Omega-3s are fats that perform a number of super important functions in your body. You can get them by eating foods like fish and nuts, and you can get even more by taking omega-3 supplements.
Find out whether these supps are right for you and where to find them.
Omega-3s are types of polyunsaturated fats your body needs to function at its best.
The three main types of omega-3 fats are:
- docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
- eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
- alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
ALA can be used as is for energy. But your body has to convert it into DHA and EPA before it can be helpful for other important functions.
DHA and EPA have a *lot* of other important jobs to do, including:
- supporting immune function
- regulating inflammation levels
- promoting fetal development
- increasing cellular function
- preventing disease
FYI: Even though your body can turn ALA into DHA and EPA, the conversion rate is very low. Only 0.5 to 5 percent of ALA converts into DHA, and 5 to 8 percent converts into EPA.
Try to get enough DHA and EPA directly through food or with a supplement.
How many omega-3s do you need daily?
Studies have shown that DHA and EPA supplements can benefit your health in a bunch of ways.
1. May reduce inflammation
Not all inflammation is bad — some inflammation is actually important for your health. Chronic inflammation, though, is a major cause of disease.
Research suggests that taking omega-3 supplements may help decrease inflammatory markers like interleukin-6, C-reactive protein, and tumor necrosis factor α in some people. That could help reduce disease risk and improve overall health.
2. Could decrease your risk of heart disease
Plus, omega-3s seem to have even more heart health benefits, including:
- boosting HDL cholesterol (the “good” heart-protective type)
- lowering blood pressure
- improving blood flow
- reducing the risk of abnormal heart rhythms
These effects may help reduce your risk of developing heart disease.
Just keep in mind that the omega-3 supplements you find at the store aren’t the same as prescription omega-3 products, which have to come from a medical professional.
3. Might benefit brain health
Omega-3s help support brain health in a few different ways.
4. That’s not all, folks
Omega-3s can benefit your health in many other ways too.
OK, so omega-3s are crucial for health. But do you need to take them as a supplement?
If you eat at least two servings of omega-3-rich seafood (like sardines, salmon, mackerel, or herring) per week, you may not need an omega-3 supplement.
There are a few risk factors for developing low levels of DHA and EPA, including:
- following a vegan diet
- being assigned female at birth
- having certain medical conditions (like cystic fibrosis)
If you’re not sure whether you should be taking an omega-3 supplement, contact a doctor or a registered dietitian for personalized advice.
If you’re interested in taking an omega-3 supplement, it’s important to choose the right kind for you.
There are a few different types of omega-3 supplements:
- Fish oil is derived from oily fish. Processed fish oils, which are purified and concentrated to increase their EPA and DHA levels, are the most common type.
- Cod liver oil has lots of DHA and EPA as well as vitamin D and vitamin A. Keep in mind that the DHA and EPA content of cod liver oil supplements varies.
- Krill oil is extracted from tiny shrimp-like creatures (krill) that are packed with DHA and EPA.
- Algal oil is a plant-based alternative to fish and krill oils that’s safe for folks following a vegan diet. It’s effective at increasing DHA and EPA levels.
Levels of DHA and EPA can vary among supplements, but most contain 500 to 1,200 milligrams per serving. Talk with your doc if you need dosing advice.
Always choose omega-3 supplements from trusted brands.
Pro tip: Keep your omega-3 supps in a cool, dark place. Some manufacturers even recommend keeping them in the fridge. Omega-3s are fats and can go rancid if they get too hot.
There are tons of omega-3 supplements on the market. Here are some great choices for both fish- and algae-based supplements:
- Nordic Naturals ProOmega-D. This supp is derived from wild-caught sardines and anchovies. It provides 650 mg of EPA and 450 mg of DHA plus 1,000 IU of vitamin D per serving.
- Nordic Naturals Algae Omega. This one is derived from marine algae, so you can take it even if you follow a vegan diet. It contains 195 mg of EPA and 390 mg of DHA per serving.
- Vital Nutrients Cod Liver Oil 1025. This supplement provides up to 510 mg of EPA and up to 640 mg of DHA per teaspoon, plus a good amount of vitamins A and D.
Omega-3 supplements are safe for most people. According to the National Institutes of Health, even high doses of up to 5 grams per day have no apparent negative health effects.
Keep in mind that omega-3 supplements may interact with blood-thinning medications. High dose supplements could interfere with blood clotting. If you’re on blood-thinning medications, talk with your doctor before taking omega-3 supplements.
Omega-3s are super important for your health. While you can get these helpful fats from food, omega-3 supplements have been linked to some impressive benefits.
If you don’t eat a lot of seafood (or many omega-3-rich foods in general), talk with a medical professional about omega-3 supplements. A supplement might be a good way to make sure you’re getting enough omega-3s in your diet.