You’ve likely already heard about Omega-3s, the oft-touted “fatty acids.” They have a number of supposed positive health effects. Did you know that there were multiple types of Omega-3 fatty acids, though?
It turns out, the difference between the long-chain acids (EPA/DHA) and short chain ones (ALA) could be significant enough that the health benefits are actually reduced when consuming short chain acids meaning long chain are the better way to go.
What is Omega-3s
Omega-3s are fatty acids found in many different kinds of foods. Fish, plants, nuts, and seeds are notable sources.
The prevailing wisdom is that Omega-3s could have beneficial effects for people suffering from a number of conditions, including, as WebMD points out: “cancer, asthma, depression, cardiovascular disease, ADHD, and autoimmune diseases.”
The root cause, they claim, is “inflammation” and the Omega-3s ability to combat this is what gives it the ability to provide such great benefit.
There is a “catch,” so to speak. All of the major benefits researchers have discovered come from eating fish, and even those are modest at best. Whether or not these benefits translate to taking supplements laced with Omega-3s is not as clear.
As the NIH so cogently points out, eating fish as opposed to supplementing may provide a more correct amount of Omega-3s for the diet, and exceeding this natural limit may not be beneficial.
In the case of many diseases, the possibility that people who tend to eat fish also tend to have healthier overall lifestyles must be taken into account.
There is also the fact that some other component of fish may be complementing the benefits of Omega-3s, and taking Omega-3s on their own does not confer the same advantages.
Still, Omega-3s are legal to buy as supplements, and plenty of people swear by them. In particular, the long chain EPA and DHA varieties, which are found in fatty fish like tuna.
You can get Omega-3s from plant sources, but these are considered inferior in their effectiveness. Between EPA and DHA Omega-3 varieties, there is further debate about which are preferable.
EPAs are considered the go-to source for inhibition of cellular inflammation. DHAs, on the other hand, or considered to be better “brain food,” and enhance the neuroprotective effects against Alzheimer’s and similar conditions.
Among those that use fish oil, the consensus is that using a combination of EPAs and DHAs, while eschewing short chain ALAs is the way to go.
Other Names for Omega-3s
Though there aren’t any alternate names for Omega-3s themselves, they do fall under the broad classification of Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids and can be referred to as such in a general sense.