What is it?
Omega 3s are polyunsaturated fatty acids. (There are also Omega 6 and Omega 9 fatty acids, but this article will focus on Omega 3s.)
Omega 3s are essential nutrients that the body needs to function and are vital for optimal health. They are not produced by the body and so must be consumed in the diet.
What does it do?
There are three main types of Omega 3 fatty acids: ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexanoic acid). ALA is not thought to be as effective as EPA and DHA, although they all have various benefits, such as:
Heart disease risk factors (CARDIOPROTECTIVE) (obesity, blood clots, artery health, blood pressure, inflammation, cholesterol)
- Lower blood pressure
- Reduce blood triglyceride levels (blood fat carried within cholesterol)
- Raise HDL (good cholesterol) levels
- Help prevent formation of clots (platelets are less likely to clump together)
- Blood vessel health
- Inflammation within the artery walls – help prevent plaque build-up (following angioplasty to prevent re-blockage)
Type II Diabetes
- Weight loss (belly fat)
- Reduce insulin resistance
Mood & Mental Health
- Depression and anxiety (EPA)
- Severity schizophrenia
- Eye health (DHA)
- Brain health (age related) reduce risk
- Memory (DHA – nerve cells communicate better)
- Bone and joint health (osteoporosis and arthritis)
- Autoimmune diseases (inflammation, less joint swelling and stiffness)
- Crohn’s – enteric coated capsules 3g a day, no symptoms
- Improve sleep (time and quality) (DHA linked to melatonin)
- Skin quality and appearance (DHA – structural component) (EPA – oil levels, prevent hyperkeratinisation, reduce premature ageing, reduce acne, protect from sun damage)
- Breast cancer (study at UCL – fight and maintain)
- Colon cancer (study – 4400mg of fish oil a day produced much less of one potent carcinogen associated with colon cancer)
- General anti-inflammatory – inflammation is a cause or symptom of almost every health complaint.
Omega 3 to Omega 6 Ratio
Foods that contain Omega 3 are mainly oily fish, such as mackerel and salmon. However, it can be found in flaxseeds, walnuts and avocados as well as some dairy products.
When more Omega 6 is consumed than Omega 3, it can result in inflammation, so the idea is to consume equal amounts of both. Omega 6 is consumed more easily, as it’s found in many seeds, nuts and plant oils.
Why supplement with it?
Omega 3s are not produced by the body, they must be ingested. While the best way to get Omega 3s into the diet is by eating whole foods, it may be necessary to supplement with capsules or liquid. Non-fish eaters and vegans in particular may find it difficult to keep their intake of Omega 3s sufficient.
What type to take?
Fish oil – most popular, cod liver oil. Fish do not synthesize omega 3, but rather get them from their food – algae/plankton. The colder the water, the more Omega 3. Fishy burps and aftertaste. May cause flatulence, bloating or gastrointestinal upset. Pregnant women should not take fish oil as it contains vitamin A. Concerns over mercury content.
Algae – Oil from the micro-algae Schizochytrium sp.
Krill – There is a sustainability concern associated with krill oil.
Flaxseed (or linseed) Linum usitatissimum – some people are allergic to flaxseed oil. Spoils fast. Need up to two tablespoons a day, so capsules are not ideal. However, it is quite palatable (tastes much better than fish oil anyway). Easy to add to diet but don’t cook with it. Heat breaks down its nutrients. No mercury, suitable for vegans but contains mostly ALA, rather then EPA and DHA.
“The main problem with ALA is that to have the good effects attributed to omega-3s, it must be converted by a limited supply of enzymes into EPA and DHA. As a result, only a small fraction of it has omega-3’s effects — 10%–15%, maybe less. The remaining 85%–90% gets burned up as energy or metabolized in other ways. So in terms of omega-3 “power,” a tablespoon of flaxseed oil is worth about 700 milligrams (mg) of EPA and DHA. That’s still more than the 300 mg of EPA and DHA in many 1-gram fish oil capsules, but far less than what the 7 grams listed on the label might imply.”
If you are looking to increase your ALA intake, flaxseed oil is ideal, however due to its high Omega 6 content its Omega 3 value may not reach its full potential.
- For cardiovascular health – 3000mg a day.
- For inflammatory bowel conditions – 5000mg a day.
- For rheumatoid arthritis – 6000mg a day.
- Take with or after food.
- If using oil rather than capsules, keep refrigerated.
- Extra antioxidant protection from fruit and veg or taking vit E.
- Talk to GP if you have a blood clotting disorder or are taking anti-coagulant medicines.
- Monitor LDL (bad cholesterol) and blood sugar levels if taking high doses.
- Don’t take 2 days before or after surgery.
- Make sure of the quality, don’t buy cheap.
- Make sure of the EPA and DHA levels are.
- Check whether the dosage per capsule of per ‘serving’.
- Don’t use after best before end date, the oil will go rancid.
- Very high doses may actually raise LDL (bad cholesterol) levels.
- Fact Sheet for Health Professionals: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Omega3FattyAcids-HealthProfessional/
- Dietary omega-3 fatty acids aid in the modulation of inflammation and metabolic health: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4030645/
- Recent Advances in Omega-3: Health Benefits, Sources, Products and Bioavailability: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4179185/
- Omega-3 fatty acids: Their beneficial role in cardiovascular health: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1780156/
- Overview of Omega-3 Fatty Acid Therapies: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3875260/
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Inflammatory Processes: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3257651/
- Omega-3 Supplements and Cardiovascular Diseases: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4153275/
- Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA: health benefits throughout life: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22332096
- Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and the brain: a review of the independent and shared effects of EPA, DPA and DHA: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4404917/
- Why not flaxseed oil?: https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/why-not-flaxseed-oil