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Omega-3 vs Fish Oil: The Key Differences You Should Know

Rachel Levin


Omega-3 fatty acid and fish oil supplements are often thrown around interchangeably, but we’re here to set the record straight on their differences.

Omega-3s are a type of vital polyunsaturated fatty acid essential for our well-being that’s found in fish oil. However, the distinction doesn't end there; while Omega-3 refers to the beneficial compounds our bodies need, fish oil is the vehicle that delivers these nutrients.

By understanding this main difference— Omega-3 as the nutrient versus fish oil as its source—you'll begin to understand how to choose supplements that best align with your health goals. Beyond a simple exploration, we'll delve into the roles of EPA and DHA, two types of Omega-3s that are pivotal for heart health, cognitive function, and overall wellness.

Omega-3 vs Fish Oil: Key Takeaways 

Here are the key takeaways to understand the roles of Omega-3s and fatty acids before we dive into the details.

  • Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish oil, a popular supplement for improving overall health.

  • Beyond fish oil, Omega-3s are present in various foods like meat, seeds, and nuts, but in different forms.

  • Omega-3 fatty acids have many health benefits, from improved heart health and reduced inflammation to enhanced cognitive function and memory.

  • When selecting an Omega-3 supplement, it's crucial to consider the source, potency, and third-party testing to ensure you're getting a high-quality product free from contaminants.

  • Not all Omega-3 supplements are created equal: Look for products with high levels of EPA and DHA, the most beneficial forms of Omega-3 for human health.

  • Sustainability is a significant factor in choosing fish oil supplements. Opt for brands that source their fish oil from wild-caught fish and use environmentally friendly fishing practices.

  • The body cannot produce Omega-3 fatty acids on its own, making it essential to obtain these nutrients through diet or supplementation.

The 3 Types of Omega-3s and Their Sources 

Understanding the three main types of Omega-3 fatty acids, EPA, DHA, and ALA, is crucial for anyone looking to optimize their health through nutrition. These essential fats offer a range of benefits but differ significantly in their sources and effects on the body.

1. EPA (Eicosapentaenoic Acid)

EPA is primarily found in fish and is known for its anti-inflammatory effects. It is crucial in preventing and managing heart disease by reducing blood clot formation and inflammation. Fish, particularly cold-water species like salmon, mackerel, and sardines, are rich in EPA, offering a direct route to harnessing its health benefits.

2. DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid)

DHA is also predominantly found in fish and is essential for brain health and development. It contributes to maintaining normal brain function, from aiding in the development of the brain in fetuses and infants to preventing cognitive decline in older adults. Like EPA, DHA is abundant in fatty fish, making seafood an invaluable component of a brain-healthy diet.

3. ALA (Alpha-Linolenic Acid)

Unlike EPA and DHA, ALA is found in plant sources such as flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts, as well as vegetable oils like flaxseed, soybean, and canola oils. ALA can be converted into EPA and DHA by the body; however, it’s a much less efficient process. This conversion rate is low, which means that while ALA is a beneficial Omega-3 source, it's less potent than its marine-derived counterparts.

The human body cannot produce Omega-3 fatty acids naturally, making obtaining them through our diet essential. Here's why certain sources are more beneficial:

  • Wild-caught fish are the richest source of EPA and DHA due to their diet of plankton, which is high in Omega-3s, according to this study . This natural accumulation makes wild-caught fish a superior source of these vital nutrients.

  • Other seafood, such as albacore tuna, sardines, and anchovies, offer significant amounts of Omega-3s, providing a variety of options for incorporating these fatty acids into one's diet.

  • Meat from grass-fed animals, including beef, lamb, and game, contains Omega-3s but in lower quantities than fish. The Omega-3 content is higher in these meats than in those from grain-fed animals due to the grass diet, which includes ALA.

  • Nuts and seeds like walnuts and flaxseeds are excellent sources of ALA, making them a valuable addition to the diet, especially for vegetarians and vegans seeking to increase their Omega-3 intake.

Incorporating various sources into your diet can help ensure adequate intake of all three types of Omega-3 fatty acids, supporting overall health and well-being. See Momentous founder Matt Wan, explain everything you need to know about Omega-3s.

How Omega-3 Benefits the Body and Mind 

Omega-3 fatty acids are renowned for their extensive benefits to both body and mind, impacting health in ways that are profound and backed by a wealth of scientific research. Here's how these essential nutrients contribute to our well-being:

Better Heart Health

Omega-3 fatty acids play a pivotal role in heart health, helping to regulate heartbeat, reduce blood pressure, and lower triglycerides (TG) and cholesterol levels. Studies have shown that individuals who consume a diet rich in Omega-3s have a significantly reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases. The anti-inflammatory properties of EPA and DHA also contribute to healthier blood vessels, reducing the risk of plaque buildup and heart attacks.

Lower Blood Pressure

Regular intake of Omega-3s has been linked to lower blood pressure levels, a key factor in reducing the risk of heart disease. The American Heart Association highlights the effectiveness of Omega-3 in moderating blood pressure levels, especially beneficial for hypertensive individuals.

Ease Inflammation

Chronic inflammation is a root cause of many diseases, and Omega-3 fatty acids are known for their powerful anti-inflammatory effects . By reducing the production of substances linked to inflammation, such as eicosanoids and cytokines, Omega-3s help manage conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, reducing joint pain and stiffness.

Boosts Cognition

Omega-3s are crucial for brain health, with DHA, in particular, playing a vital role in the structure and function of brain cells. Supplementation has been associated with improved cognitive performance, attention, and reaction time, according to this study . Neuroscientist Andrew Huberman discusses the importance of DHA for maintaining cognitive function and supporting brain health as we age, highlighting its role in neuronal health and plasticity.

Improved Memory

DHA is not only essential for cognitive development in infants but also for maintaining memory performance in adults. Research indicates that Omega-3 supplementation can enhance memory functions, particularly in older individuals, potentially reducing the risk of Alzheimer's disease and dementia.

The cumulative evidence supporting the benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids underscores the importance of incorporating these nutrients into our diet. Whether through direct dietary sources like fatty fish and plant-based alternatives or high-quality supplements, ensuring adequate Omega-3 intake is crucial for maintaining and enhancing our physical and mental health.

“From a performance, maintenance, and health perspective, Momentous Omega-3s are an essential nutrient for a number of functions in the body. It’s really important for recovery from an anti-inflammatory standpoint and for brain health.”

— Jordan Mazur, San Francisco 49ers Director of Nutrition

The Side-Effects of Omega-3 from Fish Oil 

While Omega-3 supplements offer significant health benefits, potential side effects such as stomach discomfort, "fish burps," nausea, heartburn, or bad breath can be a deterrent, especially for individuals with fish or shellfish allergies. These issues are often linked to supplements in the ethyl ester form, which are harder for the body to digest.

Momentous Omega-3 addresses this concern by including lipase, a pancreatic enzyme that enhances the digestibility of fats by 12 to 15 percent, as evident in this study . This improvement in digestibility is especially effective when the Omega-3 is in its natural triglyceride form, which is more easily absorbed by the gut than the ethyl ester variant, reducing the likelihood of digestive discomfort.

To ensure maximum bioavailability and minimize side effects, Momentous Omega-3 utilizes DHA and EPA in the highly bioavailable triglyceride form, paired with lipase for improved digestion. Each serving delivers 1,600 mg of Omega-3s, balancing EPA and DHA to support heart health, cognitive function, and overall well-being efficiently.

This approach aims to offer the health advantages of Omega-3s without the common downsides, making it an appealing choice for enhancing health through supplementation.

How to Know If You’re Getting Enough Omega-3 In Your Diet

A blood test targeting EPA and DHA levels is the gold standard for accurately determining if you're getting enough Omega-3 in your diet. The Omega-3 Index test measures the percentage of EPA and DHA in your blood, offering a clear picture of your Omega-3 status.

An optimal index is above 8%, whereas levels under 4% suggest a deficiency, increasing the risk for heart-related issues, as evident in this study . This precise assessment is invaluable for those concerned about their nutritional intake and seeking to optimize their health.

For a more general assessment, consider your seafood consumption. Eating wild-caught seafood at least three times a week is an effective marker for adequate Omega-3 intake. If your diet falls short of this, it's likely you're not getting enough Omega-3s, especially true for athletes who may require more due to their increased physical demands.

Research supports that higher Omega-3 levels can aid in muscle recovery and reduce inflammation, underscoring the importance of sufficient intake for optimal performance and health.

How to Choose an Omega-3 Supplement

When selecting an Omega-3 supplement, focus on three key aspects: source, potency, and purity. Opt for supplements derived from sustainably caught wild fish to ensure quality and environmental responsibility.

The potency is crucial; seek high levels of EPA and DHA in the triglyceride form for better absorption. Ensure the supplement has undergone rigorous third-party testing to guarantee it's free from heavy metals and pesticides.

Momentous Omega-3 exemplifies these criteria, offering a sustainably sourced, high-potency supplement in the preferred triglyceride form. Enhanced with lipase for improved bioavailability and rigorously tested for purity, it delivers over 90% triglyceride-bound Omega-3s, ensuring maximum health benefits.

If you're aiming for a top-tier Omega-3 supplement that supports both your health and environmental sustainability, Momentous Omega-3 is a standout choice. A daily dose is two soft-gel capsules a day with food.

Grace Gavilanes

Rachel Levin

Rachel Levin is a writer and editor with over 10 years of experience writing in health, wellness, and travel. She is also an avid outdoor athlete—she's hiked and trekked in almost every continent.