Omega 3 Fatty Acids: What they are and their benefits

What they are:

  • Fatty acids are classified by their omega number, which signifies where the first double bond occurs from the methyl group on their configuration. So, for Omega-3’s, their first double bond occurs on Carbon number 3 as seen below:

Omega-3 FA configuration

  • There are two main ones:
    • Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
    • Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
  • Biosynthesis is ineffective in humans, so dietary intake is the key way of reaching high levels of EPA and DHA.
  • Omega-3’s are seen as anti-inflammatory while omega-6’s are considered pro-inflammatory.
    • If both omega-6 and omega-3 are present they will “compete” to form their respective components. Since omega-6 is much more inflammatory, by having more omega-3’s available, it will create a lot less inflammatory mediators.
    • Healthy ratios of omega-6:omega-3 should range from 1:1 to 1:4.

Where you get them:

  • Fish and fish oils contain EPA and DHA.
  • Fish do not actually make omega-3, they accumulate it through their diet, along with mercury. Since they also accumulate mercury, predatory fish at the top of the food chain (sharks and swordfish) contain toxic levels, so intake should be limited.
  • The most widely available sources of EPA and DHA are cold water oily fish (SMASHT):
    • Salmon
    • Mackerel
    • Anchovies
    • Sardines
    • Herring
    • Tuna
  • They can also be found in fish oil supplements.
    • Which should be stored in a refrigerator to decrease oxidation.

What their benefits are:

  • They have been found to be beneficial in treating many conditions including:
    • Hypertriglyceridemia, Heart Disease, Hypertension, Insulin resistance, Cancer, and Neurodegenerative diseases.
  • They are also positively associated with peak bone mineral density and bone accrual in healthy men.


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Written by Dr. Brandon Buchla, DC, CSCS

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