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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

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What are omega-3 fatty acids, and why are they important?

Omega-3 fatty acids are molecules essential for the optimal function of virtually every cell in our bodies.

However, we cannot manufacture them internally. Instead, along with vitamins, these essential nutrients can be obtained only in the diet.

Two different families of omega-3s
Omega-3 fatty acids come in two basic forms, with distinctly different health impacts:

  • Short-chain (polyunsaturated) omega-3 ALA from plant foods.
    Long-chain (highly unsaturated) omega-3s (DHA and EPA) from seafood and fish oil.

The body only needs DHA and EPA, very small amounts of which it can make from plant-source ALA.

While plant-source omega-3 ALA is healthful and desirable, it’s very clear that we gain far more health benefit from ample intakes of seafood-source DHA and EPA. (Recently, omega-3 DHA oils extracted from algae have become available.)

Health authorities worldwide recommend consuming 250mg to 500 mg of DHA + EPA daily.

The richest food sources are fatty fish such as wild salmon, sardines, tuna (especially albacore), and sablefish, single servings of which can contain omega-3 levels as high as those found in many fish oil capsules.

For more information on omega-3 fatty acids, see our Omega-3 Facts & Sources page, and articles listed by health topic (Bone Health, Brain Health, etc.) under the Omega-3 Fatty Acids section of our newsletter archive.

America’s “omega imbalance”
Over the past century, people in developed countries, particularly in the United States, have largely eliminated omega-3 fatty acids from their diet, and have simultaneously consumed vastly greater qualities of omega-6 fatty acids.

There is a great deal of evidence that this historically unprecedented “omega imbalance” harms many bodily systems, most notably the cardiovascular/heart system, the brain, while promoting chronic inflammation.

Ample, fast-growing evidence indicates that restoring the balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids to which the human body is evolutionarily adapted helps prevent major health problems and maintain optimal health.

For more information on this unhealthful imbalance, and ways to fix it using diet choices, see the Omega-3/6 Balance page of our website.

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