There are many health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. Research shows strong evidence that the omega-3s EPA and DHA can help lower triglycerides and blood pressure. And there are studies showing that omega-3 fatty acids may help with other conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, depression, and many more.
Just what are omega-3 fatty acids exactly? How much do you need? And what do all those abbreviations -- EPA, DHA, and ALA -- really mean? Here's a rundown on omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Basics
Omega-3 fatty acids are considered essential fatty acids. We need them for our bodies to work normally. Because essential fatty acids (ALA, DHA, EPA) are not made in the body or are inefficiently converted from ALA to EPA and DHA, we need to get them from our diet .
Omega-3s have a number of health benefits. Omega-3s are thought to play an important role in reducing inflammation throughout the body -- in the blood vessels, the joints, and elsewhere. However, omega-3 supplements (EPA/DHA) may cause the blood to thin and cause excess bleeding, particularly in people taking anticoagulant drugs.
There are several types of omega-3 fatty acids. Two crucial ones -- EPA and DHA -- are primarily found in certain fish. Plants like flax contain ALA, an omega-3 fatty acid that is partially converted into DHA and EPA in the body. Algae oil often provides only DHA.
Most experts say that DHA and EPA -- from fish and fish oil -- have better established health benefits than ALA. DHA and EPA are found together only in fatty fish and algae. DHA can also be found on its own in algae, while flaxseed and plant sources of omega-3s provide ALA -- a precursor to EPA and DHA, and a source of energy.