Managing Wellness

Health Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids (and Where to Find Them)

  • Omega-3 fatty acids can provide you with a variety of health benefits
  • Knowing how many omega-3s to consume daily contributes to a longer, healthier life
  • A variety of foods and supplements can help you meet daily omega-3 needs
Posted by May 8, 2018

The health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids are endless, but you might be wondering how much you need to consume daily in order to optimize your health.

According to the Harvard School of Public Health, omega-3 fats are essential fats that the body can’t produce on its own. Instead, we must get these essential nutrients from various food sources. Knowing where to find these sources (and ensuring that you’re meeting omega-3 dosage recommendations) is a key to living a longer, healthier life.

Omega-3 Health Benefits

A variety of health benefits are related to taking in plenty of omega-3s regularly. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), omega-3s appear to help lower your risk of heart disease and cancer—as well as aid in proper brain, memory and behavioral functioning.

Healthline notes that other benefits linked to consuming omega-3 fats include improving the health of your eyes, bones, joints and heart while fighting depression, dry skin and autoimmune diseases. “They can have all sorts of powerful health benefits for your body and brain,” the source explains.

Types and Sources of Omega-3s

As outlined by the NIH, there are three main types of omega-3 fatty acids: docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Many reported health benefits come from consuming DHA plus EPA, but recommendations for ALA also exist, as your body can’t produce this essential nutrient itself. Your body does convert ALA (in small amounts) into EPA and DHA.

Fish, fish oil, algae and algal oil are all good sources of DHA, ALA and EPA. ALA is also found in soybeans, soybean oil, walnuts, walnut oil, flaxseeds, flaxseed oil, perilla oil, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds and pumpkin seed oil.

Omega-3 Dosage Recommendations

Several omega-3 recommendations exist, established by different countries around the world. For example, the NIH set omega-3 adequate intake levels for ALA as 1,100 milligrams daily for women and 1,600 milligrams per day for men.

The Global Organization for EPA and DHA and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommend adults consume 500 milligrams of EPA plus DHA daily to lower heart disease risks; 700 to 1,000 milligrams per day for pregnant and breastfeeding women; and more than 1,000 milligrams to reap additional health benefits (such as lowering triglycerides and blood pressure).

Other countries have followed suit, establishing their own omega-3 recommendations. For example, Berkeley Wellness says Europe suggests 250 milligrams of EPA plus DHA a day for healthy adults, France suggests more than 500 milligrams and Russia recommends at least 1,300 milligrams of DHA plus EPA daily for adults.

How to Get Enough Omega-3s

Fish and fish oil are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA, and omega-3-rich plant foods contain ALA. Vegan DHA supplements are available for plant-based dieters, with algal oil as a top ingredient.

Eating fish several times per week can help you reach optimal omega-3 goals. For example, a 4-ounce portion of omega-3-rich fish (such as salmon) can provide you with 1,200 to 2,400 milligrams of DHA plus EPA. However, due to the potential for mercury intake and other environmental contamination, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends women of childbearing age, pregnant (and nursing) women and children limit fish intake to two to three servings of low-mercury fish weekly.

Fish oil and other purified omega-3 supplements are good choices when you want to meet daily omega-3 recommendations without the risk of environmental contaminants. Look for supplements that are third-party tested to ensure quality, purity and safety (wherein harmful levels of contaminants have been removed). Such supplements can typically provide you with between 250 and 1,000 milligrams—or more—of DHA plus EPA per serving.

Taking Omega-3 Supplements

Always check in with your doctor before taking high-dose omega-3 supplements, as they may increase your risk for bleeding or interact differently with certain medications. If your doctor gives you the go-ahead, fish oil and other omega-3 supplements can help you reap the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids (if fish isn’t on your daily menu).

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