Omega Fatty Acids: Nutritional Sources & Health Benefits Explained

Fatty fish and omega-3 supplements on a wooden  cutting board.

Omega fatty acids are crucial nutrients for overall health, supporting a range of functions from heart and brain health to immune and inflammatory responses.

Omega fatty acids — aka omegas — are a class of nutrients essential for our well-being and integral to numerous bodily functions, like brain development, immune system strength, and joint health. Though there are several types of omegas, the most discussed in nutritional science and health contexts are omega-3, omega-6, and omega-9. 

This article describes what omegas are, provides information on dietary sources and supplementation, and explains their benefits for heart health, mental health, healthy inflammatory response, and more.

What are Omegas?

Omega fatty acids are important nutrients required for various bodily functions. Among these healthy fats, omega-3 and omega-6 are termed "essential" because the body cannot make them, and therefore they must be obtained from diet or supplement. On the other hand, omega-9 fatty acids are "non-essential" because the body can produce them as long as sufficient unsaturated fat is consumed (1). 

All omega fatty acids, whether essential or non-essential, play important roles in our health, contributing to the proper functioning of our hearts, brains, and immune systems, but there are also some important considerations when it comes to omega-6 intake which we’ll discuss below. When we speak of omega-3, omega-6, and omega-9, we are categorizing omegas based on their chemical structures, which affect how they work within our bodies to support our well-being.

A physician listens to her young patient

What are Omega-3 Fatty Acids?

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids. The three main types of omega-3 fatty acids are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), found in plant oils like flaxseed, chia seeds, and walnuts; eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA); and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). EPA and DHA are predominantly found in marine sources like fatty fish. Omega-3 fatty acids are generally what people refer to when they say they want to improve their omega intake, as they benefit many body systems, which we’ll discuss in depth below.

What are Omega-6 Fatty Acids?

Omega-6 fatty acids, similar to omega-3s, are essential fats that our bodies need but cannot produce on their own, making it necessary to obtain them through our diet. The primary form of omega-6 is linoleic acid (LA). Once ingested, the body can convert LA into other omega-6 fatty acids, such as arachidonic acid (AA), that play a role in our cellular health and inflammatory responses (2).

Omega-6 is found in nuts and seeds, but also in inflammatory vegetable and seed oils such as soybean, corn, and sunflower. While omega-6 fatty acids are required for our health to support various bodily functions, including immune system response and brain function, the modern diet often provides these fats in excessive amounts (3), especially in comparison to omega-3 fatty acids. You may have heard of the importance of caring for the ratio of omega 3 to omega 6. We’ll discuss this more below, but for now, know that research indicates that a high dietary intake of omega-6s relative to omega-3s can promote inflammation (3).

What are Omega-9 Fatty Acids?

Omega-9 fatty acids are monounsaturated fats not classified as essential since the body can produce them on its own. Deficiency in omega-9 is very uncommon. Oleic acid is the most common omega-9 — found in olive oil, avocados, and some nuts — and may be beneficial for cardiovascular health and generally supportive of a healthy inflammatory response (1).

The Importance of the Omega 6:3 Ratio

When it comes to omega intake, it is important to understand that for optimal health, we aren’t just looking at a daily intake but also the ratio of our consumption of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids (3).

Historically, the dietary omega-6 to omega-3 ratio hovered around 4:1 or lower. Contrastingly, the standard Western diet now exhibits an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio closer to 20:1, heavily skewed in favor of omega-6 (3). The modern imbalance in these two nutrients is largely attributed to the widespread consumption of processed foods and industrial seed oils that are high in omega-6s.

So while omega-6 is beneficial, we also have evidence that an imbalance to the degree found in the modern diet can contribute to a heightened inflammatory response (3). How do we support a better balance between the two? By reducing our intake of fried and processed foods and increasing our omega 3 intake through diet, supplementation, or both.

Sources of Omegas

Research indicates that up to 90% of Americans fall short in consuming adequate amounts of omega-3 fatty acids (4) and are instead consuming high amounts of omega-6 (3) in the form of fried foods, processed foods, and seed oils. Since the ratio is important, most health professionals will recommend focussing on improving omega-3 intake, since omega-6 and omega-9 intake is likely already more than sufficient.

Various mainstream health organizations, including the USDA (5), American Heart Association (6), and the NIH (7), have released their opinions on the recommended daily intake of omega-3s; however, these opinions vary. Overall, it is generally recommended to consume a minimum of 250–500 mg combined EPA and DHA each day for healthy adults, and to increase this more during pregnancy (8), when it is recommended to consume at least 650 mg of omega-3 per day (9). 

Sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Fatty fish — such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines — are excellent sources of EPA and DHA, while flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts are rich in ALA. Seaweed and algae also contain EPA and DHA, suitable for vegetarians and vegans. For many people, supplementation may be required in order to meet their optimal daily intake.

Sources of Omega-6 Fatty Acids

Nuts, seeds, and poultry are rich in omega-6 fatty acids, as are vegetable and seed oils (like sunflower, safflower, and corn oils).

A man looks at his receding hairline.

Sources of Omega-9 Fatty Acids

Olive oil, avocados, and almonds are prime sources of omega-9 fatty acids. Omega-9 fatty acids aren’t usually supplemented, since the body can generate them, and most diets are not deficient in this nutrient.

The Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Sufficient intake of omega fatty acids, particularly omega-3s, can be supportive of a wide range of bodily functions from the heart to the brain and even fetal development.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Heart Health

Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly EPA and DHA, support heart health by promoting healthy triglyceride levels (10), which are types of fats linked to heart health. These components may also help maintain normal blood pressure levels (10) in individuals who seek to support their cardiovascular health. Additionally, omega-3 fatty acids contribute to the normal functioning of the arteries (11), further supporting cardiovascular wellness. Their properties can also support the body's natural anti-inflammatory processes, which are important for heart health.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Fetal and Infant Development

Consuming sufficient omega-3 fatty acids, particularly DHA, during pregnancy is supportive to child development in areas such as intelligence, communication, and social skills. During infancy, breast milk and/or formula continue to supply DHA to your growing baby. Research shows that maternal DHA intake is reflected in the DHA content of her breast milk (11).

Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Children’s Health

Beyond infancy, omega-3s help support cognitive development (12) and may promote better learning outcomes. For children, omega-3 supplementation can support focus and learning by maintaining normal attention levels and minimizing impulsiveness (13). Additionally, omega-3s contribute to maintaining normal skin health (14). Many children go through a picky phase, and it can be hard to get kids to consistently eat enough omega-3 through the diet alone. Supplementation can be a way to help ensure sufficient intake.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Brain Health and Mood Regulation in Adulthood

Omega-3 fatty acids continue to support health into adulthood, contributing to normal mood regulation and mental wellness (13). Omega-3s support brain health by promoting normal cognitive function and may help maintain mental clarity as we age (15).

Omega-3 Fatty Acids for a Healthy Inflammatory Response

Omega-3 fatty acids are known for their ability to support the body's natural anti-inflammatory processes. They help maintain normal levels of eicosanoids and cytokines (16), which are part of the body’s response to inflammation. By supporting these normal inflammatory responses, omega-3s contribute to many aspects of overall wellness, including heart health.

Additionally, sufficient omega-3 intake can support joint health by helping to maintain normal joint function and comfort (17), which may be particularly beneficial for those looking for support in managing everyday joint stiffness.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Immune System Function

Omega-3 fatty acids play a role in supporting normal immune system function (18). This is because omegas, particularly EPA and DHA, play a role in the normal activity of immune cells. These fatty acids help modulate the immune system's response through their involvement in cell signaling pathways and by supporting the normal production of molecules that regulate immune responses.


Omega fatty acids are crucial nutrients for overall health, supporting a range of functions from heart and brain health to immune and inflammatory responses. Omega-3, omega-6, and omega-9 are the primary types, with omega-3 and omega-6 being essential, meaning they must be obtained through the diet. The modern Western diet often provides an imbalanced omega-6 to omega-3 ratio, which can contribute to health issues. It's important to manage this ratio by reducing intake of processed foods and increasing omega-3 from sources like fatty fish.

Adequate omega-3 intake is particularly beneficial for heart health, cognitive development from infancy to adulthood, maintaining normal immune function, and supporting a healthy inflammatory response. 


  1. Farag, M. A., & Gad, M. Z. (2022). Omega-9 fatty acids: potential roles in inflammation and cancer management. Journal, genetic engineering & biotechnology, 20(1), 48.

  2. Omega-6 Fatty Acid - an overview | ScienceDirect Topics. (n.d.).

  3. DiNicolantonio, J. J., & O'Keefe, J. (2021). The Importance of Maintaining a Low Omega-6/Omega-3 Ratio for Reducing the Risk of Autoimmune Diseases, Asthma, and Allergies. Missouri medicine, 118(5), 453–459.

  4. Papanikolaou, Y., Brooks, J., Reider, C., & Fulgoni, V. L., 3rd (2014). U.S. adults are not meeting recommended levels for fish and omega-3 fatty acid intake: results of an analysis using observational data from NHANES 2003-2008. Nutrition journal, 13, 31.

  5. Fish Oils are good for your Health : USDA ARS. (n.d.).

  6. Consuming about 3 grams of omega-3 fatty acids a day may lower blood pressure. (n.d.).

  7. National Institute of Health. (2023, February 15). Office of Dietary Supplements - Omega-3 Fatty Acids.

  8. Coletta, J. M., Bell, S. J., & Roman, A. S. (2010). Omega-3 Fatty acids and pregnancy. Reviews in obstetrics & gynecology, 3(4), 163–171.

  9. Greenberg, J. A., Bell, S. J., & Ausdal, W. V. (2008). Omega-3 Fatty Acid supplementation during pregnancy. Reviews in obstetrics & gynecology, 1(4), 162–169.

  10. Zanetti, M., Grillo, A., Losurdo, P., Panizon, E., Mearelli, F., Cattin, L., Barazzoni, R., & Carretta, R. (2015). Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids: Structural and Functional Effects on the Vascular Wall. BioMed research international, 2015, 791978.

  11. Aumeistere, L., Ciproviča, I., Zavadska, D., & Volkovs, V. (2018). Fish intake reflects on DHA level in breast milk among lactating women in Latvia. International Breastfeeding Journal, 13.

  12. DiNicolantonio, J. J., & O'Keefe, J. H. (2020). The Importance of Marine Omega-3s for Brain Development and the Prevention and Treatment of Behavior, Mood, and Other Brain Disorders. Nutrients, 12(8), 2333.

  13. DiNicolantonio, J. J., & O'Keefe, J. H. (2020). The Importance of Marine Omega-3s for Brain Development and the Prevention and Treatment of Behavior, Mood, and Other Brain Disorders. Nutrients, 12(8), 2333.

  14. Sawada, Y., Saito-Sasaki, N., & Nakamura, M. (2021). Omega 3 Fatty Acid and Skin Diseases. Frontiers in immunology, 11, 623052.

  15. Wei, B. Z., Li, L., Dong, C. W., Tan, C. C., Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative, & Xu, W. (2023). The Relationship of Omega-3 Fatty Acids with Dementia and Cognitive Decline: Evidence from Prospective Cohort Studies of Supplementation, Dietary Intake, and Blood Markers. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 117(6), 1096–1109.

  16. Calder P. C. (2010). Omega-3 fatty acids and inflammatory processes. Nutrients, 2(3), 355–374.

  17. Kostoglou-Athanassiou, I., Athanassiou, L., & Athanassiou, P. (2020). The Effect of Omega-3 Fatty Acids on Rheumatoid Arthritis. Mediterranean journal of rheumatology, 31(2), 190–194.

  18. Gutiérrez, S., Svahn, S. L., & Johansson, M. E. (2019). Effects of Omega-3 Fatty Acids on Immune Cells. International journal of molecular sciences, 20(20), 5028.

Filter by
Recent Posts
Article recent blog
May 17, 2024
Meet The 10 Essential Oils Handpicked For Our Skincare Line
Article recent blog
May 09, 2024
The Benefits of Dandelions + Two Family Friendly Recipes
Article recent blog
May 03, 2024
How Does Detoxification Work? Understanding Phase I, Phase II, and Phase III Detoxification
Article recent blog
Apr 25, 2024
How to Avoid Pesticides in Your Produce
Article recent blog
Apr 12, 2024
Omega Fatty Acids: Nutritional Sources & Health Benefits Explained
Article recent blog
Apr 03, 2024
10 Common Micronutrient Deficiencies & Inadequacies in the United States
Article recent blog
Mar 29, 2024
Vitamin D Deficiency & Premenstrual Symptoms
Article recent blog
Mar 29, 2024
Better Together: Vitamins D3 & K2
Article recent blog
Mar 23, 2024
12 Science-Backed Ways Probiotics Benefit The Immune System
Article recent blog
Mar 15, 2024
What To Look For In A Prenatal Vitamin
Article recent blog
Mar 07, 2024
What Are Hemorrhoids? Plus Tips On Prevention & Management
Article recent blog
Mar 01, 2024
New Study: Prenatal Choline Benefits Attention Span In Children
Article recent blog
Feb 22, 2024
Adrenal Fatigue 101—Plus My Favorite Adrenal Cocktail Recipe
Article recent blog
Feb 15, 2024
5 Common Toxins In Skincare Products
Article recent blog
Feb 08, 2024
The Story Behind VaxClear®
Article recent blog
Feb 02, 2024
When To Take Vitamins For Maximum Benefit
Article recent blog
Jan 26, 2024
Nutrients Depleted By Proton Pump Inhibitors
Article recent blog
Jan 23, 2024
The Connection Between Nutrient Deficiencies & Hair Loss
Article recent blog
Jan 11, 2024
The Vast Health Benefits of Probiotics
Article recent blog
Dec 15, 2023
Our Top Supplements For Achy Joints
Article recent blog
Dec 06, 2023
Choosing A Supplement Delivery Method For Your Family
Article recent blog
Nov 14, 2023
Nutrient Depletion & The Birth Control Pill
Article recent blog
Nov 13, 2023
The Risks of Glyphosate — And Why We're A Glyphosate Tested Company
Article recent blog
Oct 16, 2023
How To Calculate Supplement Dosages For Kids
Article recent blog
Oct 16, 2023
Herbalism For Adults: My Top 6 Supportive Formulas For Busy Parents
Article recent blog
Oct 15, 2023
Natural Energy Boosters For Exhausted Moms