Processing Omega 3

Processing Omega 3

Omega 3 is a type of unsaturated fat that is important for a healthy heart, the immune system and maintaining good memory. Humans cannot produce omega-3 themselves and rely on their diet to obtain sufficient amounts.

What is the FADS gene?

FADS genes encode delta desaturase enzymes which form the active form of omega 3 (alpha linolenic acid) from the dietary form. Only once the active form has been formed can omega 3 be absorbed by the body.

What is the effect of genetic variation at the FADS gene?

Individuals with the alleles produce enzymes that are less efficient at producing the active form of omega 3 and therefore have decreased levels of omega 3 in their body. Lower levels of omega 3 have been linked to increased risk of some long term illnesses to it’s important to keep a healthy amount in your diet.

Are there different types of omega 3?


There are three major omega-3 fatty acids in our diet:

  1. Alpha-linolenic acid. This is found in foods such as flaxseed and soybeans.

  2. Eicosapentaenoic acid. This found in fish and fish oils and can also be synthesised into supplements.

  3. Docosahexaenoic acid. This found in fish and fish oils and can also be synthesised into supplements.

Our body actually converts dietary alpha-linolenic acid into eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid before absorption into the body.

Do omega 3 supplementations work?

Currently the science is inconclusive about whether omega 3 supplements work.

Fish oil is the most commonly taken omega 3 supplement. Fish oil contains two omega 3 fats: eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid. Vegan omega 3 is also available and is produced by microalgae fermentation.

A review of research on omega 3 supplements concluded that supplements have little to no effect on the risk of cardiovascular problems, strokes or an irregular heartbeat. However, individuals who eat fish four times a week are less likely to die from heart disease. Therefore, it is more beneficial to your health to obtain your omega 3 from your diet, rather than from a supplement.

Has FADS genetic variation been linked to diabetes?


Research has shown that omega 3 improves glucose tolerance and insulin resistance, which decreases the risk of diabetes. Alleles at the FADS gene reduce the rate at which omega 3 can be absorbed by the body and therefore can increase the risk of diabetes.

In some cases, folate supplements are important. It is recommended that women who are trying to become pregnant, or are in their first 12 weeks of pregnancy, should take a daily supplement of folate to ensure normal development of the baby. To avoid the problem discussed above, do ensure that the folate in the supplement is in the active form (5-methyl-tetrahydrofolate) rather than folic acid. This will mean absorption is more effective.

How are omega 3 and omega 6 different?

Omega 3 and omega 6 are both polyunsaturated fats but the structure of the molecule is different. They  also have different roles. Omega 3 has anti-inflammatory benefits and lowers the risk of heart disease whilst omega 6 lowers cholesterol and is an important source of energy for the body. Most Western diets contain too little omega 3 and too much omega 6.

Do I need an omega 6 supplement?


Both omega 6 and omega 3 use the same enzymes to convert them into their active forms. Omega 3 and omega 6 compete to use the enzymes. In the past, the intake of omega 3 and omega 6 was very similar, but Western societies today have a much higher intake of omega 6 than omega 3. Because of the higher dietary intake of omega-6, the majority of the enzymes now produce the omega 6 active molecule rather than omega 3 active molecule. Therefore, it is important not to take an omega 6 supplement, unless recommended by a doctor, as this decreases your body’s ability to absorb omega 3.

Can omega 3 alleviate the symptoms of depression?

Depression is less common in nations where individuals eat large amounts of fish, which has led to research on the link between omega 3 and depression.

Research has generally shown that omega 3 is effective at reducing depression. It is believed that omega 3 travels through the brain cell membrane and interacts with mood-related molecules in the brain, as well as having anti-inflammatory actions that may relieve depression. However, there is still work to be done on the doses and ratio of two types of omega 3: eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid. Docosahexaenoic acid is thought to be less effective as an antidepressant, but may have protective effects against suicide.

Backed by Science

Our in-house scientists have sorted through thousands of studies and we only use genes that are backed by a significant body of peer-reviewed research. Check out Nell’s Science Standard for more information.