Omega-3 fatty acid is an important nutrient for our body and brain but sadly our body doesn’t produce this nutrient. So we take this nutrient in our diet from other resources like fishes and plants. Fatty fishes are the main source of omega-3 fatty acid. Omega-3 is necessary for your good health because it helps to reduce depression, diabetes, cancer, lower the risk of heart disease and also encourages better insulin sensitivity.
All Omega-3 fatty acids are not equal. There are 11 different types but ALA, EPA and DHA are the most important Omega-3 fatty acids.
ALA is mostly present in plant-based sources like flaxseeds, chia seeds, soyabeans, vegetable oils, nuts etc.
DHA fatty acid is found in breast milk, caviar and fishes.
EPA which is known as Eicosapentaenoic acid is present in oily fish/fish oils like cod liver oil, sardines, salmons. It is also found in seaweeds.
In this article, we discuss in detail about three type of Omega-3 fatty acids.
1. ALA (Alpha-Linolenic Acid)
The full form of ALA is Alpha-Linolenic-Acid. This ALA is the most common Omega-3 fatty acid, which we take in our daily diet.
ALA chain is comprised of 18 carbon atoms. Like all Omega-3s, it has three double bonds.
Our body can’t use ALA directly, first, our body converts ALA into DHA or EPA. Then our body uses this fatty acid.
Many studies found that human body is not efficient at converting ALA to DHA. Only a small percentage of ALA is converted into EPA, and even less into DHA.
Some people’s bodies are better at this conversion. The conversion of ALA, DHA and EPA is better in women than men.
The remaining ALA, which is not converted into DHA or EPA are stored in the body and used as fuel in the body as like other fats.
Some organizational studies say that ALA fatty acid reduces the risk of heart disease and cancer.
ALA is found in many plant foods including:-
- Flax seeds
- Chia seeds
- Hemp seeds
- Canola oil
2. EPA (Eicosapentaenoic Acid)
The full form of EPA is Eicosapentaenoic Acid. EPA fatty acid has a chain of 20 carbons with 5 double bonds.
EPA is more effective than all other Omega-3 fatty acids in fighting inflammation.
EPA is available in fish oil supplements, eating fatty fish like salmon and is even more effective at reducing inflammation.
Many studies have shown that fish oil, which is high in EPA and DHA, may reduce the symptoms of depression. EPA is more effective than DHA in treating mood disorders. There is some evidence that shows that EPA is superior to DHA.
Many researchers found that supplement with EPA has been more effective in controlling the depression.
Where can EPA be found?
The highest concentration of EPA is found in cold water fishes like :
- Cod livers
3. DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid)
The full form of DHA is Docosahexaenoic Acid. DHA contains 22 carbon chain with 6 double bonds.
DHA is a significant component of skin and retina in the eye. It is also main fatty acid responsible for forming the central nervous system.
DHA is absolutely vital for brain development and functions in childhood as well as brain function in adults.
The deficiency of DHA in early life is associated with the problem later on, such as learning disabilities, aggressive hostility and several other disorders.
One of the causes of Alzheimer’s disease is the deficiency of DHA during ageing. It is also the cause of impaired brain functions.
DHA is found in high amount in Seafood like fatty fishes, grass-fed animals and algae.
8 other Omega-3 fatty acids:
ALA, DHA and EPA are the most important Omega-3 fatty acids in the diet.
8 other fatty acids have been discovered:
- Stearidonic acid (SDA)
- Eicosatrienoic acid (ETE)
- Eicosatetraenoic acid (ETA)
- Heneicosapentaenoic acid (HPA)
- Docosapentaenoic acid (DPA)
- Tetracosapentaenoic acid
- Tetracosahexaenoic acid
- Hexadecatrienoic acid (HTA)