Do we need to take omega- 3 fatty acids supplements ?

There are many questions surrounding omega- 3 fatty acids – can we obtain enough from the foods we eat such as fish, nuts, seeds and avocado? Can we get the fats we need from plant foods only? Is fish safe to eat? Should we be taking a supplement?

What are omega – 3 fats and why are they important for health?

There are essential fats that our bodies cannot make. Therefore, we must be ingesting them as they are vitally important for good health. The term “essential fatty acid” refers to fatty acids required for biological processes but does not include the fats that only act as fuel. The essential fats for humans include the omega-3 derivatives of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) as well as the omega 6 derivative of linoleic acid (LA).

What are the functions of essential fats ?

Functions of essential fats. Fats have gained bad press, but we can’t live without them. Here are some important functions of these fats:

  • integral part of cell membranes
  • building blocks for many hormones that regulate blood clotting
  • provide flexibility of your blood vessels and held with the contraction and relaxation of artery walls
  • play a major role in body’s anti- inflammatory processes
  • omega-3 fats have been shown to help prevent heart disease and stroke
  • may help control lupus
  • prevent eczema
  • prevent and control rheumatoid arthritis
  • may play protective roles in cancer

Linoleic acid / LA (an omega-6 fatty acid)

Consuming adequate amounts of the LA / omega 6 is not usually a problem as it is widely available in many foods from animal and plant origin. Thus we all get adequate ( often excessive) amount of this fat in our Western Diet.

Alpha-linolenic acid / ALA (an omega-3 fatty acid)

These fats are not as commonly consumed in the Western diet. All three fats are needed for optimal health and we need to be consumed regularly.  ALA is found mainly in plant oils such as flaxseed, soybean and canola oils.  Worldwide, people are not meeting their daily requirements for this essential fat [1] which leads to increase in cardiovascular disease [2] and cognitive decline  [3]. Very low blood levels (≤ 4%) of this fat were observed in North America, Central and South America, Europe, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and Africa [3]

The three main omega-3 fatty acids are:

  • alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
  • eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
  • docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)


Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are found in fish and seafood. Do you eat fish at least twice per week?  If you do, you are meeting your requirements for these vital fats. it should be considered that some people are worry about the purity of fish nowadays. This is a valid concern, as fish can be contaminated with heavy metals that are detrimental to our health [ 4 ],[ 5 ]. Even FDA and EPA released a recommendations that we limit seafood to no more than twice per week and has published their research on mercury content in fish. See chart to find out more about mercury content in different fish.

Can I obtain my DHA and EPA from plans foods?

Sadly the answer of this question is No. While intakes of the omega-3 fatty acid ALA are similar in vegetarians and non-vegetarians, intakes of EPA and DHA are low in vegetarians and virtually absent in vegans  [7] Some plant food such as nuts and seeds is rich in ALA, which is needed for the production of EPA and DHA, however our bodies are not efficient in making this conversion ( from ALA to DHA and EPA) thus people who avoid fish end up low in EPA and DHA. [7]

I encourage my clients to eat low mercury fish once per month based on the above chart and recommend regular intake of a high-quality fish oil supplement that is third party tested for purity. Contamination from fish can easily be passed to fish oil supplements.

Taking a DHA and EPA supplement offers a wide range of health benefits such as an overall decrease in body inflammation, improved mental health, maintenance of muscle mass, prevention of cardiovascular or cognitive disease and reduced cancer risk[ 6 ].

Unfortunately, not all supplements are created equal. They may vary in purity and content of active ingredients, as well as the load of supportive ingredients which can be irritating to your gastrointestinal system.

Find high quality fish oil supplement HERE