Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Why the Type Matters

Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Why the Type Matters

By Madhavi Gupta, M.D.

The Power of 3

Good things come in threes. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential to support brain health and heart health. Three is also an important number to know when it comes to the types of omega-3 fatty acids because not all omega-3s are created equally.

 

What are the types of omega-3?

There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids: DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) - both found in fatty fish and algae, and ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) which is found in flaxseed, chia, hemp, and walnuts. 

DHA and EPA are directly available to your body, but ALA from seed and nut plant-based sources must be converted to DHA and EPA. However, this process is very difficult, as the body can only convert a very small percentage (1,2). Since the conversion rate is low, you would have to eat very large quantities of seeds and nuts. That’s why it's important to include more direct sources of DHA and EPA, such as algae, in your diet. 

 

The Benefits of Omega-3s

Omega-3 fatty acids have been linked to a healthy memory, brain function, cellular and cardiovascular health, healthy immune function, and many more of the body’s processes. DHA in particular plays a big role in early brain growth and development.

  • DHA makes up over 90% of the omega-3 fatty acids in your brain. It regulates neurogenesis (the formation of new brain cells called neurons), neurotrophic factor (regulates the growth of neurons), and synaptogenesis (the formation of connections between neurons). DHA is vital for the neurodevelopment of a baby’s brain, spinal cord, and eyes, making it especially important for pregnant and lactating mothers (3).
  • EPA is a polyunsaturated fatty acid that acts as a metabolic precursor to important lipids (fats) known as prostaglandins. Prostaglandins control critical processes like inflammation, blood flow, and the formation of blood clots.
  • One of the essential roles of EPA and DHA is a healthy immune function. They are needed so our immune system operates properly (4,5).
  • Studies show that the EPA in fish oil supplements can help lower several important cardiovascular risk factors, including arterial calcification, high blood pressure, and elevated triglycerides (6,7).
  • ALA is mostly found in plant foods and needs to be converted into EPA or DHA before it can be used by your body for something other than energy.  ALA is not as rich of a source of omega-3 fatty acids, but some studies show that ALA may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease (8).
         

        Why are omega-3s important?

        DHA and EPA are both “essential” fatty acids, which means that the body cannot make them on its own; they must be consumed through dietary sources. Unfortunately, many people do not get enough omega-3 from diet alone. In order to feel your best each day, increasing your intake of omega-3 EPA + DHA is essential (9).

         

        Where can I get omega-3s from my diet?

        You can get omega-3s from several good dietary sources. EPA, DHA, and ALA come from different sources. ALA comes from plant sources, such as nuts and seeds while DHA and EPA fatty acids come from fish, seaweed, and algae. To get them all, it’s important to consume a variety of omega-3 sources (10).

        Oily fish are especially good sources of EPA and DHA:

        salmon
        tuna
        anchovies
        sardines
        mackerel
        herring

        Other food sources of EPA and DHA include cod liver oil, pasture-fed organic butter, and ghee (these are also high in vitamin D3). Despite the fact that fatty fishes are the most commonly listed DHA food sources, algae is an ideal, sustainably-sourced vegan alternative that provides the vital DHA needed for neurodevelopment.

        Sources of ALA:
        flaxseed
        chia
        hemp
        walnuts
        plant oils

          

        DHA Supplements

        Many people do not get enough omega-3 from diet alone. In order to feel your best each day, it is important to increase your intake of omega-3 EPA+DHA. You can do that with a fish oil supplement. Taking omega-3 vitamins that are designed to support healthy immune function and brain health can be easily added to your daily routine.

        Best Nest Wellness makes a prenatal DHA from fish oil. We use the triglyceride form of DHA, which is the form of fish oil that is closest to its natural state but is ultra-purified and free of mercury. You can’t compact triglyceride oil like you can an ethyl ester oil. For that reason, you can’t fit it into a once-daily multivitamin. This is why we developed separate prenatal DHA supplements like One Fish, Two Fish Prenatal DHA designed to support your DHA needs. 

         

        Why avoid ethyl ester

        Many supplements use a form of DHA made from ethyl esters. Ethyl esters are a form of fish oil that is made during the purification process. We avoid ethyl ester oil in supplements for pregnant mothers because it can metabolize into alcohol in your body. Alcohol is something you want to avoid if you are pregnant. 

        Evidence also shows an advantage to omega-3s consumed as triglycerides. A study reported in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that a six-month supplementation of identical doses of EPA+DHA led to a faster and higher increase in the omega-3 index when consumed as triglycerides than when consumed as ethyl esters (11).

         

        Purity matters

        The source of the fish oil is very important. By choosing small wild-caught fish, we are able to remove the little mercury they contain through our purification process and then test each ingredient. When choosing fatty fish as your source of DHA and EPA, it’s important to purchase from a trusted source to ensure that you get the highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids and the lowest levels of heavy metals (e.g., mercury). 

        Best Nest Wellness sources fish oil from sustainably sourced, wild-caught anchovies from the coast of Iceland and sustainably harvested algae for our vegan prenatal DHA. 

         

        Testing For Ingredient Purity

        We believe the best ingredients make the best vitamins. At Best Nest Wellness, each ingredient is specifically chosen for its quality, benefits, and effectiveness, then verified for potency and purity. We focus on choosing ingredients with the highest bioavailability so that the type of ingredient is in a form more readily available to the body. 

        Our neurologist-formulated products are safe and as natural as we can make them. We source the highest-quality non-GMO ingredients and handcraft each batch under strict standards for purity and freshness in certified facilities in the USA.


         


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