‘Essential’ Omega 3 Critical for Optimal Health

Supplementation in context

A single supplement will never be a magic bullet for our health as the human body requires a synergy of multiple nutriments (50 Essential bioavailable nutrients). These nutrients are required  in individually quantities determined by our genetics and our lifestyle conditions.  Supplements should always play a secondary supportive role in optimising health. A wholefoods diet, regular exercise, appropriate rest & optimal sleep should be our main focuses. Certain supplements are recommended for probable modern day nutrient deficiencies (a blood test will testify this) and increased nutrient demands when training. Typical modern lifestyles of high stress, high environmental pollution and processed nutrient deprived foods increase our needs for supplementation. Supplements are not compensators for an enduring poor diet.

Intro:

The ‘Essential’ fatty acids (EFA’s) are those that can’t be synthesised by the body so must be obtained through dietary means, they play vital functions within the body. They comprise of:

Omega 3’sOmega 6’s
Parent fatty acidAlpha-Linolenic acid (ALA)Linoleic acid (LA)
Fatty acid derivativesEicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)Arachidonic acid (AA)Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA)

EFA’s are liquids at room temperature and are the most reactive dietary fats, reacting readily to heat, air and light. Omega 3 has generally anti-inflammatory properties and omega 6 generally important pro-inflammatory properties (to protect us from infections and trauma). The 2 EFA’s compete for the same enzymes in the synthesis of their derivatives, therefore their amount and correct ratio in our diet is significant; the ideal ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 is 1:1. A Typical Western diets of processed food and vegetable oils brings about an excess amount of omega 6 whilst a very low omega 3 consumption.

Too much unbalanced omega 6 intake multiplies fatty white tissue and chronic inflammation, which is associated with obesity, heart disease, hypertension, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, premature ageing and cancer. Raised levels of omega 6 also interfere with your brain’s nerve cells, causing over-stimulation.

ALA is converted into EPA and DHA in your body at a very low ratio, when there are sufficient enzymes available. Those who are deficient in certain vitamins and minerals, lead to even lower conversion rates. So ALA sources of omega 3 aren’t adequate for our needs, a combination of ALA and EPA/DHA would be optimal!

EFA imbalance/omega 3 deficiency symptoms:

Dry flaky skin especially the face, cracked finger tips or heels especially in winter, dandruff or stiff dry hair, brittle or soft nails with horizontal splits, lowered immunity/frequent infections, allergies, arthritis, dry eyes, poor wound healing, frequent urination or excessive thirst, general fatigue, poor attention span, learning and memory problems, poor quality of sleep, hyperactivity, irritability, Mental fog and decreased growth in infants and children.

Key omega 3 Benefits

Their numerous mental and physical benefits include:

  • Contribute to ‘every’ cells membrane, optimising a cells shape, permeability, flexibility and the activity of membrane-bound enzymes.
  • Omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids can modulate the expression of a number of genes, including those involved with fatty acid metabolism and inflammation.
  • The cell membrane serves as a fatty acid resource for Eicosanoids, potent chemical messengers that play critical roles in immune and inflammatory responses.
  • Improve your cell’s response to insulin (insulin sensitivity), neurotransmitters and other messengers
  • Speeds up metabolism, breaks down adipose fat stores, increased fatty acid oxidation and stimulates mitochondrial biogenesis
  • Make hormone precursors prostaglandins
  • Anti-inflammatory properties reducing heat, pain and swelling. Improves inflammatory-related disease e.g. arthritis and autoimmune disease etc
  • Omega 6 and omega 3 normalises LDL cholesterol, blood triglyceride levels and decreasing cardiovascular disease risk
  • Improves neurodegenerative disease, prevents/reverse mental illness symptoms
  • Helps prevent cancer
  • A growing foetus must obtain all of its omega 3 fatty acids from its mother’s diet. Which benefits visual and cognitive development in the baby
  • Increases fertility
  • Alleviate menstrual pain
  • Improve sleep
  • Boost skin health
  • EPA/DHA supplementation has been shown to reduce joint stiffness and soreness and improve flexibility
  • Low concentrations of EPA and DHA resulted in an increased risk of death from all causes

EFA Practical Supplement Guidelines:

How much omega 3 you need depends on your body size, age, health status and the type of omega 3. Your diet also dictates how much omega 3 you need, especially if you consume a lot of omega 6 fats (ideal ratio 1:1).

General prescription

ConditionDaily Optimal Dosage
Healthy adult250 to 500mg of EPA and DHA
pregnant or breastfeedingMinimum 500mg of EPA and DHA
Coronary heart disease1,000 mg of EPA and DHA
High blood  triglyceride levels2,000 to 3,000 mg  EPA and DHA
Depression/anxiety250 mg to 2,500 mg EPA and DHA
Memory Deficits900 mg of DHA

Krill Oil is the best animal source EPA/DHA Supplement

  • It’s antioxidant potency is 48 times higher than fish oil
  • Contains Astaxanthin, a marine-source flavonoid that creates a special bond with the EPA and DHA to allow direct absorption of the antioxidant
  • More bioavailable – Omega 3 fats in krill are attached to a mixture of phospholipids and triglycerides. It’s 10 to 15 times more absorbable than fish oil, so you need less krill oil to gain optimal omega 3 levels.
  • Krill are the largest biomass in the world and can be found in all oceans.
  • Look for products with sustainability and harvesting management certifications.

Other useful EPA/DHA supplement sources are fish oil/capsules and algae oil/capsules (for vegetarians/vegans). 2 servings of oily fish gives you around 400-500mg of EPA/DHA.

ALA plant sources:

Chia seeds (64%), flaxseed/linseed oil (50-60%), freshly ground flaxseeds/linseeds (18-22%), Hemp seeds/oil (20%) and in small amounts in walnuts & green leafy vegetables.

Supplement tips

  • Take omega 3 alongside meals to maximise absorption
  • Krill, algae and fish oil must be cold processed in order to preserve its biological benefits
  • It should be encased in a hard capsule, not soft gels, to reduce oxidation

Here are the omega 3 supplements I recommend form local independent health food shop Greens

When purchasing EFA Oils:

  • Buy oils cold pressed in dark bottles
  • Keep away from sunlight in a cool place i.e. refrigerator
  • Buy in small quantities (250ml) to use up quickly
  • Once opened consume within 2-3 weeks
  • Use these oils as cold dressing never cook with them
  • Can be frozen for later

Other considerations:

EFA’s can be consumed in large amounts (as much as 50 grams per day) with no serious side effects. Occasional minor gastrointestinal side effects may include stomach upset, burping, flatulence, soft stools and diarrhea. These side effects often lessen with continued use and occur more often at higher doses. To minimize side effects, consume with food, start with smaller doses, and increase the dose gradually over several weeks.

Commercially available omega 3 fatty acid supplements are free of methylmercury, PCBs, and dioxins.

Persons on anticoagulant or blood thinning medications should consult a health care practitioner before taking EFA supplements since they can thin the blood.

Supplementing EFA’s before/during pregnancy and while you breastfeed. Babies receive DHA through your breast milk, so continuing breastfeeding through the first year will give your child a great head start for health and success.