Omega-3 fats

Last updated 15 December 2016 — Last reviewed 17 February 2014

Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat.

Omega-3 plays a vital role in many aspects of health, including brain function, growth and development. Apart from lowering heart disease risk, research suggests omega-3 may help reduce inflammation and support the immune system, reduce blood pressure and play a role in preventing and treating depression.

Omega-3 is found in marine, plant and animal sources including:

  • fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, anchovies, sardines and trout
  • oils such as flaxseed, canola and walnut
  • nuts and seeds such as flaxseed, walnuts, chia seed
  • seaweed
  • foods with added omega-3 fatty acids, i.e. milk, yoghurt, eggs and bread
  • eggs, chicken and beef

Omega-3 & disease prevention

A comprehensive review of studies from the United States has found omega-3 fatty acids in fish and fish oils helps improve heart health. The review showed that omega-3 helps protect against heart disease in healthy people, as well as reducing the incidence of cardiac events and death in people with existing heart disease.

Patients who had established heart disease and suffered a heart attack received the greatest benefit from increased omega-3 intake with a 30% reduction in cardiovascular-related death.

The Heart Foundation recommends adults consume about 500mg of marine source omega-3 every day to reduce the risk of heart disease. This is the equivalent of eating two to three 150g serves of oily fish every week. Most people who eat fish, nuts and green leafy vegetables are able to get enough omega-3 from food. However, some people with western diets are often low in omega-3 fatty acids. For example, those with heart disease may need to consume higher levels, so their intake may need to be boosted with fish oil supplements (capsules or oil) and omega-3 enriched foods and drinks.

Research in a large population based study showed that women who consume more oily fish containing omega-3 fatty acids were 22% less likely to be diagnosed with endometriosis than women who consumed small amounts. Eating high levels of trans-unsaturated fats such as deep-fried foods, cakes and biscuits increased the risk of endometriosis compared to women who eat lower levels.

Omega-3 is also available in supplements.

The amount and type of omega-3 you need should be prescribed by a qualified health practitioner and check out our omega-3 rich recipes.

This web page is designed to be informative and educational. It is not intended to provide specific medical advice or replace advice from your health practitioner. The information above is based on current medical knowledge, evidence and practice as at February 2014.

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