What are Omega-3 Fatty Acids?

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What are Omega-3 Fatty Acids?

This is part of our ongoing series helping consumers better understand chemicals, chemistry, and product formulations. We translate the science, bust the myths, and give you an honest assessment, so you can make informed choices for your family!

Ingredient: Omega-3 Fatty Acids

What it is: Omega-3 fatty acids are good fats that are essential for optimal health. While there are many types found in nature, the two most important fatty acids for human health and development are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and the highest levels are found in fish. A third form of omega-3 fatty acids that’s also good for health is α-linolenic acid (ALA), found in plant sources such as walnuts, flaxseeds, and chia seeds.

What it does: The word “fat” conjures some pretty negative emotions and reactions these days, but our bodies actually need some healthy fats — like omega-3 fatty acids. Consider this amazing fact: About 60% of the human brain is fat and DHA alone accounts for about 9-12% of your brain’s weight! It is absolutely vital to proper brain and nervous system function. Here are some other benefits of these very good fats:

  • Women & Mom's Health – Promotes positive mood, brain function, immunity, and cardiovascular health and reduces inflammation – perfect for before, during, and after pregnancy.
  • Baby Growth & Development – Critical for fetal and infant brain development, as well as cardiovascular, eye, immune, and nervous system health.
  • Cognitive Function – Omega-3 fatty acids play a role in preventing and/or treating neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson's disease, dementia, and Alzheimer's, as well as mood disorders like anxiety and depression.

Recent studies have also found Omega-3s to have powerful anti-inflammatory properties and, therefore, might be useful in the management of inflammatory and autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn's disease, psoriasis, lupus erythematosus, multiple sclerosis, and migraine headaches. Who knew dietary fats could be so incredibly important!

Why we use it: Clearly omega-3 fatty acids are a super significant nutrient for human health and development, but most people don’t eat enough foods that contain them. So, we created an omega-3 supplement with EPA and DHA for people to fill the gap and boost their health – even more so, to support the healthy development of babies! Our supplement includes EPA and DHA, as opposed to ALA, because the former two have been found to have more health benefits and our bodies don’t do a very good job of converting ALA to these higher quality fatty acids.

Why we’re featuring it today: There are several major problems associated with omega-3 fatty acid supplements – they’re definitely not all created equal! Here’s what to look out for and what we’ve done to eliminate those risks:

  • Since EPA and DHA are found in such high levels in fish, most supplements are made from fish oils. Unfortunately, the fatty fish these fatty acids are found in have also become contaminated with toxic environmental pollutants like furans, dioxins, PCBs, and PBDEs. At The Honest Company, we source our oils from smaller, wild fish that naturally have lower levels of these contaminants. Then, to ensure purity we molecularly distill the oil to eliminate these environmental toxics (among other things).
  • The long-chain, omega-3 fats found in fish oil are extremely susceptible to being damaged by oxidation, which causes rancidity. And, once a fish oil goes rancid, it becomes toxic as opposed to health promoting. Rancid fish oil in a bottle will stink and taste so badly, no one would ever take it. But, once inside a gel cap, you can’t tell anymore. That’s why freshness is absolutely imperative when you’re buying a gel cap supplement and freshness is something we’re very serious about. Our fish oil stays fresh due to how we manufacture, package, and ship our product. First of all, the length of time between sourcing the oil and arriving at your doorstep is far shorter than most companies because we buy the oil in small batches and make our product in small batches, so the oil isn't lingering in warehouses. We also cut out the time the product might be sitting on a shelf in a store because we ship straight to our customers. This system of production and distribution makes Honest Omega-3/DHA some of the freshest you can find.

Have any other questions about omega-3 fatty acids or our supplements? Let us know in the comments. We’re always happy to help!

References:

  • Barcelo-Coblijn G, Murphy EJ. Alpha-linolenic acid and its conversion to longer chain n-3 fatty acids: Benefits for human health and a role in maintaining tissue n-3 fatty acid levels. Prog Lipid Res 2009;48:355-74.
  • Connor, W. E. (2000). Importance of n− 3 fatty acids in health and disease.The American journal of clinical nutrition, 71(1), 171S-175S.
  • Giles, G. E., Mahoney, C. R., & Kanarek, R. B. (2013). Omega‐3 fatty acids influence mood in healthy and depressed individuals. Nutrition reviews, 71(11), 727-741.
  • Helland, I. B., Smith, L., Saarem, K., Saugstad, O. D., & Drevon, C. A. (2003). Maternal supplementation with very-long-chain n-3 fatty acids during pregnancy and lactation augments children’s IQ at 4 years of age. Pediatrics, 111(1), e39-e44.
  • Innis, S. M. (2008). Dietary omega 3 fatty acids and the developing brain. Brain research, 1237, 35-43.
  • Kris-Etherton, P. M., Harris, W. S., & Appel, L. J. (2002). Fish consumption, fish oil, omega-3 fatty acids, and cardiovascular disease. circulation, 106(21), 2747-2757.
  • Neuringer, M., Connor, W. E., Lin, D. S., Barstad, L., & Luck, S. (1986). Biochemical and functional effects of prenatal and postnatal omega 3 fatty acid deficiency on retina and brain in rhesus monkeys. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 83(11), 4021-4025.
  • Parker, G., Gibson, N., Brotchie, H., Heruc, G., Rees, A. M., & Hadzi-Pavlovic, D. (2006). Omega-3 fatty acids and mood disorders. American Journal of Psychiatry, 163(6), 969-978.
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  • Ruxton, C. H. S., Reed, S. C., Simpson, M. J. A., & Millington, K. J. (2004). The health benefits of omega‐3 polyunsaturated fatty acids: a review of the evidence. Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, 17(5), 449-459.
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