Not All Omega-3 Fatty Acids Are Created Equal – Some Can Harm Us

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Not All Omega-3 Fatty Acids Are Created Equal – Some Can Harm Us

 We have heard and read a lot of discussion about our need for omegs-3 fatty acids in our diet, but very little of the discussion seems to center around which one is really an essential fatty acid (meaning that our body cannot make it).

According to George Eisman, a registered dietician, the study of fatty acids is complicated, but the only two fatty acids that are truly essential for everyone are: linoleic acid (18:2, n−6), an omega-6 fatty acid; and alpha-linolenic acid (18:3, n−3), an omega-3 fatty acid, both of which are found in flax seed. The human body appears to be able to make any other necessary fatty acids from other fatty acids within the body.

Thus, the only omega-3 fatty acid that we need to eat in our diet is alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is found in plant foods such as flax seed.

It seems that every day we see a promotion for consuming fish oil to get the necessary omega-3 fatty acids that our body needs; but over the past decade, we have seen these claims challenged.

In 2011 Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) reported:

In a letter published October 31, 2000, the United States Food and Drug Administration Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, Office of Nutritional Products, Labeling, and Dietary Supplements noted that known or suspected risks of EPA and DHA consumed in excess of 3 grams per day may include the possibility of:

And even with all this information, subsequent advice from the FDA and national counterparts have permitted health claims associated with heart health.

Note that both of these reports talk about problems associated with DHA, docosahexaenoic acid (22:6, n−3), another, but non-essential omega-3 fatty acid.

In conclusion, the evidence strongly suggests that providing that our diets give our bodies the two essential fatty acids from plant foods, our bodies will produce all the other required fatty acids that our bodies require, and in just the correct amounts. Taking supplements, particularly from animal sources, or eating animal products, causes the problems mentioned above.