The Complete Guide to Omega Fatty Acids [5 minute read]

What are Fats?

Fats are a macronutrient, made up of 3 fatty acids combined with a molectule of glycerol

Fats can be divided into:

  • Saturated Fats – fatty acids with no double bonds – found in oils and meat – they are saturated with carbon atoms – they are straight and normally solid at room temperature
  • Unsaturated Fats – Have at least one double-bond in their chain. They are not as dense as saturated fats and are liquid at room temperature.

Monosaturated Fats – have one double bond. For exampel oleic acid found in olive oil

Polyunsaturated Fats (PUFA) – have more than one double bound.

What are Omega Fats?

Omega fats are PUFA fats.

Omega Fats can also be classified by where the double bond occurs.

If the double bond occurs at the 3rd carbon atom at the end of the ‘chain’ – it is called an Omega 3 fatty acid

If the double carbon bond is at the 6th carbon atom at the end of the ‘chain’ – it’s an Omega 6 fatty acid.

People can’t make some fatty acids within their body, within consuming them directly. This is why some fats are coined “essential fats”.

Linoleic Acid, and Alpha Linoleic Acid are deemed “essential”.

However ALA needs to be converted to make it more bioavailable.

ALA is converted to a long chain fatty acid known as “Eicosapentaenoic acid” (EPA) and another one called Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

Mackerel is the best source of omega 3 in terms of the amount per 100g.

You can get all the omega 3 / essential fats you need, by consuming 1 to 3g per day of a high quality fish oil supplement.

Make sure that it is in a natural triglyceride form and not the cheaper ethyl-ester form. More info and research here.

The three main omega-3 fatty acids are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). ALA is found mainly in plant oils such as flaxseed, soybean, and canola oils. DHA and EPA are found in fish and other seafood.


List of omega-3 fatty acids [source]

Common nameLipid nameChemical name
α-Linolenic acid (ALA)18:3 (n−3)octadeca-9,12,15-trienoic acid
Stearidonic acid (SDA)18:4 (n−3)octadeca-6,9,12,15-tetraenoic acid
Eicosatetraenoic acid (ETA)20:4 (n−3)eicosa-8,11,14,17-tetraenoic acid
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)20:5 (n−3)eicosa-5,8,11,14,17-pentaenoic acid
Docosapentaenoic acid (DPA)22:5 (n−3)docosa-7,10,13,16,19-pentaenoic acid
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)22:6 (n−3)docosa-4,7,10,13,16,19-hexaenoic acid

What are the Health Benefits of Omega 3?

Omega 3 reduces inflammation, may help with joint pain, anxiety, depression, cardiovascular health and the reduction of plasma triglyercides.

Fish oil reduces triglycerides by reducing the production of VLDL in the liver.

Fish oil also increases fatty acid uptake and oxidation.

At a cellular level – every cell has a cell membrane. Cell membranes are composed of phospholipids. Omega 3 fats can change the cell membrane function and rigidity in a beneficial manner.

What is the Omega 3/6 Ratio?

Some nutritionists believe that a high level of omega 6 fat intake and a relatively low level of omega 3 can lead to a variety of inflammatory diseases. Ideally the ratio of 6 to 3, should be less than 4 to 1.

The typical western diet has a ratio of 15 to 1, so most people in the western world may wish to consider reducing omega 6 intake, and/or increasing omega 3.

Phospholipid Omega 3

Krill oil and some fish eggs, have a more bioavailable form of omega 3.

There is some evidence, that some people are susceptible to degenerative brain conditions such as dementia, have this predisposition because DHA, found in omega 3, has difficulty passing the blood brain barrier (BBB) into the brain*

Phospholipid Omega 3 may be able to overcome this issue, and has therefore Phospholipid Omega 3 supplementation, has been touted by some as a potential means to offset the development of degenerative brain conditions.

You can read more about this here.

*These individuals tend to have a “polymorphism” known as APOE4.

Vegan Omega 3

Fish and fish oil supplements are usually touted as the best source of omega 3. If you’re a vegan, you can get omega 3, including EPA from algae supplements. You can get DHA from chia seeds, sunflower seeds and flax.

Omega 3 for Dogs

Dogs can have issues with their joints. Omega 3 supplements are popular with dog owners, as it is thought that high EPA omega 3 can help alleviate the pain and stiffness from arthritis.

Vegan Omega 3 for Dogs

You can buy Algae Oil for dogs, if you have a, erm, vegan dog!

Images from UnSplash

About Drew

MMA, Fitness & Marketing enthusiast from North Wales, UK. A Stoic Hippy with no hair. Not to boast but - 1st Class Degree in Sports Science from Loughborough, MSc in Nutrition from the University of Liverpool. 20 years experience of weight & fitness training.
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