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Bone and Joint Health
Omega-3 fatty acids, known as“omega-3s” for short, have been a hot nutrition topic for years. You’ve probably heard about omega-3s and heart health, but did you also know they can be beneficial for joint health?

Omega-3 fatty acids, known as “omega-3s” for short, have been a hot nutrition topic for years. You’ve probably heard about omega-3s and heart health, but did you also know they can be beneficial for joint health?*

This article answers your burning questions about omega-3 fatty acids and reveals how they can help support healthy joints as you age.

What are omega-3 fatty acids and where can I find them?

Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat. Your body needs omega-3s to survive and stay healthy, but it can’t make them on its own, so you have to get them through your diet. Research suggests that omega-3 fatty acids play a particularly important role in heart health and can also support eye, brain, joint, and immune health.

There are three main omega-3 fatty acids:

  • Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) 
  • Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)  
  • Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) 

ALA is found in plant foods like flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, and some vegetable oils. Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, and herring are the main sources of EPA and DHA. Some foods are fortified with these fatty acids, including certain brands of eggs and milk.

Check out the table below for a list of omega-3-rich foods.

ALA, EPA, and DHA Content of Selected Foods
FoodGrams per serving
Flaxseed oil, 1 tbsp7.26
Chia seeds, 1 ounce5.06
English walnuts, 1 ounce2.57
Flaxseed, whole, 1 tbsp2.35
Salmon, Atlantic, farmed cooked, 3 ounces1.240.59
Salmon, Atlantic, wild, cooked, 3 ounces1.220.35
Herring, Atlantic, cooked, 3 ounces*0.940.77
Canola oil, 1 tbsp1.28
Sardines, canned in tomato sauce, drained, 3 ounces*0.740.45
Mackerel, Atlantic, cooked, 3 ounces*0.590.43
Salmon, pink, canned, drained, 3 ounces*0.040.630.28
Soybean oil, 1 tbsp0.92
Trout, rainbow, wild, cooked, 3 ounces0.440.4
Black walnuts, 1 ounce0.76
Mayonnaise, 1 tbsp0.74
Oysters, eastern, wild, cooked, 3 ounces0.140.230.3
Sea bass, cooked, 3 ounces*0.470.18
Edamame, frozen, prepared, ½ cup0.28
Shrimp, cooked, 3 ounces*0.120.12
Refried beans, canned, vegetarian, ½ cup0.21
Lobster, cooked, 3 ounces*
Tuna, light, canned in water, drained, 3 ounces*0.170.02
Tilapia, cooked, 3 ounces*0.040.11
Scallops, cooked, 3 ounces*0.090.06
Cod, Pacific, cooked, 3 ounces* 0.100.04
Tuna, yellowfin, cooked 3 ounces* 0.090.01
Kidney beans, canned ½ cup 0.10
Baked beans, canned, vegetarian, ½ cup 0.07
Ground beef, 85% lean, cooked, 3 ounces** 0.04
Bread, whole wheat, 1 slice 0.04
Egg, cooked, 1 egg 0.03
Chicken, breast, roasted, 3 ounces 0.020.01
Milk, low-fat (1%), 1 cup 0.01

U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. FoodData Central, 2019.

According to the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements, while your body can convert some ALA to EPA and DHA, this is an inefficient process Therefore, getting your EPA and DHA from food is much more efficient.

How much omega-3 fatty acids do you need?

ALA is the only type of omega-3 fatty acid with an established adequate intake level (AI), set at 1.1 grams and 1.6 grams for women and men, respectively.

But what about EPA and DHA? Aren’t they just as important?

Absolutely. But your body can convert ALA to EPA and DHA, so ALA is the only omega-3 that is considered essential. However, your body isn’t very efficient at this conversion, so the best way to make sure you have healthy levels of EPA and DHA is to get them through your diet. The American Heart Association recommends eating at least two servings of fish per week. Similarly, the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends 8-10 ounces of seafood per week as part of a balanced diet for adults. If you don’t eat seafood regularly, consider talking with your healthcare provider to find out if a high-quality fish oil supplement would be beneficial for you.

How do omega-3 fatty acids benefit those with joint health concerns?

A position statement by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics stated that fish consumption can help individuals with mobility concerns due to the anti-inflammatory properties of fish.

In 2018, researchers concluded that higher intake of fish (greater than 2 times per week) was associated with lower disease activity scores in people with the joint condition known as rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Other studies have looked at the beneficial role of walnuts and have suggested that they have similar effects on markers of inflammation to those provided by fish.

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