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Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

"Fat" and "acid" may not sound healthy, but omega-3 fatty acids are critical for optimal heart health. They are a type of polyunsaturated fat that everyone needs to get through  their diet or supplements. If your levels are low, this could affect what you should eat. AncestryDNA® can tell you if your DNA might have a small impact on your omega-3 levels.

What Is an Omega-3 Fatty Acid?

There are eleven types of omega-3 fatty acids. Research has focused on three: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

ALA must be obtained through diet. It is found in flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, vegetable oils, and other plant foods.

EPA and DHA are found in fish and other seafood, especially cold-water fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and tuna. Your liver can also convert ALA into small amounts of EPA and DHA.

In addition to traditional sources of omega-3s, you can find foods that have been fortified with them, such as eggs, yogurt, juice, milk, soy beverages, and infant formula.

Omega-3 and Genetics

Because people get omega-3 fatty acids through food, diet plays a big part in the amount of omega-3s you have in your body.

But research indicates that genes play a small role too. AncestryDNA looks at genes that affect four of the 11 known types of omega-3s.

So far two genetic markers have been identified as seeming to play a small role in omega-3 levels: One is in the ELOVL2 gene on chromosome 6, and one is in the FADS1 gene on chromosome 11.

However, the study of genetics and nutrition is still in its early stages. There may be other genes associated with omega-3 fatty acid levels that have not yet been identified by scientists.

Omega-3 Benefits

Studies show that eating a lot of fatty fish lowers the risk of heart disease, but it's not clear if DHA and EPA are the cause.

Scientists are studying other potential omega-3 benefits. Some of these include a decreased risk of some cancers and Alzheimer's disease, reduced joint pain with rheumatoid arthritis, and less chance of developing age-related macular degeneration.

Most Americans can get enough ALA from their diet. Omega-3 deficiencies, which can cause rough, scaly skin, are rare in the United States.

Omega-3 supplements could make sense for those who don't eat much fish, although studies on their benefits have been mixed.

Interesting Facts About Omega-3s

When you realize the human brain is almost 60% fat, a significant portion of which is essential fatty acids, you understand why omega-3s are so important.

For pregnant and nursing women, eating 8 to 12 ounces of fish and other omega-3-rich seafoods per week may improve their baby’s health.

It is, however, important to limit consumption to no more than 12 ounces per week and choose fish that are lower in mercury and higher in healthy omega-3 fats (EPA and DHA).

Examples of these fish include Atlantic mackerel, salmon, freshwater trout, herring, anchovy, and sardines. And there’s a bonus: Fish also contain more vitamin B12 and vitamin D than any other type of food, according to the FDA.

What does your DNA say about your omega-3 levels? Find out with an AncestryDNA test with Traits.


12 Reasons to Love the Mediterranean Diet. WebMD. June 29, 2017.

Dorajoo R, Sun Y, Han Y, et al. A genome-wide association study of n-3 and n-6 plasma fatty acids in a Singaporean Chinese population. Genes & Nutrition. 2015;10(6). doi:10.1007/s12263-015-0502-2.

How Fats Work. HowStuffWorks Science. March 8, 2018. Lemaitre RN, Tanaka T, Tang W, et al. Genetic Loci Associated with Plasma Phospholipid n-3 Fatty Acids: A Meta-Analysis of Genome-Wide Association Studies from the CHARGE Consortium. PLoS Genetics. 2011;7(7). doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1002193.

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