-3 fatty acids in our diets: those found in plant-based sources and those that come from fish, seafood, and algae. Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is found in green leafy vegetables, seaweed, and some nuts and seeds. Some of the top food sources of ALA include flax, chia, and hemp. ALA is also found to a lesser extent in some vegetable oils.
The other type of omega-3 fatty acid in our diet is referred to as long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids. This includes eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which come from marine-based sources, like fish and algae. North Americans typically consume considerable amounts of ALA daily. On the other hand, EPA and DHA are consumed at much lower levels. EPA and DHA are generally absent from plant food sources rich in ALA. While the body can partially convert ALA to EPA and DHA, humans have poor abilities to perform this conversion, converting <5% of consumed ALA to EPA + DHA. This is important because although flax may contain a high amount of omega-3 fatty acids by weight, <5% of the ALA is converted to EPA and DHA. Therefore, consuming direct sources of EPA and DHA have a more potent effect on raising these long chain polyunsaturated fatty acid levels within the body than simply consuming high levels of ALA. The most direct way of providing EPA and DHA for the body is through the consumption of fish or algal oils.