For Your Patient

Omega-3 Basics

Omega-3s are a type of polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA). PUFAs in general are known to support cardiovascular (heart) health. There are three major types of omega-3s: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

ALA comes from plants and is a true “essential” omega-3 because we need to get this fat from the diet – our bodies can’t make it on their own. It’s found in seeds (flax, chia), nuts (walnuts) and oils (soybean, canola), to name a few. ALA can be converted to EPA and DHA in the body, but the process is inefficient.

EPA and DHA are omega-3s that come primarily from marine (sea) sources. EPA and DHA are the omega-3s that have been shown to be the most protective of the heart. Scientific evidence also supports the role of EPA and DHA for prenatal, brain and eye health.

You shouldn’t depend on plant-based ALA omega-3s to provide the EPA and DHA your body needs. The only way to get EPA and DHA is by eating fatty fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, as well as certain shellfish such as mussels and clams), eating foods made with added EPA and DHA, or taking an omega-3 supplement.

For more detailed information about EPA and DHA omega-3s, click here.