Essential fatty acids (EFA) are healthy fats that the body needs but can't produce on its own. There are two fatty acids that are essential for human health, alpha-linolenic (also known as omega-3 fatty acids) and linoleic acid (omega-6). The only way to get these nutrients is through a well-rounded diet.
Fish and fish oil supplements are the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Westerners tend to consume more omega-6s, found in poultry, eggs, and most vegetable oils, than omega-3s, which are abundant in fish and seafood sources. A diet low in omega-3s is thought to be a factor in the increased rate of heart disease in the U.S.
Omega-3 fatty acids
The omega-3 category consists of two sub-groups: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Consuming these healthy polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) are known to help reduce high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels, both increased risk factors for developing heart disease.
Fish oil supplements contain the omega-3 fatty acids that are so important for human health. If you get enough in your diet from whole foods — fish, primarily — supplementation may not be needed. If you don't consume omega-3s two to three times a week, you may want to take a fish oil supplement.
One serving of most fish oil supplements is sufficient for providing the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of EPA and DHA combined.
Fish oil helps reduce risk of coronary artery disease, cardiac arrhythmia, type 2 diabetes, and elevated serum triglycerides. It also decreases risk of mortality and helps with depressive mood disorders.[2, 3]
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is beneficial for cognitive functions, neuromuscular control, and is the preferred omega-3 fatty acid for neural and retinal development. Supplementing DHA with fish oil is a great way to maximize the benefits of both fatty acids.
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EHA) is credited for helping alleviate symptoms related to depressive mood disorders. The fatty acid also helps with sight and brain function. Taking EPA may slow the onset and progression of cognitive disorders, including Alzheimer's disease and dementia.[1, 8]
Studies demonstrate that fish oil supplementation provides physical and cognitive benefits throughout your life. Children benefit by the aid of brain and retinal development, and the elderly benefit by slowing deterioration of brain function — a normal part of the aging process.
- To get your recommended dosage of EPA and DHA, we recommend taking a fish oil supplement, especially if your diet is not rich in seafood. NOW Foods produces a good EPA-only supplement — Super EPA. You can also try Carlson's EPA Gems.
Cod liver oil and krill oil
Cod liver oil supplements contain vitamins A and D, in addition to DHA and EPA. If you don't eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, and don't take a multivitamin, cod liver oil may be a good option for you.
Krill oil does not contain vitamins A or D. It was shown to be potentially more effective than other types of fish for boosting lipid metabolism in obese individuals. Long-term consumption may increase fat loss for those who are overweight. Krill oil is much more potent for ridding the body of eicosanoids, which induce inflammation. Low-grade chronic inflammation is a top heart disease factor in those who are otherwise healthy.
Try NOW Neptune Krill Oil or Jarrow Formulas' PhosphOmega Krill Oil.
Healthy adults should get 500mg of fish oil daily (1:1 EPA to DHA ratio). Adults with heart disease should consume 1g each day, and those with high cholesterol and/or high blood pressure should take 3g to 4g. The overall maximum dosage is 4g daily.
Omega-6 fatty acids
Omega-6 fatty acids are in vegetable oil, corn oil, soybean oil, nuts, and seeds. Most Americans tend to get their RDA of this fatty acid.
Omega-6 fatty acids help with brain health, particularly common aging disorders, heart health, and inflammation. The compound also helps build muscle.
Gamma linoleic acid (GLA)
Gamma linoleic acid (GLA) is a natural anti-inflammatory that helps relieve rheumatoid arthritis symptoms, reduces symptoms associated with eczema, and helps prevent cardiovascular illnesses. GLA is an omega-6 fatty acid that can be synthesized in the body, but works better when supplemented in the diet.
Dosage varies by the condition GLA is used to treat:
|Health condition||Recommended GLA dose|
|Skin conditions||360mg to 750mg daily|
|Pre-menstrual syndrome||240mg to 320mg daily|
|Rheumatoid arthritis||750mg to 2.8g daily for 6 to 12 months|
|Diabetic neuropathy||480mg daily|
|High blood pressure||1.3g daily|
|High cholesterol||Up to 2g daily|
Exceeding 2.8g daily can result in minor gastrointestinal discomfort (similar to fish oil consumption), though that subsides with consistent consumption.
Black currant oil
Black currant oil is a popular, inexpensive supplement that contains GLA. The downside is that the concentration of GLA is small.
- We like NOW Black Currant Oil or Health From The Sun Black Currant Oil .
Borage oil containsone of the highest concentrations of GLA compared to other sources.
- NOW Borage Oil and Nature's Way EFA Gold Borage Oil are good sources of GLA.
Primrose oil is a good source of GLA and is very popular for treating menstrual cramps.
- NOW Super Primrose or Jarrow Formulas Evening Primrose 1300 are good options.
- Higdon, J.; Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University; Essential Fatty Acids; updated January 2012
- Léon, H. et al.; BMJ; "Effect of fish oil on arrhythmias and mortality: a systematic review;" December2008
- Pin, K. S. et al.; European Neuropsychopharmacology; "Omega-3 fatty acids in major depressive disorder: A preliminary double-blind, placebo-controlled trial;" 2003
- Anderson, G. J. et al.; Pediatric Research; "Docosahexaenoic Acid Is the Preferred Dietary n-3 Fatty Acid for the Development of the Brain and Retina;" 1990
- Philbrick, D. J. et al.; The Journal of Nutrition; "Ingestion of fish oil or a derived n-3 fatty acid concentrate containing eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) affects fatty acid compositions of individual phospholipids of rat brain, sciatic nerve and retina;"1987
- Martins, J. G.; Journal of the American College of Nutrition; "EPA but not DHA appears to be responsible for the efficacy of omega-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation in depression: Evidence from a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials;" October 2009
- AP, S.; Journal of the American College of Nutrition; "Omega-3 fatty acids in inflammation and autoimmune diseases;" December 2002
- Samieri C.; American Journal of Clinical Nutrition; "Low Plasma Eicosapentaenoic Acid and Depressive Symptomatology are Independent Predictors of Dementia Risk;" September 2008
- Penniston, K. L.; Tanumihardjo, S.A.; American Journal of Clinical Nutrition; "The acute and chronic toxic effects of vitamin A; American Society for Clinical Nutrition;" February 2006.
- Banni, S. et al.; Nutrition & Metabolism; Krill oil significantly decreases 2-arachidonoylglycerol plasma levels in obese subjects;" 2011
- Adam O., The Clinical Investigator; "Immediate and long range effects of the uptake of increased amounts of arachidonic acid;"1992
- Kapoor, R.; Gamma Linolenic Acid: A Natural Anti-inflammatory Agent—Part I; 2005.
- Henderson, K.; The Doctor's Prescription for Healthy Living;"A little bit of heaven from omega-7;" Volume 9, Number 6
- Brookshier, S.; The recommended levels of fish oil per day; Demand Media; 2014
- Pharma Nord; Gamma linoleic acid (GLA - Omega 6); 2006
- Natural Wellbeing; Omega 9; 2012
- Alt MD; Gamma linoleic acid; The Gale Group; 2008
- Villani, A. M. et al.; BMC Geriatrics; "Fish oil administration in older adults: is there potential for adverse events? A systematic review of the literature;" May 2013
- Claire Groden; Time Magazine; Hold The Salmon: Omega-3 Fatty Acids Linked to Higher Risk of Cancer; July 2013.