What is Omega 3?
Omega 3 is considered an essential fatty acid (EFA). These acids are important for human health. There are three main types of omega 3 fatty acids: alpha linolenic acid (ALA) - which our bodies convert to EP or DHA after consumption, and cannot be made in the body - and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) which are both long chain fats that can be made from ALA in our bodies. Most health benefits are associated with this type.
What does it do in my body?
The human body can make most types of fats from other fats or raw materials; this is not the case with omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3’s are an integral part of cell membranes throughout the body, and have an affect on the function of cell receptors in these membranes. Additionally, they provide the starting point for making hormones that regulate blood clotting, contraction and relaxation of artery walls and inflammation. They also bind to receptors in cells that regulate genetic function, which is the possible reason omega 3 fats have been shown to help prevent heart disease and stroke, as well as lupus, eczema and rheumatoid arthritis, and of course the role which they may play in protection against cancers.
In addition to these key roles in the body, evidence exists to show that omega 3 can offer benefits such as bone health and healthy cholesterol levels, as well as supporting the levels of serotonin (the ‘feel good’ hormone) which is why a body of evidence exists supporting omega 3 for improved moods, helping with depression, anxiety and other mental health problems.
So yeah, it does quite a lot and the body really benefits from it!
What foods can I eat that contain omega 3?
When it comes to eating foods with high levels of omega 3, oily fish provides the most abundant source. They include:
fresh tuna (not tinned)
This is why key health bodies recommend eating oily fish 2-3 times per week. However, there are plenty of non-fish sources that contain omega 3’s. These include:
mixed greens such as kale and spinach
Although ALA is a good source of omega 3 fatty acids, it’s not quite as good as oily fish, and as we promote at Nourish, balance is key and your overall diet should contain a mix of omega 3 sources.
Why should I supplement with omega 3?
If you don't eat oily fish at all, then you should definitely supplement with omega 3. There is a strong case for supplementing with omega 3 because of the high levels of omega 6 in the typical western diet. Evidence suggests an optimal ratio of omega 3:omega 6 is 1:1, however the average western diet is closer to 10:1 in favour of omega 6. Using an omega 3 supplement to balance out the ratio is an easy way to reach the optimal levels without changing the diet too much.
The benefits of omega 3 have been long established through stringent research, and it is now accepted as a good supplement to take, to cover nutritional bases and, in some cases, for optimal health.
What are the key health benefits of omega 3?
Omega 3 has been a heavily researched area in nutrition for quite some time, and there’s now a solid body of research detailing a variety of health benefits. As with most ’super’ nutrients, there are also some more dubious claims, however, here are the top evidence-based health benefits of omega 3:
1. Fighting depression and anxiety — studies have found that people who consume omega 3 regularly are less likely to be depressed. Additionally, when people who suffer from depression or anxiety supplement with omega 3, their symptoms improve. Additionally, omega 3 supplements have been shown to reduce mood swings and relapses in people with schizophrenia and bipolar disorders.
2. Reducing symptoms of ADHD in children - ADHD is a behavioral disorder. A number of studies have shown that children suffering from ADHD have lower omega 3 blood levels. Coupled with the fact that omega 3 has been shown to help with improving attention span, concentration and task completion, as well as decreasing hyperactivity and restlessness, fish oil supplementation is considered a very promising supplement in this field.
3. Fighting inflammation - inflammation is considered a key marker of many diseases and illnesses which damage the body. Examples of chronic inflammation are heart disease and cancers. Omega 3 has been shown to reduce the production of molecules linked to inflammation, such as eicosanoids and cytokines. Many studies have shown a link between high omega 3 intake and reduced inflammation.
4. Improving bone and joint health - omega 3 has been shown to improve bone strength by increasing the amount of calcium in the bones. It has also been shown to reduce pain in the joints by those with arthritis.
5. Improving sleep - good sleep is imperative for optimal health! Studies have shown that supplementing with omega 3 increases the length and quality of a person’s sleep.
6. Helping to prevent premature ageing - whilst omega 3 is not able to stop ageing altogether (I wish!), omega 3 helps to keep the skin healthy by managing oil production - preventing acne and managing hydration.
7. Improving risk factors for heart disease - heart attacks and strokes have been the leading cause of death in the world for a long time. Omega 3 has been shown to have a number of benefits for heart health, including reducing triglycerides, reducing blood pressure, raising HDL cholesterol (the good stuff), preventing blood clots, preventing plaque build-up in the arteries and reducing substances released during inflammatory response. Some evidence also exists showing omega 3 can reduce LDL cholesterol, however this is not conclusive as of yet.
8. Reducing symptoms of metabolic syndrome which include higher abdominal fat, high blood pressure and low HDL levels. Omega 3 can reduce insulin resistance and inflammation in people with these risk factors.
9. Promoting brain health during pregnancy and early years - many pregnancy supplements now contain a good dose of DHA, this is because DHA accounts for 40% of the polyunsaturated fatty acids in the brain, hence its importance for the brains development.
How much should I take per day?
Many people focus on the amount of fish oil to take; however, as explained above, the important part is the DHA and EPA. It is therefore more important to focus on these two elements rather than the mg of fish oil. The recommendation of 2 oily fish servings per week is equated to 500mg EPA & DHA per day. A standard softgel omega 3 supplement will usually contain 300mg active EPA and DHA. Therefore 2 x 2000mg standard softgels per day would suffice to cover your daily recommended amount of EPA & DHA.
Is there a case for taking higher doses of Omega 3?
As with all supplements, the recommendation is based around covering bases, and the minimum requirement for general health. Optimal health and even improving performance through supplemental strategies is often ignored by researchers, or the research available is sparse. Omega 3 supplement dosage has been researched thoroughly, and there is strong evidence that shows dosages of over 2000mg per day (of EPA & DHA) can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. Of the many benefits of Omega 3, it is predominantly the improvements in mood why we supply them to staff - therefore a recommended dosage of 4 capsules per day would suffice.
Are there any risks I should know about?
There has, in the past, been strong evidence to show that some omega 3 supplements contain high levels of toxins, this was believed to come from the fish itself, and its diet and environmental factors. Omega 3 supplements are now derived from toxin free fish, and much is done to ensure the safety of the final product we consume. Taking more than 500mg of omega 3 per day has not been shown to provide many additional benefits across the board for general populations, therefore, there is no real reason to exceed this amount. Issues with taking too much omega 3 include blood thinning and Vitamin A toxicity.
A final point on pregnancy and Omega 3
As we are a relatively young team at Nourish, it is worth pointing out that research shows that omega 3 fatty acids, especially DHA, are vital before, during and after pregnancy. An additional 200mg of DHA per day is advised as this plays a vital role in the neurological developments of the child.