With the explosion in popularity of omega-3 supplements nowadays we have hundreds of brands to choose from. How do you know which ones are of high quality? In this article, I'll help you become better informed about the benefits of omega-3 supplements and what you should look for when buying them.
Hundreds of scientific studies have confirmed the health benefits of omega-3 supplementation in a variety of conditions. Omega 3 fatty acids are very important because of the benefits they have for your body and brain.
Omega 3 can help reduce depression
In modern society, depression has become one of the major illnesses affecting millions. Symptoms include lethargy, anxiety, loss of interest in life and sadness.
Studies have shown that individuals which incorporate omega-3 supplements to their diet are less likely to be depressed. What's even more surprising is that people who already suffer from depression are able to reduce their symptoms by taking an Omega 3 supplement.
There are 3 types of omega-3 fatty acids: ALA, EPA, and DHA. According to the studies, EPA is the one that fights depression.
Omega-3 helps control and reduce depression. EPA is the fatty acid that has been proven through scientific studies to combat depression.
Omega-3 helps during pregnancy and infancy
Omega-3 fatty acids are required for the growth and development of the brain.
DHA accounts for 40% of polyunsaturated fatty acids in your brain and 60% in the retina of your eye. This is the reason why many baby formulas contain a good amount of DHA. Infants that are fed a formula that contains DHA have better eye sight.
The benefits of consuming omega-3 for the baby during pregnancy are:
- Higher Intelligence
- Less behavioral problems
- Reduces the risk of developmental delays
- Lowers the risk of cerebral palsy
- Lowers the risk of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD)
- Lowers the risk of autism
Supplementing your diet with Omega 3 during your pregnancy and the first year of life of your baby is very important for his development. Omega 3 lowers the risk of several diseases and increases the intellectual capacity of your child.
Omega-3 can reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases
Nowadays, people are getting heart attacks and strokes at a much earlier age. Diet, long hours sitting down and stress are wreaking havoc in our lives.
A few decades ago it was discovered that communities that consume a high amount of fish like the Eskimos in Greenland have a lower incidence of cardiovascular diseases. This was further confirmed in a study in 1989.
Since then omega-3 has been considered a supplement that supports cardiovascular health.
- Omega-3 can greatly reduce triglycerides in the blood (between 15% - 30% reduction)
- Omega-3 can help people with high blood pressure bring it down to healthy levels
- Omega-3 can help reduce the risk of blood clots by avoiding the blood platelets of clumping together.
- Omega-3 can help keep your arteries healthy. With the reduction of plaque, there's less risk of blockage and hardening of the arteries.
- Omega-3 combats inflammation in the body by reducing the amount of some substances released during the body's inflammatory response.
Studies have not been able to confirm the reduction of LDL or bad cholesterol but some people have seen a drop in their LDL after supplementing their diet with omega-3.
Omega-3 supports cardiovascular health
Omega-3 reduces metabolic syndrome
Metabolic syndrome is a combination of several conditions.
These conditions are:
- Central obesity or belly fat
- Insulin resistance
- High blood pressure
- High triglycerides
- Low HDL or good cholesterol
Metabolic syndrome is a major health problem. It's been linked to many other ailments such as heart disease and diabetes.
People suffering from metabolic syndrome can benefit from supplementing their diet with omega-3 together with changes to their lifestyle. Omega-3 fatty acids can improve insulin resistance, lower inflammation and lower the risk of heart attack
Omega-3 can greatly reduce the symptoms of metabolic syndrome. It can lower insulin, combat inflammation and support your cardiovascular system.
Omega-3 supports your brain function
Low omega-3 levels have been linked to mental disorders.
Studies have confirmed that omega-3 can lower the relapses in people suffering from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
Studies have also proved that omega-3 helps reduce mood swings making people more emotionally stable.
Low omega-3 levels have been linked to mental disorders.
Omega-3 can combat age-related mental decline and Alzheimer
Mental capacity goes down as we age. Several studies have confirmed that bran function declines as we age. The good news is that this process can be slowed down with an omega-3 supplement.
It has been confirmed that people that consume appropriate quantities of omega-3 have less risk of suffering from Alzheimer's.
Omega-3 can slow down the age-related brain function decline
Omega-3 can reduce the risk of cancer
The incidence of cancer has exploded in western countries. omega-3 has long been linked to a reduction in cancer rates.
Studies have proven that people that consume adequate amounts of omega-3 have up to 55% less risk of colon cancer.
Also, studies have shown promising results on how omega-3 lowers the risk of prostate cancer in men and breast cancer in women.
Omega-3 may reduce the risk of cancer. It has been linked to lower rates of colon, breast and prostate cancer.
Omega-3 can help avoid a fatty liver
Non-alcoholic fatty liver has become very common in western countries. Processed foods containing a long list of unhealthy ingredients are one of the main culprits. Fatty liver has become a prevalent ailment together with obesity.
People with non-alcoholic fatty liver can greatly improve their condition by taking an omega-3 supplement. It has been proven that omega-3 reduces the fat and inflammation in the liver.
Omega-3 supplements lower the presence of fat and inflammation in the liver
Omega-3 lowers menstrual pain
Menstruation usually makes women very uncomfortable. Menstrual pain is one of the main reasons. This pain usually occurs in the lower abdomen and pelvis with some radiation to the lower back and thighs.
Menstrual pain can really take a toll on women. Studies have confirmed that women that regularly supplement their diets with omega-3 have milder discomfort during their menstrual period.
One study was even able to confirm that an omega-3 supplement works better for reducing the discomfort and treating severe pain during menstruation than many Over The Counter (OTC) medications containing ibuprofen.
Adequate levels of omega-3 can help reduce the pain and discomfort associated with menstruation
Omega-3 help you sleep better
Sleep is crucial to keep a healthy mind and body. The lack of sleep has been linked to several diseases such as:
Low levels of omega-3 have been linked to sleep apnea in adults and sleep problems in children.
Omega-3 fatty acids, specially DHA can improve the quality of your sleep
Omega-3 benefits the skin
Omega-3 is a fundamental part of the skin. DHA is crucial in the health of cell membranes which make a large part of the skin.
Omega-3 - DHA helps keep the skin moisturized, wrinkle-free and soft.
Omega-3 - EPA helps in several ways as well:
- Combats premature aging
- Reduces the chances of having acne problems
- Keeps the skin hydrated
- Manages oil production
Omega-3 also has a very important role in protecting the skin from the damage produced by the sun rays. EPA reduces and even blocks the release of substances that damage the collagen in the skin after sun exposure.
Omega-3 can help protect your skin from the damage of the sun, reduce early skin aging and keeping your skin healthy.
Omega-3 supports joint and bone health
Arthritis and osteoporosis are two conditions that affect your skeletal system. omega-3 boosts calcium in the bones and therefore it decreases the chances of suffering from osteoporosis. Omega-3 also increases bone strength.
Individuals suffering from arthritis which consume an Omega-3 supplement on a regular basis have reported a reduction in joint pain and increased strength in their grip.
Omega-3 supplements reduce the risk of suffering from arthritis and osteoporosis.
Omega-3 fights asthma
Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease of the lungs. It causes the airways to narrow producing the following symptoms:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest tightness
Asthma can be life-threatening. It affects about 25 million Americans and lands nearly 2 million people in the emergency room per year. Even more worrying is the fact that asthma rates in the USA have been steadily increasing.
Several studies link Omega-3 with a reduction in asthma attacks, especially in children and young adults.
Omega 3 lowers the risk of suffering from asthma
Omega-3 can reduce autoimmune diseases
An autoimmune disease is an ailment where your immune system attacks and damages the body by mistake. The body's immune system protects you from disease and infection but if you suffer from an autoimmune disease, it will attack the healthy cells of the body by identifying them as foreign cells by mistake.
Crohn's disease is one prime example in which the body's immune system attacks the gastrointestinal tract, possibly targeting microbial antigens.
Studies have shown that consuming adequate amounts of omega-3 during the first year of life reduces the chances of suffering from autoimmune diseases later in life. Omega-3 greatly reduces the risk of:
- Type 1 diabetes
- Autoimmune diabetes
- Multiple sclerosis
- Crohn's disease
- Ulcerative colitis
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
Consuming adequate amounts of Omega 3 during the first year of life lowers the risk of suffering autoimmune diseases
Omega-3 lowers inflammation
When your body is fighting an infection or an injury inflammation will be present. Inflammation is a natural response of your body. It's the way the body indicates to the immune system to heal and repair damaged tissue, as well as defend itself against foreign invaders, such as viruses and bacteria.
Problems arise when inflammation persists for a long time, even without an infection or injury.
Long-term inflammation has been linked to almost every chronic disease in Western countries:
- Heart failure
- Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
- Alzheimer's disease
- Atrial fibrillation
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
- Ulcerative colitis
- Lupus erythematosus
- Crohn's disease
- Coeliac disease
- Hashimoto's thyroiditis
- Polychondritis Blindness
- Cerebral palsy (all types)
- Chronic graft-versus-host disease
- Chronic hepatitis
- Chronic kidney disease
- Chronic osteoarticular diseases, such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis
- Chronic pain syndromes, such as post-vasectomy pain syndrome and complex regional pain syndrome
- Dermatological conditions such as atopic dermatitis and psoriasis
- Deafness and hearing impairment
- Ehlers–Danlos syndrome (various types)
- Huntington's disease
- Lyme disease
- Mental illness
- Multiple sclerosis
- Myalgic encephalomyelitis (a.k.a. chronic fatigue syndrome)
- Parkinson's disease
- Periodontal disease
- Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
- Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome
- Sickle cell anemia and other hemoglobin disorders
- Substance Abuse Disorders
- Sleep apnea
- Thyroid disease
Omega-3 can reduce substances released by the body that produce inflammation such as inflammatory eicosanoids and cytokines.
Several studies have consistently linked Omega-3 consumption to lower levels of inflammation in the body.
Consuming Omega 3 supplements helps reduce inflammation in the body which is one of the main factors in most of the chronic diseases in the western world
What to look for in an omega-3 supplement?
Getting adequate omega-3s only from food can be a tough task, especially for those who are on a restrictive diet. At the same time, knowing which omega-3 supplement to take can present its own set of challenges.
Not all Omega 3 supplements are the same, concentration and prices vary widely. It's important to choose a product that is free of heavy metals and provides the right types and quantities of omega-3 fatty acids.
Fish oil is among the best sources of biologically-active, heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids such as EPA and DHA.
These are the most important factors you should consider before buying an omega 3 supplement:
Over the years, the world’s oceans have become polluted, as have populations of fish and other sea life—which are often the source for omega-3 supplements. When it comes to choosing a fish oil supplement, purity should be top of mind to ensure that your omega-3 products aren’t also accompanied by unwanted pollutants or heavy metals. Several species of fish are known to have a high concentration of heavy metals, PCBs, and dioxins which can cause serious disease, especially in infants and developing fetuses. In order to remove the toxins from the oil, fish oil manufacturers use a process called molecular distillation. When done correctly, molecular distillation is capable of lowering the toxins found in fish oil to levels considered to be safe by the EPA and other agencies.
Almost every manufacturer of fish oil will claim their product is free of heavy metals and toxins but independent lab results usually tell a different story. That’s why it’s very important that you ask for a Certificate of Analysis (COA) before you buy a fish oil supplement. A COA is an analysis performed by a third party to measure the ingredients of a product and confirm whether it lives up to the claims made by the brand.
It's not a good sign If the manufacturer won’t provide a COA. This may seem like an exaggeration, but when it comes to the possibility of ingesting heavy metals and other powerful toxins, it's better to err on the side of caution.
In general sardines and anchovies just as every fish that is lower in the food chain contain a lower concentration of contaminants. For this reason, it may be better to look for a brand that uses these fish in their supplements.
Fish oil is a rich source of omega’s EPA and DHA, but not all fish oils are equal in their concentration of EPA and DHA. EPA will generally range between 6% and 50% in a given fish oil, while DHA will range between 9% and 20%. This percentage depends on the fish species used in the oil and the concentration that has been achieved during the processing of the oil. Processing methods such as molecular distillation can more than double the naturally occurring concentration levels of omega-3.
Concentrating the oil can make supplementation more convenient for users – they can get higher amounts of omega-3 in a smaller amount of oil or fewer doses. Remember to check the label and ensure that your product has approximately 200-300 mg of DHA per capsule. This will allow you to achieve the therapeutic dose by taking no more than 3 capsules twice a day.
Fish oil supplements on shelves can oxidize and go rancid, which some experts say means they should not be consumed. But it's not always easy for consumers to tell which products have degraded. Rancid oil promotes oxidative damage and increases inflammation, both of which are risk factors for nearly every modern disease. This is why it’s absolutely crucial to ensure that the fish oil you select is fresh and not rancid. Once it has gone rancid, it will have the exact opposite effect on your body than you want it to.
"Fish oil is a polyunsaturated fatty acid; it has multiple double bonds. So it's very vulnerable to oxygen, light and other conditions," says Preston Mason, a biochemist at Harvard Medical School.
Smell – passing the sniff test.
- This is the easiest way to tell if oil is oxidized. Old, rotten oils smell like rotting fish
- If you burp up fish oil, that’s normal, especially if you’re new to taking fish oil.
- But if the smell from the burp is awful and makes you gag, you may have rancid oil.
- Fresh fish oil smells oily or slightly fishy like the ocean.
Check the “peroxide value” on the COA. This is a measure of rancidity that has occurred during storage. This number must be less than 5 meq/Kg. If it is higher, it means that the oil has been exposed to oxygen and therefore oxidized. Lower the better, but no oil will be zero.
Anisidine Value. This also measure fish oil rancidity, but it measure chemicals other than peroxides. This value should be less than 20 meq/Kg. Again, if it higher than 20, it means the oil has become unstable and smelly. Again, lower the better, but no oil will be zero.
Acid Value. As fish oil becomes more rancid, more acid is present in the oil. The Acid Value should be less than 3 mg KOH/gram. If higher than 3, your product is rancid.
TOTOX Value. This should be less than 26 meq. This is a calculated value based on Peroxide and Anisidine values.
A common myth is that you can determine the quality of fish oil by freezing it. The theory goes that if you freeze the oil and it is cloudy, it’s rancid. That is not the case. All fish contain saturated and monounsaturated fatty acids, albeit in small amounts. These fatty acids make the capsules appear cloudy when frozen in products that contain whole fish oil.
Fish oil can only be kept fresh if everyone involved in the manufacturing process is paranoid about rancidity. Fish oil must always be kept cold, dark and away from oxygen and metals.
One of the most crucial factors when choosing an omega-3 supplement is how well it’s absorbed. Research has suggested that omega-3 supplementation with oils in the triglyceride form lead to better absorption compared to those in the ethyl ester form.
When it comes to fish oils, there are three forms currently available on the market:
- Natural triglyercide oil - This is the natural oil resulting from squeezing the whole fish. It is the closest to eating fish oil in its natural form, and is highly absorbable. In conventional fish oils, omega-3 fatty acids are mostly present as triglycerides. The problem of this form is that, because it’s not concentrated, it usually has low levels of EPA and DHA. And because it isn’t purified, it can have high levels of contaminants such as heavy metals, PCBs, and dioxins.
- Ethyl ester oil - Occurs when fish oils are processed, either to purify or concentrate them. The ester form is still in a semi-natural state because it is the result of a process that naturally occurs in the body. The advantage to this form is that it can double or triple the levels of EPA and DHA.
- Synthetic triglyceride oil - The ethyl esters in processed fish oils can be converted back into triglycerides. The original position of the triglyceride’s carbon bonds change and the molecule’s overall structure is altered, which impacts the bioavailability of the oil.
All of these forms have health benefits, but studies have shown that the absorption of omega-3 from ethyl esters is not as good as from the other forms
Studies on absorption of the various types of fish oil suggest that, unsurprisingly, the natural triglyceride form is absorbed better than the ethyl ester form, which in turn is absorbed better than the synthetic triglyceride form.
Fish are a limited resource on our planet. With the human population continuing to grow and fish being the primary source of protein for a large percentage of that population, fish stocks are under continual pressure. While consumers want the benefits of omega-3’s, most would like to know that the supplement they have chosen minimizes the impact on our ocean resources. The sustainability of fish oil production is difficult to gauge. Some oils are produced as a byproduct of fish harvesting, and manufacturers claim that they are simply making use of something that would normally be discarded. While this is certainly better than harvesting fish solely for their oil, it still supports harmful fishing practices.
Search for products that are certified by organizations such as the Environmental Defense Fund or the Marine Stewardship Council, which uses a high standard to determine if a fishery is sustainable and properly managed.
How much fish oil for different health conditions?
Unfortunately, Americans only eat an average of 57 milligrams of DHA and 28 milligrams of EPA. Together that is only 85 milligrams of the needed 650 milligrams, so most Americans are deficient in EPA and DHA! But, you can get the essential omega-3s by eating fish at least twice a week. As for the plant-based omega-3, ALA, the recommended amount is 2200 milligrams/day—the amount in almost one ounce of walnuts.
The chart below lists the amount of omega-3 fats recommended for different conditions. Remember to always check with your physician before taking fish oil, especially in amounts exceeding 3000 milligrams (the level deemed Generally Recognized as Safe by the FDA). “Official” Recommendations by Scientific Organizations (These fish oil recommendations are issued by scientific organizations, based on expert review committees).
|Condition||EPA + DHA||Organization||Source|
|Elevated Tryglicerides||2000 - 4000mg/day||American Heart Assocciation||Kris-Etherton et al:Fish consumption, fish oil, omega-3 fatty acids and cardiovascular disease.Circulation. 2002|
|Heart Disease||1000 mg/day||American Heart Assocciation||Kris-Etherton.Circulation. 2002|
|Patients w/ Mood,
|1000 mg/day||American Heart Assocciation||Freeman MP et al: Omega-3 fatty acids: evidence basis for treatment and futureresearch in psychiatry. J Clin Psych 2006|
|Mood Disorders||1000 - 3000mg/day||American Heart Assocciation||Parker G et al: Omega 3 fatty acids & mood disorders. Am Jnl Psych 2006|