Most Important Types of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

At a glance, omega-3 fatty acids are essential polyunsaturated fats which are numerously beneficial for our health. However, the body can’t make them from scratch so we must get them from food or supplements.

Out of all types, the main and most important omega-3 are: ALA, DHA, and EPA.

ALA (alpha-linolenic acid)

ALA, the most common omega-3 fatty acid in your diets, is mostly found in vegetable oils, nuts (especially walnuts), flaxseeds, leafy vegetables (such as kale or spinach), and some animal fat (especially in grass-fed animals). The human body generally uses ALA for energy. It can also be converted into EPA and DHA during the digestive process but only at a small percentage, which is not sufficient to maintain good health.

EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid)

EPA & DHA are long-chain fatty acids that come mainly from seafood, including fatty fish and algae. Your body uses EPA to produce signaling molecules called eicosanoids which play numerous physiological roles and reduce inflammation while DHA is a key component of all cell membranes and is found in abundance in the brain and retina. Studies have shown that EPA and DHA are important for proper development of neuronal, retinal, and immune functions as well as may affect many aspects of cardiovascular health.

From ALA to EPA & DHA?

ALA is not biologically active until converted into EPA or DHA; if not converted, it is simply stored or used as energy like other fats. On average, only 1–10% of ALA is converted into EPA and 0.5–5% into DHA. The conversion rate also depends on adequate levels of other nutrients, such as copper, calcium, magnesium, zinc, iron, and vitamins B6 and B7. The modern diet, especially vegetarianism, lacks some of these. In addition, some omega-6 fatty acids compete for the same enzymes needed for this process. Therefore, the high amount of omega-6 in the modern diet may reduce the conversion of ALA to EPA and DHA.

Other than the mentioned types, at least eight other omega-3 fatty acids have been discovered such as hexadecatrienoic acid (HTA), stearidonic acid (SDA), or docosapentaenoic acid (DPA), which also occur in some foods but are not considered essential.

The Bottom Line

In a nutshell, the most important omega-3s are EPA and DHA. If you can’t eat fish or don’t like fish, an omega-3 supplement is an equivalent alternative. Algae-based supplements are an option if you are a vegetarian or allergic to seafood.

ALA, which is found in terrestrial plants, is a type of Omega-3 that is not in a form that your body can efficiently use. What we mean is that your system has to convert all land-based (short molecular chain) Omega-3 to long chain ocean/marine based Omega-3 (DHA & EPA)  for it to be bioavailable. This process is quite inefficient. We would also note that you are unable to digest any flax seed that is swallowed whole so ground flax is preferable. We estimate that it would take 8 tablespoons of ground flax to match the bioavailability of 300mg of DHA, assuming that you convert at an average rate. Put another way, DHA is around 20 times more bioavailable than ALA, so it’s highly recommended to use an algae-based oil. We sure would appreciate it if you buy our products,but if you choose not to,we strongly suggest you take algae oil daily. It’s for your health! You cannot solely rely on ALA – hemp, chia, nuts and or Flax.


Healthline articleHarvard School of Public Health article, Harvard Medical School article, US National Center for Biotechnology Information article.


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