201 Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Seafood
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Dynamic Chiropractic – July 2, 2007, Vol. 25, Issue 14

Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Seafood

By G. Douglas Andersen, DC, DACBSP, CCN

In my practice, I have noticed a growing number of patients who are aware that omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial for their hearts. Many have been advised to consume more omega-3 fatty acids.

Unfortunately, few know which types of food, other than salmon, are the best sources. My vegetarian patients are always surprised to hear that vegetable sources of omega-3 fatty acids (alpha-linolenic acid, aka ALA) are poorly converted to their bioactive cousins, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). In optimal conditions, humans convert no more than 15 percent of ALA to EPA/DHA.1 Age, obesity, genetics and the typical Western diet reduce this conversion, which is predominantly to EPA. ALA to DHA conversion is under 4 percent.2

Vegetable Sources of Omega-3
Fatty Acids as Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA)
Source (1 Tbsp) ALA EPA/DHA*
Flaxseed oil 7,000 mg 160 mg
Canola oil 1,600 mg 160 mg
Walnut oil 1,400 mg 140 mg
Soy oil 1,000 mg 100 mg
Flax seeds 2,000 mg 200 mg
Walnuts 600 mg 60 mg
*Using an average of 10 percent conversion ability.

While the cardioprotective effects (especially EPA) of omega-3 fatty acids garner most of the press, there is growing evidence that they enhance brain function (especially DHA) from birth to death.3,4,5,6 Mozaffarian and Rimm reviewed numerous trials and concluded that omega-3 intake of at least 250 mg/day for low-risk groups and 500-1,000 mg/day for higher risk individuals reduces overall mortality by 17 percent, and death from heart problems by 36 percent.7

The perfect food for hearts and minds does have a downside. In the past few years, researchers have begun to take note of rising levels of mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and dioxins. In my next article, I will address the topic of chemical contamination in seafood in greater detail. The general consensus is that the lives lengthened by the reduction of heart disease in people who consume omega-3 fatty acids from seafood is much greater than the lives lost from cancer caused by high levels of contamination in food from the sea.


  1. Kris-Etherton PM, Harris WF, Appel LJ. Fish consumption, fish oil, omega-3 fatty acids, and cardiovascular disease. AHA scientific statement. Circulation, 2002;106:2747-57.
  2. Gerster H. Can adults adequately convert alpha-linolenic acid (18:3n-3) to eicosapentaenoic acid (20:5n-3) and docosahexaenoic acid (22:6n-3)? Int J Vitam Nutr Res, 1998;68(3):159-73.
  3. Olsen SF, Osterdal Ml, et al. Duration of pregnancy in relation to seafood intake during early and mid pregnancy: a prospective cohort. Eur J Epidemiol, 2006;21(10):749-58.
  4. Nemets H, Nemets B, et al. Omega-3 treatment of childhood depression: a controlled double-blind pilot study. Am J Psychiatry, 2006;163(6):1098-1100.
  5. Dunstan JA, Simmer K, et al. Cognitive assessment at 2.5 years following fish oil supplementation in pregnancy: a randomized controlled trial. Arch Dis Child and Fetal Neonatal Ed. Preprint Epub. 12/21/06.

Omega-3 Levels in Seafood7,8
Seafood EPA/DHA**
Anchovies 2,050 mg
Golden Bass
Gulf of Mexico
900 mg
900 mg
Blackfish 400 mg
200 mg
250 mg
Clams 300 mg
300 mg
250 mg
150 mg
1,800 mg
400 mg
400 mg
500 mg
Halibut 500 mg
2,000 mg
2,100 mg
Lobster 100 mg
1,200 mg
400 mg
Mahi Mahi 150 mg
Mussels 800 mg
700 mg
1,400 mg
Pollock (Alaskan) 450 mg
Rockfish 400 mg
Salmon (canned)
Sockeye (red)
Salmon (farmed)
Salmon (wild)
King Chinook
Sockeye (red)
1,400 mg
1,100 mg
2,650 mg

1,400 mg
800 mg
1,100 mg
1,700 mg
1,300 mg
1,200 mg

Sardines 1,000 mg
Scallops 350 mg
Shark 700 mg
Shrimp 300 mg
Snapper 300 mg
Sole 500 mg
Swordfish 800 mg
Trout (Rainbow)
1,100 mg
1,100 mg
White (Skipjack)
850 mg
250 mg
*USDA serving size tends to vary. In this table, the numbers are calculated based on 3.5 ounces (100 grams). This is not a uniform serving size; for example, a serving of sardines is only 2 ounces, while a serving of salmon is 6 ounces (according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture).

**Rounded to the nearest 50 mg. The levels of omega-3 fatty acids in seafood can vary by up to 300 percent. This is due to the type of food the fish consume, along with the location, age and season they are caught. Human influences, including processing, storage, packaging and cooking, can also affect the amount of omega-3 fatty acids in a given serving of fish.

  1. Freund-Levi Y, Eriksdotter-Johangen M, et al. Omega-3 fatty acid treatment in 174 patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease: the OmegaAD study: a randomized double-blind trial. Arch Neurol, 2006;63(10):1402-8.
  2. Mozaffarian D, Rimm EB. Fish intake, contaminants and human health: evaluating the risks and benefits. JAMA, 2006;296(15):1885-99.
  3. Information available here.

Click here for previous articles by G. Douglas Andersen, DC, DACBSP, CCN.

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