What is an N-3 PUFA?

By Juliet M. Getty, Ph.D.

I recently saw the term "n-3 PUFA" used in an article about supplementing fat for insulin resistant horses. It discussed a study performed at Colorado State University where "n-3 PUFAs" were shown to significantly reduce insulin levels. Great news!  But what in the world is an n-3 PUFA?

Allow me to simplify. First, PUFA stands for "polyunsaturated fatty acid." All fatty substances contain a combination, in varying amounts, of three types of fatty acids:

  1.  Saturated - the kind you'd find in butter, beef, or coconut oil
  2.  Monounsaturated (abbreviated MUFA) - found in high amounts in olive oil and rice bran oil
  3. Polyunsaturated (abbreviated PUFA) - a more complex molecule found in most plants and in fish.

There are two main types of PUFAs, which are named based on their chemical structure: Omega 3 or Omega 6. The Greek letter, omega, is often symbolized in the literature by an "n" followed by the number. The omega 6 PUFA, (symbolized by n-6), known as linoleic acid is important because the horse cannot produce it; therefore, it is considered "essential" and must be in the diet. A problem occurs when the diet contains too much - high amounts of linoleic acid (an n-6 PUFA) can lead to inflammation. Oils from soybean, corn, safflower, sunflower, and wheat germ are very high in this specific fatty acid. Omega 3 (n-3) PUFAs are found in three predominant dietary forms:

  • Alpha linolenic acid (ALA) - found in high amounts in flax, chia, and fresh grasses
  • Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) - found in fish and algae oils
  • Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) - also found in fish and algae oils.

ALA is also "essential" and can be converted to the other two n-3 PUFAs. 

Back to the good news - while all fat is high in calories, foods that are high in n-3 PUFAs can lower blood insulin levels, which helps reduce fat storage and lessen the risk of laminitis.

Please listen to the recorded teleseminar, "A Clear View of Fat - Types, Sources, and Benefits" for a great deal more information. Also, read the article, Fat is Fat, Right? Check Your Omegas!


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