Despite the fact that millions of people take an Omega 3 supplement or cod liver oil, neither the UK nor the USA have an official recommended daily intake (RDA/RNI) for these beneficial polyunsaturated fatty acids.
That’s despite the fact that Omega 3 has been linked to reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, reduced risk of depression, improved asthma condition and improved mobility for arthritis sufferers.
The two main beneficial nutrients (fatty acids) found in Omega 3 fish oil are EPA and DHA (respectively eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid).
Health authorities in other countries, however, have issued EPA/DHA recommendations. These vary widely, reflecting the debate about how much is needed for optimal health and disease prevention, rather than the minimum levels merely to avoid deficiency.
Government health authority guidelines
The EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) has concluded that 250 mg a day combined EPA/DHA ‘is an adequate intake for the maintenance of general cardiovascular health among healthy adults and children’.
EFSA has also approved a health claim that DHA “contributes to normal brain development”.
France recommends 500 milligrams (mg) and Russia 1,300 mg daily.
In April 2016, the Chicago-based Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics endorsed a daily recommendation of 500 mg.
Can you eat enough oily fish to make up these recommendations?
Only if you eat a lot!
A 100g (4-ounce) serving of SALMON has about 1,200 – 1,500 mg of EPA/DHA, canned SARDINES about 1,200 to 1,400 mg, and canned TUNA about 300 to 800 mg.
So you would have to eat at least two servings of fish a week—which is what the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends—in order to average 250 mg a day, or 4 servings a week to achieve 500mg.
But is 500mg a day really enough?
The European Scientific Committee on Food (ECF) recommends an average daily intake from all sources of 1,300mg for men and 1,100 for women.
And the World Health Organization recommends an Omega-3 fatty acid intake of 1–2% of energy. That would be the equivalent of 2,000 mg of Omega 3 a day.
The differences reflect the fact that most recommendations for omega-3 fatty acids are based on the amounts necessary to prevent overt deficiency. The WHO recommendations, however, were based on the idea of optimal cardiovascular health and neurodevelopment.
A realistic dietary regime to achieve optimum levels
The average Briton or American averages an intake of as little as 150 mg of Omega 3 fish oil a day.
A realistic aim for optimum health benefits would be:
Two portions of oily fish a week
A daily Omega 3 supplement at a level of 1,000 mg
Recent research shows that this should be accompanied by what are called marine polyphenols. These are natural anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant nutrients derived from seaweed.
The reason to also include marine polyphenols in your supplement is because the fish that produce Omega 3 fatty acids also eat these and it’s now thought that it’s the combination of Omega 3 and marine polyphenols that contributes the most health benefits.
Nutrient combination is the key to health
The word combination is the key to health via food or supplements. Omega 3 is not a magic bullet for heart health. To seriously reduce the risk of heart disease with a supplement, you should look to also add curcumin, B vitamins including an important nutrient called betaine, vitamin K2 and vitamin D3.
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