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How Omega-3 Fatty Acids Help Your Gut

May 10, 2022
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You have things in your life that are nice to have, and then there are the essentials. When it comes to your health, omega-3 fatty acids are the latter, and their importance can’t be understated. You literally can’t survive without them.

Omega-3 fatty acids are so important they play a key role in the structure of every single cell in your body. They keep your heart, lungs, and blood vessels in tip-top shape. On top of that, omega-3’s give your body energy and provide significant immune system support.

Needless to say, they should be a staple in your diet. But what about omega-3’s for gut health? We’ll get into all that and more in this post.

For Starters: What Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids?

Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat with anti-inflammatory benefits. Since your body can’t make omega 3’s on its own, you’ll have to get them in your diet through either whole foods or supplements.

There are three main kinds of omega-3 fatty acids:

  • Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA): flaxseed, canola, perilla, walnuts, soy
  • Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA): salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel, shellfish
  • Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA): trout, oysters, herring, clams, mussels

Far and away, ALA is the most prevalent kind of omega-3 you’re likely to see in a typical diet. Interestingly, your body can actually convert ALA into EPA and DHA. However, it can only convert small amounts.

Across the board in the United States, research shows that people aren’t getting enough omega-3 fatty acids in their diet. In fact, Americans fall short of the recommended averages in every single age group.

How Do Omega-3 Fatty Acids Impact Your Health?

Here are some omega-3 benefits. The list is long but omega-3’s definitely deserve it.

  • Reduce LDL cholesterol (the “bad” kind) and blood pressure, which can decrease your risk of heart disease. 
  • Omega-3’s have anti-inflammatory properties that support a healthy immune system and guard against chronic diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and cancer.
  • They can help with digestion and autoimmune diseases like ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease.
  • Good for brain health and preventing cognitive decline for disorders like dementia.
  • They’re good for your hair and may have anti-aging benefits for your skin.
  • Enhanced bone strength and good for your joints (especially when it comes to managing joint pain).
  • Play a key role in healthy pregnancy and the early development of children, specifically their brain health and gut health.

Impact of Omega-3 Fatty Acids on the Gut Microbiota

Now on to what role omega 3’s play in gut health. While research on omega-3’s for gut health is a fairly new phenomenon, studies that are out there show promise.

Research shows that omega 3’s boost the creation of short-chain fatty acids, which work to decrease inflammation and help your immune system function effectively.

A study published in Nature Science Journal found that omega-3 fatty acids increase the diversity of healthy gut bacteria, which means good things not just for your gut, but for your overall health. A lack of diversity in your gut bacteria has been linked to stomach problems like IBS and even colon cancer.

The study also found that a certain type of bacteria is higher in those who get more omega-3’s in their diet. That set of bacteria comes from the Lachnospiraceae family, and has been linked to decreased inflammation and reduced risk of obesity.

Animal studies have noted similar findings on omega 3’s for gut health. Higher levels of omega 3’s seem to lower gut inflammation and permeability, which suggests that omega 3’s may be good for managing conditions like celiac disease, leaky gut, or IBD.

What About Fish Oil? Is It the Same Thing as Omega-3’s?

They oftentimes get used interchangeably, but omega 3’s and fish oil actually aren’t the same thing. Fish oil is a broad term that describes the oil you get from various cold-water fish, such as herring, tuna, or salmon. It contains just two out of the three omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA), with ALA being the missing one. Specifically, fish oil is roughly 30% omega-3 fatty acids and 70% comes from other fats.

That is to say, fish oil has omega-3’s, but you can also find omega 3’s in things other than fish. It’s kind of like the whole “all squares are rectangles but not all rectangles are squares” thing.

Not surprisingly, fish oil has been shown to have many of the same benefits as omega-3 fatty acids, like improved heart health, brain function (did you know your brain is comprised of about 60% fat, which makes fatty acids all the more crucial?), reduced inflammation, and is good for clearer skin.

Summing Things Up

Omega-3’s are a type of polyunsaturated fat you need to survive. They’re widely known for their anti-inflammatory benefits, helping with digestion (which comes in handy for dealing with stomach conditions like ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease), and are good for your heart and brain health.

The research on omega 3’s for gut health is relatively new but it’s still encouraging. Research shows omega-3’s improve the diversity of your gut bacteria, which is key to your overall health. The Lachnospiraceae bacteria family (often associated with reduced inflammation and reduced risk of obesity) has been linked to omega-3’s.

It’s also worth noting that, in animal studies, omega-3 fatty acids seem to reduce gut inflammation and permeability, which suggests they are useful for helping manage conditions like leaky gut or IBD.

Although you might see them used interchangeably, omega 3’s and fish oil aren’t one and the same. Omega 3’s are specific types of fatty acids (ALA, EPA, DHA) while fish oil comes from the tissue of fish and has other nutrients besides the two out of the three omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) it contains.

If you found this post useful, be sure to check out some of these other ones on the blog:

About the Author

Chad Richardson is a freelance writer from Cincinnati, OH. When he’s not behind his computer, you can find Chad at the gym doing his best Arnold Schwarzenegger impersonation, or out at a game rooting on his hometown teams. 

Read more about Chad on his business website here

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