A Comprehensive Review of Chemistry, Sources and Bioavailability of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Nutrients. 2018 Nov 4;10(11):1662. doi: 10.3390/nu10111662.


Omega-3 fatty acids, one of the key building blocks of cell membranes, have been of particular interest to scientists for many years. However, only a small group of the most important omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids are considered. This full-length review presents a broad and relatively complete cross-section of knowledge about omega-3 monounsaturated fatty acids, polyunsaturates, and an outline of their modifications. This is important because all these subgroups undoubtedly play an important role in the function of organisms. Some monounsaturated omega-3s are pheromone precursors in insects. Polyunsaturates with a very long chain are commonly found in the central nervous system and mammalian testes, in sponge organisms, and are also immunomodulating agents. Numerous modifications of omega-3 acids are plant hormones. Their chemical structure, chemical binding (in triacylglycerols, phospholipids, and ethyl esters) and bioavailability have been widely discussed indicating a correlation between the last two. Particular attention is paid to the effective methods of supplementation, and a detailed list of sources of omega-3 acids is presented, with meticulous reference to the generally available food. Both the oral and parenteral routes of administration are taken into account, and the omega-3 transport through the blood-brain barrier is mentioned. Having different eating habits in mind, the interactions between food fatty acids intake are discussed. Omega-3 acids are very susceptible to oxidation, and storage conditions often lead to a dramatic increase in this exposure. Therefore, the effect of oxidation on their bioavailability is briefly outlined.

Keywords: Omega-3 fatty acids; bioavailability; chemistry; sources.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Availability
  • Diet
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / blood*
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / chemistry*
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / pharmacokinetics*
  • Humans
  • Phospholipids / blood
  • Phospholipids / chemistry
  • Triglycerides / blood
  • Triglycerides / chemistry


  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3
  • Phospholipids
  • Triglycerides