What are Omega 3 Fatty Acids?

Omega-3 fatty acids (also referred to as n-3 fatty acids, ω-3 or omega 3) are a family of unsaturated fatty acids that are thought to be responsible for the health and function of many important processes in the human body, and which play a key role in maintaining proper health. All the fatty acids in this family contain a final carbon-carbon double bond in the n-3 position (the third bond from the fatty acid's terminal methyl end).

Unlike the saturated fats found in animal products such as lard and butter, omega 3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated, which means that they contain more than one double bond in their chemical structure. Polyunsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature and remain liquid when frozen or refrigerated. There is growing evidence that omega-3 fatty acids can help to prevent a wide range of medical problems, including cardiovascular disease, arthritis, asthma and depression.

The three most nutritionally important omega 3 fatty acids are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Whilst the body can form the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA from ALA, it cannot synthesise ALA, which therefore must be obtained from the diet form sources such as flaxseeds, walnuts and soya beans. EPA and DHA can also be obtained from the diet, for example from oily fish such as mackerel, herring salmon or sardines.