The essential fatty acids you can’t get enough of – a definitive guide to Omega 3
DEFINITIVE GUIDE TO OMEGA 3 AT A GLANCE
♦ OMEGA 3 is linked to improved heart health due to its proven anti-inflammatory properties
♦ OMEGA 3 helps reduce blood pressure in hypertensive people
♦ OMEGA 3 is a vital brain nutrient and optimum levels are linked to better mental health and clarity
♦ OMEGA 3 boosts immune function
♦ OMEGA 3 helps reduce the risk and severity of rheumatoid arthritis according to Arthritis Research UK
Omega 3 is strongly linked to better health of the brain, heart, eyes, joints and immune system.
There are actually three types of Omega 3 polyunsaturated essential fatty acids. They are called ‘essential’ because the body does not make them itself, so we have to eat them in food or supplements.
- EPA (Eicosapentaenoic Acid) and DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid) found in their final form mainly in oily fish, and
- ALA (Alpha Linolenic Acid) found in nuts, seeds and their oils.
You make billions of new cells a day which need Omega 3s as a building block.
Omega 3s are found in the outer membrane walls of the trillions of cells in your body. DHA levels are especially high in the retina, brain and sperm cells and in the immune and endocrine (hormone producing) system.
Despite the fact that Omega 3s are essential, there is not yet an RDA or RNI set for them.
But health experts recommend about 650 mg a day – to provide 330mg of EPA and 220 mg of DHA. That’s the equivalent of 2-3 portions of oily fish a week – such as salmon, herring, sardines and trout.
Vegetarians and vegans need to take in ALA, which can convert into EPA and DHA in the body. Good food sources of ALA are chia seeds, ground linseed, hemp and flax seeds, walnuts and rapeseed oil.
Omega 3 for heart health
Omega 3 is linked to improved cardio-vascular health, partly because it is an anti-inflammatory nutrient and reduces markers of chronic long-term inflammation.
In turn this type of inflammation is known to be a risk factor for heart disease and stroke – and indeed some cancers. Omega 3 works well as an anti-inflammatory – especially in combination with plant polyphenols and betaine.
Omega 3 has been shown to be able to reduce blood pressure in people with high blood pressure, to raise HDL cholesterol (the ‘good’ form of cholesterol) and to reduce dangerous non-omega blood fats.
Omega 3 for brain health
Omega 3 is an important component of the brain – comprising some 40% of the brain’s polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). Higher Omega 3 intake is linked to a better maintenance of mental acuity in older people and possibly even a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s.
Supplementation with Omega 3 has also been shown to help fight depression and anxiety and there is some evidence that Omega 3 supplements can reduce the symptoms of ADHD.
But those are not the only benefits.
Omega 3 for joint health
Omega 3 can help lower the risk or severity of rheumatoid arthritis according to Arthritis Research UK, and may help with osteo-arthritis, especially when accompanied by glucosamine, curcumin and vitamins D and K.
Omega 3 for eye health
DHA is also an important structural component of the retina (comprising some 60% of its PUFAs). There is clinical evidence that Omega 3, and lutein, may help prevent macular degeneration.
Omega 3 for reduced symptoms of metabolic syndrome leading to diabetes
Metabolic Syndrome is the medical term for a combination of conditions that lead to diabetes. It includes higher than normal levels of belly fat, insulin resistance, high blood pressure and high triglycerides.
By reducing insulin resistance (and inflammation) Omega 3 supplements have been shown to be able to reduce the risk of heart disease for people with metabolic syndrome.
Omega 3 for improved immune function
A 2018 meta-analysis, published in the journal Medicine, concluded that supplementation with Omega 3 boosted immune function and reduced inflammation in the early treatment of gastro-intestinal cancer – improving post-operative indicators.
Other research from Michigan University indicates that Omega 3 can boost the function of immune B-cells.
There are studies that suggest that higher Omega 3 consumption from foods or supplements could be linked to lower breast and colorectal cancer – but more clinical trials are needed.
Omega 3 supplements – forms and formulas
Is Omega 3 from fish oil better than Omega 3 from plant sources like flax seed?
They are different.
Fish oil contains the two polyunsaturated fatty acids EPA and DHA. Flax seed does contain Omega 3, but the type is different – ALA (alpha-linolenic acid).
Most of the research on Omega 3 has been done on fish oil Omega 3 ie. DHA and EPA, so the evidence for the health benefits of ALA are not so well documented.
ALA can be converted by enzymes in the body into EPA and DHA, but this conversion is not efficient – perhaps as little as 10%. But for vegetarians and vegans, flax and some other seeds, plus some nuts like walnuts, and rapeseed oil are the only choices.
For Omega 3 from fish oil, choose triglyceride form
There is another element to be aware of if you are choosing an Omega 3 supplement. Omega 3 from fish oil is available either in triglyceride form or as ethyl esters.
The natural form in foods is triglycerides.
The ethyl ester form undergoes further processing, and is used because it is 30-40% cheaper to produce. But it is less bioavailable and can have side effects (burping and stomach upsets) due to its industrial processing with alcohol.
Prefer the triglyceride form.
Omega 3 – as part of a comprehensive supplement programme – has multiple potential benefits.
In contrast, severe Omega 3 depletion can be overtly characterised by dry skin, fatigue and even insomnia and depression.
There is not yet an RDA for Omega 3, but based on numerous clinical studies and what appears to be an impending UK RDA, the optimum daily level is calculated at 600mg, of which 330mg should be EPA and 220 DHA. Prefer the fish oil source as triglycerides.
The supplement NutriShield contains not just Omega 3, but optimum levels of vitamins and minerals and a wide range of plant micronutrients. NutriShield Essentials for under 50s comes in both fish oil and vegan versions; NutriShield Premium for over 50s is only available containing fish oil.
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