The use of omega 3’s as supplements have been big for some time now. The benefits are numerous from heart health to brain and eye health, to reducing inflammation. For all these reasons, fish oil is the one supplement I most commonly recommend.
It is well known that a great source of omega 3’s are fish fatty fish (such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines), fish oil, and more new to the market – krill oil. However other sources of omega 3’s are also available, including chia seed, flax seed/oil, walnuts, and omega 3 supplements made from algae.
Are they all the same? My answer = NO NO and NO.
What are the type of Omega 3’s?
There are three main types of omega 3’s that come from different sources, and they have different functions
ALA (alpha linolenic acid) can be found in chia seeds, flax seeds, and walnuts
EPA (Eicoisapentaneoic Acid) can be found in fatty fish (mackerel, salmon, sardine), their fish oils, krill oil
DHA (Docosaheaneoic Acid), like EPA, can be found in fatty fish, fish oils, krill oil, and algae omega 3 supplements
Which type of Omega 3 do you want?
The real powerhouses that you want in omega 3 nutrition are DHA and EPA.
DHA has been show in multiple research studies to help infants with brain development and visual acuity. In utero many prenatal vitamins are now supplemented with DHA. Infants get DHA through breast milk and formula. DHA along with EPA has been shown reduce macular degeneration in older adults. DHA supplementation was shown to improve memory and learning in older adults with memory decline. Studies on it’s benefits on Alzheimers and ADHD are mixed.
EPA has been shown in research to lower the risk for cardiovascular disease, improve good cholesterol, and reduce triglycerides. Studies have also shown it to be beneficial to treat depression. However the most significant I love about EPA is it’s potential to reduce inflammation. EPA reduces inflammation by reducing the production and release of Arachadonic Acid (AA) a omega 6 fatty acid that causes inflammation. For this reason any inflammatory condition can benefit from EPA, such as arthritis (especially rheumatoid), inflammatory bowel disease (such as Crohns/Ulcerative Colitis), and lupus., and painful menstrual periods. EPA is even used in the critical care setting for patients with inflammatory lung disease (acute respiratory distress syndrome).
What about ALA? Well the controversy is that ALA can convert to EPA and DHA via the enzyme delta 6 desaturase. However the ability for our bodies to convert ALA to EPA and DHA is very poor, with a conversion rate of less than 10%. Insulin resistance (such as with diabetics) makes this conversion even worse.
Fish, flax, or algae?
Bottom line you should take a marine source of EPA and DHA. Sorry vegetarians.
Flax, chia, walnuts, are great sources of polyunsaturated fats, but with the poor conversion to EPA and DHA I would not recommend them
Algae omega 3 supplements have DHA but are lacking adequate EPA which has multiple benefits for cardiovascular health and reducing inflammation. There is a retroconversion factor of DHA to EPA but like ALA this conversion rate is also poor (about 12%).
For these reasons, I cannot recommend flax, chia, or algae as an EPA/DHA source over fish oil. But if you are a strict vegetarian and refuse to take fish or fish oil then of course I would recommend to have a diet rich in ALA and algae DHA . Though it will give you less DHA and EPA overall, some is better than none.
To get omega 3’s through your diet, choose fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, or sardines. I recommend as often as you can, the American Heart Association recommends at least twice per week. Make you’re your fish is from wild and sustainable sources. If you are pregnant, please take caution to avoid excessive consumption.. See the following linkhttp://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancyhealth/fishmercury.htm
Fish oil supplements are made from these fatty fish, and are available in capsule or liquid form. If you take capsules you will likely have to take multiple capsules. That is why I take liquid. Note many of the liquid forms have the fishy flavor removed,. To avoid fish burps, take them with a meal or freeze the capsules. Make sure to choose a supplement that is molecularly distilled and free of contaminants.
Krill oil is another marine source of omega 3 available on the market. It is made from a tiny shimp like animal, due to its chemical structure it is more absorobable and need lower doses to be effective. Other benefits discussed include less oxidation, and causes less “fish burps” than fish oil. However controversy exists over it’s effect on the whale population as it is a major food source for them.
Though I think both are great sources of EPA and GLA, what I use and recommend is fish oil. The recommended safe doses of fish oil are 1-2g/day of EPA and DHA. Make sure it is not 1-2g of fish oil, but the EPA and DHA combined. Higher doses up to 3-4g/day for various conditions have been studied but make sure to talk to your health care provider first
Omega 3 fatty acids should be used cautiously by people who bruise easily, have a bleeding disorder, or take blood thinners such as warfarin (Coumadin) Plavix or aspirin. Talk to your doctor first as omega 3’s may increase the risk of bleeding