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Fish oil omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA may not be indispensable

A new study suggests as long you get enough intake of plant-derived linolenic acid or ALA, your system will synthesize sufficient amounts of n–3 polyunsaturated fatty acids.  In other words, fish oil is not something indispensable.

Fish oil omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), are known to be beneficial to the health. These omega-3 fatty acids, particularly DHA, have some protective effect against cancer.

Ailsa A. Wlech and colleagues from University of East Anglia in Norwich, United Kingdom surveyed 14,422 men and women aged 39 to 78 years from the EPIC - Norfol cohort for 7-day dietary data and measured plasma phospholipid fatty acid in 4,902 participants.

For the study, the researchers measured intake and status of n-3 PUFAS and calculated ratio of dietary ALA to circulating n-3 PUFAS.

They found the major dietary source of EPA and DHA was fish. For meat-eaters, the major source was meat and for vegetarians, the major source of EPA and DHA was spreading fats, soups and sauces.

In comparison, fish eaters had 57 to 80 percent higher intake of n-3 PUFA than non-fish eaters. But the difference was considerably small.  Women had higher ratio of ALA to n-3 PUFA than men. Non-fish-eaters had greater ratio than the fish eaters.

The findings were reported in the Sept 22, 2010 issue of American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

ALA is found high in plant oils like canola, pumpkin seed, perilla, kiwi seed, walnut and soybean oil, flax and other seeds, and leafy greens like spinach, Brussels, sprouts and purslane.

David Liu