Here’s the fat, juicy, insider scoop on the latest science about omega 3 fats – it’s all the things you’ll want to know about these fats and their impact on your health. Scientists have discovered a lot about the essential fats called omega 3 fatty acids that play a major role in how you feel, move, and think. From insights of recent studies to recommended dosages from Health Canada, this is the omega 3 science update you’ve been looking for.
There are many fats in your body, including saturated fats found in animal products that are known to be harmful in high amounts, and thus called bad fats. The good fats are found in the group of fats called polyunsaturated fats, which include omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. Omega 3 fats are called essential because your body can’t create them – to have them you need to eat them. Two particular types of omega 3 fats have been researched extensively for their health benefits, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). A 2021 research review concluded that a high intake of EPA and DHA has been associated with reduced total mortality by up to 18%.
As with all things in biology, nothing is simple. Yet, this simplified differentiation may be helpful in remembering how each of these essential fats plays a role in human health. EPA and DHA are related structurally, but they have different and distinct functions in the body:
North American adults consume about 90mg of EPA+DHA per day, while children and teens consume 40mg of EPA+DHA. With health organizations recommending minimal intakes of 100mg for adults to simply maintain general health, educating more adults about the role omega 3 fats play in their wellness is important.
According to research, it’s evident that you need both of the omega 3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, to maintain good health. Health Canada recommends adults consume a minimum of 100mg to 5000mg per day of EPA+DHA for the maintenance of good health.
Yes, as EPA and DHA are essential, you’ll need to find sources in your diet or use supplements. Dietary sources of EPA and DHA include seafood, fish, and algae. If you’re pregnant, a developing child, an older adult, at risk for heart disease, suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, ADHA, dry skin, or eyes, your daily intake needs for EPA and DHA may be higher. Below is more on what science suggests for each one of these conditions.
Omega 3 fats play a role in your mood. Research shows that EPA and DHA when part of a person’s daily dietary intake (1,500-5,000mg/day) can help promote healthy mood balance.
Low rates of heart disease among Greenland Inuit sparked curiosity about the potential link between the omega 3 fats in cold-water fish and heart health. After decades of research, the link is defined, focusing a lot of research on the ability of omega 3 fats to lower triglyceride levels, as well as benefit heart rate and blood pressure. In one study, those who ate fish (in comparison with those who consumed no fish) had a lower risk of death from coronary heart disease. Here’s the breakdown of how much fish is consumed, and the reported decline in risk of heart disease:
Of note, newer research is suggesting that EPA may be the more beneficial omega 3 to cardiovascular health. Health Canada recommends daily doses of EPA+DHA be 200-5,000mg to maintain and support cardiovascular health, and 1,000-5,000mg to reduce serum triglyceride levels.
Taking a dosage of 2,800-5,000mg per day of EPA and DHA, in conjunction with conventional therapy, helps to reduce the pain of rheumatoid arthritis in adults, according to Health Canada.
Required for proper brain and eye development, EPA and DHA omega 3 fats are essential for the healthy growth of babies and children. Health Canada recommends children up to the age of 12 consume 150-2,000mg of EPA and DHA per day to help support the development of their brain, eyes, and nerves.
The omega 3 fats EPA and DHA play a role in eye health. A meta-analysis of 17 studies looking at the effect of EPA, DHA, and GLA on dry eye syndrome concluded that there is evidence of significant improvement. Of note, the National Dry Eye Disease Guidelines for Canadian Optometrists suggest the use of EPA, DHA, and GLA (an anti-inflammatory omega 6 fatty acid) fatty acids, which have anti-inflammatory properties, as an effective treatment for dry eye disease.
Blood n-3 fatty acid levels and total and cause-specific mortality from 17 prospective studies. Nature Communications 2021 Apr;12(2329).
What we eat in America, NHANES 2011-2012.
Omega fatty acids and heart health. Circulation 2015 Dec;132:e350-352.
Newer research is suggesting that EPA is the beneficial omega 3. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2773119
Efficacy of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation for treatment of dry eye disease: a meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. Cornea 2019 May;38(5):565-573.
Contributed by Allison Tannis
Known for her deliciously geeky words, Allison’s articles and books are read around the world by those curious about where to find the most delicious (and nutritious) places to stick their forks. More at allisontannis.com. Follow @deliciouslygeeky.