Here’s some good news for you—increasing your intake of a single nutrient, omega-3 fats, can have a major effect on improving and maintaining your overall health including eyes, skin, heart, and brain health! Consuming omega-3-rich foods such as fatty fish is considered to be the best way to get these “healthy fats”. However, if eating fatty fish regularly is not an option, then you can consider taking an omega-3 supplement.
If you are clear on your health goals but not on which omega-3 supplement to buy, we are here to help you discover everything you need to know about omega-3 supplements. So, let’s get started!
What Are Omega-3 Fats and What Do They Do?
Omega-3 fatty acids, also known as healthy fats, are a type of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) that are involved in many body functions. Our body is not capable of synthesising these essential fats and, therefore, they must be obtained from food or dietary supplements1.
Types of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
There are three types of fatty acids—ALA, EPA, and DHA.
- ALA (alpha-linolenic acid): This type of fatty acid is obtained from plant sources such as flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, canola oil, and soybean oil. . ALA is the only omega-3 found in vegan foods and must be converted by our body to the long-chain omega-3s EPA and DHA to be used. However, this process is not very efficient1,
- EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid): EPA and DHA are long chain omega-3s that our body needs for a variety of functions. They are also known as marine omega-3s because they are generally obtained from fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring), a few shellfish (clams, mussels, etc.) as well as algae.
EPA and DHA have been associated with the brain, eye, heart, and joint health as well as the development of the fetus during pregnancy3. Plus, EPA and DHA have anti-inflammatory properties and have been shown to improve muscle recovery after a workout or exercise4,5.
How Much Omega-3 Do You Need Per Day?
Various international health organizations have made recommendations on the intake of omega-3 fatty acids. For instance,
- The USDA recommends consuming 8 ounces of seafood every week which can provide up to 250 mg EPA+DHA per day6.
- The National Institute of Health (NIH) suggests the intake of 1.1 to 1.6 grams of omega-3 fatty acids per day, with 10% coming from EPA and .
- The American Heart Association on the other hand recommends eating up to 6 ounces of fish per week. Especially for people who have existing heart disease, AHA suggests the intake of 1 gram EPA+DHA per day7.
- The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) concluded that supplemental intake of EPA+ DHA combined at up to 5 g/day is safe for adults8.
In summary, for healthy adults, a minimum of 250 to 1000 mg of EPA+DHA each day is recommended by health organizations. Recommendations are normally given as total long chain omega-3 (EPA+DHA) as food sources such as fish tend to contain both together.
Why Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids so Good for You?
Let’s discuss the research-backed health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids:
● Reduction of inflammation3,9,10
Studies suggest that omega-3s may help fight inflammation and may also improve symptoms of autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, asthma, and inflammatory bowel. Omega-3s have been shown to reduce the production of molecules or substances associated with inflammation. This becomes particularly important because chronic or long-term inflammation has been linked to heart diseases, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, etc.
● Improved skin health11,12,13
Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly EPA and DHA, support your overall skin health by improving barrier function, promoting healing and reducing inflammation due to UV radiation or sun exposure. Plus, they help reduce the production of compounds that contribute to the premature ageing process.
They have also been proven effective in maintaining skin hydration, reducing acne breakouts, and improving dry, itchy skin.
● Heart health3,14,15,16
Omega-3s have been of particular interest because of their role in improving heart health. Many studies have shown that the fish-eating population in Greenland had lower rates of coronary heart disease.
Additionally, omega-3s have been shown to reduce blood pressure, triglyceride levels, plaque formation, and blood clots. They also help increase HDL or good cholesterol levels.
● May support brain function3,17,18,19
Omega-3s, especially DHA, is essential in the eye and brain development of the fetus. Additionally, omega-3 supplementation has also been shown to play a role in maintaining healthy brain function, improving depressive symptoms, and other mental health disorders such as bipolar disorder or personality disorder.
Moreover, research suggests that omega-3 fatty acids protect brain health during ageing and reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
● Supports eye health20,21
DHA is the most abundant omega-3 fatty acid in the eye (retina) and is also important during pregnancy and breastfeeding to support healthy eye development in babies.
In adults, omega-3s have been shown to reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration, which is the leading cause of blindness and eye damage.
● Muscle recovery4,5
Consumption of omega-3 fatty acids (specifically EPA and DHA) has been shown to enhance muscle recovery and reduce muscle soreness post-exercise. So, if you follow an active lifestyle, consider including omega-3s in your diet. It has also shown to help maintain muscle mass during times of inactivity.
Omega-3 Supplements: Yay or Nay
Ideally, it is recommended to get your nutrients from food directly, and omega-3s are no exception. However, certain food preferences, dietary choices, cooking methods, allergies, health conditions, or access to certain foods can limit your intake of this vital nutrient.
With that being said, you should not rely only on plant-based ALA sources to fulfil your EPA and DHA needs. Such sources do not contain EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids which are the active forms in your body. Studies suggest that only 5—10% of ALA is converted into EPA and 2—5% into DHA22.
Moreover, some species such as swordfish, mackerel, and tilefish (golden bass or snapper) can contain high levels of mercury. Pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers, and young children should avoid consuming these high-mercury fish excessively.
Also, when it comes to vegans and vegetarians or people who are allergic to fish and shellfish, supplements can be a safe and appropriate alternative.
The bottom line is that your body needs all types of omega-3s but they are not created equally. Getting ALA from chia seeds or flax seeds is unlikely to be enough for you to get your dose of EPA and DHA. You need to consume EPA and DHA from whole food or omega-3 supplements to achieve the desired levels and associated health benefits.
Choosing the Best Omega-3 Supplement: What to Buy & Why
If you are interested in incorporating omega-3s into your diet, then the first step is to know the different forms of omega-3 supplements.
In omega-3 dietary supplements, the most common forms of fatty acids are triglycerides, ethyl esters, free fatty acids, and phospholipids. Of these, free fatty acids have been shown to give the best results. However, all forms are absorbed well, with triglycerides or phospholipids showing an advantage to ethyl esters. 1,23.
Apart from the form, you also need to consider the source, type, purity, authenticity, and amount (dosage) when choosing the best omega-3 supplement. So, let’s discuss them one at a time!
Your choice of the supplement may vary depending on the source. For instance, people with fish allergies or who are vegans and vegetarians may go for algal oil-based omega-3 supplements.
Fish oil: Fish Oil is the primary source of EPA+DHA supplements globally and is found in a variety of forms and from a variety of fish. Salmon is one of the most popular choices of fish for omega 3 supplements, but more sustainable sources such as herring, sardines and anchovies (like those used in Nutrova Fish Oil 84) are becoming the norm. Fish Oil should ideally be processed to remove heavy metals and other impurities, while increasing the amount of EPA+DHA. While processing, EPA and DHA may be converted from their triglyceride form, naturally found in the oil, to an ethyl ester form to maintain stability during the purification. Some suppliers convert the ethyl-ester back to triglyceride form for the final product, which marginally improves absorption but dramatically increases the cost due to the additional processing.
- Krill oil: These supplements contain EPA and DHA in both triglyceride and phospholipid form which are easily absorbed. Certain grades of krill oil also contain antioxidants. However, unlike fish oil, the total amount of EPA+DHA tends to be quite low in Krill oil, and the quantity of krill oil required to meet daily omega-3 requirements can be quite high.
- Fish (cod) liver oil: Apart from EPA and DHA, these supplements also contain vitamins A and D. However, the amount of omega-3 in cod liver oil products tends to be dramatically lower than most fish oil capsules, often requiring 4-6 capsules to meet recommended daily intakes.
- Algal oil (vegetarian-derived DHA from algae): This is the source of vegan/vegetarian DHA and some EPA . Plus, there is no risk of heavy metal contamination as the entire production process is usually carried out in a controlled environment. The only downside is that EPA levels tend to be very low or absent in algal oil products.
What is most interesting to note is that algae are the primary source of omega-3 in the entire marine food supply as both farmed and wild fish receive their omega-3s by eating algae!
- Flaxseed oil: These supplements are made from plant sources and contain only ALA but no EPA and DHA which provide the most health benefits of omega-3.
Many supplements may mention omega-3 but actually contain little to no EPA and DHA which are the most important types required by your body. Make sure you read the label properly to know what you are buying.
658 mg of fish oil, giving 550 mg of EPA+DHA (84% purity)
We have already discussed the EPA+DHA dosage recommendations by health organizations (a minimum of 250 to 1000 mg). So, make sure to check the amount of DHA and EPA in your supplement. Many times, a supplement may mention 1000 mg of fish oil but may not contain sufficient dosage of EPA +DHA. This will also increase the number of capsules you need to take to reach the recommended amount.
#4 Authenticity, purity, and freshness
When it comes to dietary supplements, third-party seals can help establish the purity and authenticity of the product. This becomes important in fish-oil or krill-oil-based supplements wherein there is a risk of mercury or heavy metal contamination. Many manufacturers do go for independent testing to establish the safety and purity of their products.
Additionally, when it comes to fish oil, it is important to check for freshness as fish oil goes rancid quite quickly. It is suggested that you take note of the date of manufacture, if the product contains some antioxidants like vitamin E. Reliable products will also list their TOTOX and Anisidine value, which is a measure of oxidation of the product.
#5 Coating and fillers
Omega-3 supplements are commonly available as soft gel capsules or liquid forms. Soft gel capsules are a popular choice because they are easy to swallow. However, liquid forms are prone to oxidation and must be refrigerated once opened.
Some manufacturers coat soft gel capsules with an enteric coating , which ensures that the capsule dissolves in the lower part of your GI (gastrointestinal) tract. This helps prevent fishy burps. So, make sure to check the date of manufacture.
Additionally, you can also consider capsule size. For instance, a triple-strength capsule is usually a bit larger than a typical 1000 mg fish oil capsule and many may find it difficult to swallow. Ideally, you can go for higher purity (as it has the least amount of fillers, artificial colours, or additives) or a smaller size capsule.
Undoubtedly, omega-3 supplements are one of the most sought-after supplements in the market aisles. When making a choice, it is important to consider the source, type, form, purity and quality standards, authenticity, and freshness of the product.
So, choose wisely and achieve the desired health results!
You can also explore our range of omega-3 supplements that offer high-quality options for both fish aficionados and vegetarians!
Note: It is recommended that people on blood clotting medications should consult their doctor before starting with omega-3 supplements.
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