What you need to know about Omega-3 fatty acids and the recommended intake

Our aging population has prompted a flurry of research on ways to slow cognitive decline; and increasingly this research is demonstrating that heart health-friendly omega-3 fatty acids are crucial to brain health.

The latest study to tout the brain benefits of omega-3 EPA and DHA acids, most readily found in fish and fish oil, comes from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, which last year tested the memories of young adults who took fish oil pills daily for six months. The scientists found that the oil boosted the study subjects’ working memory by as much as 23 percent.

Unsurprisingly, some medical experts claim taking EPA and DHA does nothing for the brain. But those researching their efficacy believe the acids are critical for cognitive function, since 60 percent of the fat comprising brain volume is DHA, which preserves cell membrane health and facilitates communication between brain cells.

Lots of quality fish oils are available, but another way to get omega-3s is through flax or even krill oil, which is a lot more resistant to oxidative damage than fish oil.


The facts:

  • Omega-3 fats have many functions in our body and are important for good health. There are three kinds of omega-3 fats: ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid, and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid).
  • ALA is an essential fat so it must be consumed in the diet. Our bodies can make EPA and DHA from ALA, but this ability is very limited. Dieticians suggest it’s important to include foods rich in DHA and EPA in your diet.
  • The amount of omega-3 fat you need depends on your age and whether you are male or female.
  • Your doctor may recommend more omega-3 fats if you have heart disease or are at risk for heart disease. Talk to your doctor or dietitian for more information.


How much should you aim for?

For men 19 years of age and older, the recommended intake of ALA is 1.6 grams per day; for women 19 and older 1.1g per day; for pregnant women 19 and over 1.4g per day; breastfeeding women 19 and over 1.3g per day. Dieticians say a healthy diet that aims for at least two servings per week of fish will provide anywhere from 0.3 to 0.45g of EPA and DHA.