Unpronounceable to most laymen, the names of the polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids are abbreviated in everyday use as ALA for alpha-linolenic acid, DHA for docosahexaenoic acid and EPA for eicosapentaenoic acid.

ALA is an essential fatty acid, required to support life but not made by the body. When consumed, ALA converts to EPA and DHA but not very efficiently. That’s why many people choose dietary supplements to give them DHA and EPA. ALA is a natural component of vegetable oils, particularly canola, soy and flax.

The new kid on the omega-3 block is stearidonic acid (SDA). Oil extracted from soybeans bred to be high in SDA content received a Generally Recognized as Safe notice from the Food and Drug Administration in 2009. Commercialization is anticipated around 2012 with market debut in 2014, according to Monsanto and Solae, the two St. Louis, MO-based companies collaborating on its introduction under the Soymega brand.

SDA is an intermediate between ALA and EPA and is rapidly converted into EPA by the body. “Clinical studies show efficient conversion of SDA into EPA,” said Rick Wilkes, food applications director at Monsanto.