Fatty Acids: Everything You Need To Know

08/18/2021 | 6 min. read

Healthy Directions Staff Editor

Healthy Directions Staff Editor

Fatty acids are a critical part of a healthy and balanced diet, and they play many roles in the body, including building the structural components for cells, tissues, and organs.

Omega-3 fatty acids can have plenty of health benefits for humans, including anticoagulant and antihypertensive properties, metabolism regulation, and support for the central nervous system and for your eyesight.

Omega-3 fatty acids are also believed to contain anti-inflammatory properties that may benefit people experiencing symptoms based on inflammation. Omega-3 fatty acids are also thought to have plenty of benefits for your heart and brain health, and getting enough of this essential nutrient may help prevent certain conditions.

There are many food sources of omega-3 fatty acids, but for those with dietary restrictions who cannot get sufficient omega-3 fatty acids from food alone, supplements may be the appropriate solution. If you think you may not be getting enough fatty acids from your diet alone, you should speak with your doctor in order to determine if a change is necessary.

Your doctor will be able to help you figure out how you can start incorporating more fatty acids into your diet, or they can help you determine what kind of supplement you need to take in order to stay healthy. You should avoid starting a new supplement regimen without your doctor’s approval, as taking too much of any vitamin unnecessarily could cause more harm than good.

What Are The Different Types of Fatty Acids?

When you consume fats, your body breaks these fats down into fatty acids, and these fatty acids can then be absorbed into your blood. Fatty acid molecules are generally formed together in three groups, and each group of three is known as a triglyceride. Fatty acids are known as the building blocks for the fat in the human body, and they are used for energy.

During times when glucose, or sugar, is not available for use as energy, the body will resort to using fatty acids for energy instead. There are four main categories of fatty acids, including saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and trans fats.

There are several other types of fatty acids within these categories, and omega-3 fatty acids are one of the most commonly talked about types of fatty acids in the health and wellness sector.

More than 20 types of fatty acids can be found in foods, with some of the best food sources including nuts, oils, fish, fruits, animal fats, and seeds.

The human body cannot produce fatty acids independently, which is why it is essential to get this nutrient from a healthy diet or supplements. It is generally recommended that no more than 30% of your daily caloric intake should be coming from fat.

Of this 30%, around 7% should come from saturated fatty acids, and less than 1% should come from trans fats. Omega-3 fatty acids are typically recommended to be consumed rather than saturated fats, and this substitution should take place whenever possible.

However, consuming too much of any type of fat can lead to unhealthy weight gain.

The Importance of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are considered essential fats. They are an important part of creating cell membranes throughout the body and supporting the functioning of the receptors in these cell membranes.

Omega-3 fatty acids also play a key role in making the hormones in the body that regulate blood clotting, contraction and relaxation of artery walls, and swelling. Omega-3s also help regulate genetic functioning by binding to receptors in cells.

There are three main types of omega-3s:

  • Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA): These two types of omega-3 fatty acids mainly come from fish. Because of this, they are commonly referred to as marine omega-3s.
  • Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA): This omega-3 is the most common type of omega-3 fatty acid in many Western diets, and it is found in vegetable oils, nuts and seeds, flaxseed, leafy vegetables, and some animal fat.

This omega-3 fatty acid is especially prevalent in the fat from grass-fed animals in terms of animal fats. The human body uses this type of fatty acid for energy, and only limited amounts of this omega-3 are converted into EPA or DHA omega-3s by the body.

Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to help reduce the risk of heart conditions by:

  • Working to lower blood pressure and heart rate
  • Improve the functioning of your blood vessels
  • Lower your triglycerides
  • Reduce signs of redness and swelling when ingested at higher doses

Including Fish Into Your Diet

For patients who do not have a history of poor heart conditions, it is recommended to consume about two servings of fish each week in order to provide your body with enough omega-3 fatty acids.

These servings should include a variety of fish, such as:

  • Mackerel
  • Tuna
  • Salmon
  • Sardines
  • Herring

If you have a history of various heart conditions, your doctor may recommend that you consume higher levels of omega-3s to experience the heart condition prevention benefits.

It may even be recommended that you consume one gram of EPA and DHA omega-3s each day, and it can be difficult to get this level of omega-3s from your diet alone. In this case, your doctor may recommend that you supplement your diet.

Normalize Triglyceride Levels

If you have high triglyceride levels, you may also need to consume higher levels of omega-3s, which may be the case even if you are taking medication to lower your triglycerides.

However, do not begin using a supplement for this purpose without consulting your doctor first. You should always get professional health advice whenever you have serious health concerns rather than attempting to self-treat, as self-treating your symptoms may do more harm than good.

If you do not consume animal foods, like fish, on a regular basis, you may not be getting enough omega-3 fatty acids from your diet. However, some plant foods do contain this essential nutrient.

You should either try to incorporate more of these food sources into your diet per your doctor’s advice or begin taking a supplement recommended by your doctor.

Plant food sources generally only contain ALA omega-3s, but this type of omega-3 can still help reduce your risk of various health conditions. Plus, some ALA food sources get broken down into DHA by your body, such as algae or algae oil.

Many foods are also fortified with algae oil, so it may not be as difficult to incorporate this food source as you might expect.

Although omega-3 fatty acids are considered one of the most important types of fat, it is still important to make sure you are regularly consuming a variety of unsaturated fats to meet your body’s needs.

The Bottom Line

Fatty acids are the building blocks for the fat in your body, and when you consume fat sources in your diet, the fat gets broken down into fatty acids, which then are absorbed into your blood.

Fatty acids carry out many essential processes in your body. They are a critical part of building cell membranes and regulating hormones in your body that helps support your response to blood clotting and swelling.

Fatty acids can help reduce your risk of developing severe health conditions and may also help control the associated symptoms.

Omega-3 fatty acids specifically are one type of polyunsaturated fatty acid that is considered particularly important and beneficial. This type of fatty acid is primarily found in fish and fish oils. Some omega-3s can be found in plant foods such as nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils.

In addition, those living with dietary restrictions or just do not get enough fatty acids from their daily diet may benefit from a supplement. But before you start taking supplements, always consult your doctor before starting a new regimen.

Healthy Directions Staff Editor