Yesterday I posted about 3 of the 4 supplements I take. Omega 3’s are so important (and I have so much to say about them) that I’m giving the topic it’s own post. All this information is from my studies at school or from my own research in talking to people, so that is why I’m not citing any resources. Here is more than anyone wants to know about omega 3 fatty acids.
4. Omega 3 supplement: I actually just started taking this supplement almost 2 weeks ago. This semester I have learned a great deal about the benefits and need for our bodies to consume omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3 fatty acids are essential, meaning our body cannot make them on their own.
An omega 3 fatty acid is a polyunsaturated long chain fatty acid with three double bonds – the first at the n-3 position (hence omega 3). For anyone versed in chemistry, this is the 3rd carbon from the methyl end, or the 15th carbon from the carboxyl end. Only plants, not animals, have enzymes that can add a double bond after the 9th carbon from the carboxyl end. Thus, only plants can make Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids. (the double lines indicate a double bond. C:18, 3 means 18 carbons, 3 double bonds)
Chemistry corner: As a FYI Arachidonic acid (the last acid) is a very important precursor for some important biological compounds in our body called eicosanoids – which act as signaling mechanisms in the body. These compounds regulate a lot of things in our body such as body temperature, size of blood vessels, etc. Arachidonic acid is derived from omega 6 fatty acids consumed in the diet.
Because our bodies cannot make these fatty acids, it is imperative we consume them in our diet. Our body then takes these fatty acids we consume and uses them to make a variety of other fatty acids that play important roles in our body.
What are some of the benefits from omega 3 fatty acids? Here are a few of the main ones:
- Anti-aging properties (i.e. may lengthen your life)
- Reduce clotting in blood/arteries
- Reduce levels of inflammatory vessels in your body called cytokines
- Reduce serum (blood) triglyceride levels
- Increase your HDL (“good”) cholesterol
- Play a very important role in the neural development of developing fetuses and infants
- Play a role in maintaining the neural health of the brain
Other benefits that may or may not occur: Heal dry skin, heal eczema, improve circulation in body and improve thyroid function (possible).
There are three main omega 3 fatty acids that are important for us. They are (in short hand):
- ALA: This is found in plants – such as flax seeds, walnuts, chia seeds, hemp seeds (plus more)
- EPA and DHA: These are both found in fatty fish – such as tuna, salmon, mackerel, sardines, anchovies (plus more)
All three of these are beneficial to the body, but EPA/DHA are considered the most important. EPA is especially involved in heart health, while DHA is especially involved in brain health. ALA can be converted by the body into EPA and DHA, but it’s not always an efficient process and it won’t convert 100% of the ALA you consume. How much is converted is still being researched I believe. That’s why consuming only plant sources of omega 3 fatty acids may not give you all the benefits that you would receive from marine sources of omega 3s.
Earlier I said that only plants are able to create omega 3 fatty acids. So why are fish the main source of two biologically important omega 3 fatty acids? Well, the diets of the fish are rich in these essential fatty acids. Algae is the main form with which fish obtain EPA/DHA.
This is why most Omega 3 supplements are made from fish oil. There are some vegetarian/vegan supplements that are made directly from algae. When I looked at these in the store they only had EPA or DHA but not both fatty acids. I was interested in finding an omega 3 supplement with both EPA and DHA, so I skipped the algae supplements.
I have also heard of a supplement made from yeast that is vegan, but I don’t know anything about it.
I decided I wanted to take an omega 3 supplement because I do not particularly care for fish. I do semi like salmon and I have been trying for months to incorporate it more into my diet. Recommendations that I have heard about fish consumption is that our diets should include fatty fish two times per week for these omega 3 fatty acids. However, twice a week was not happening despite how much I tried. After attending a seminar last month about the benefits of omega 3s, I decided it was time to find a supplement.
I was very nervous about the “fish burps” and initally sought out a vegetarian/vegan omega 3 supplement with both EPA and DHA. When my search turned up empty, I went to central market to talk to a supplement specialist. He asked if I was allergic to fish or just did not like it. Then he pointed me in the direction of a brand called Nordic Naturals and recommended that brand to me.
He told me the cause for “fish burps” is due to fish oil that has been heated to be sterilized, thus making the oils rancid. From school I know that when oil is heated to a certain temperature (it depends on the type of oil), it will become oxidized and go rancid. This breaks some of the bonds of the fatty acids and makes the oil have an off flavor and ruins some of the positive benefits of the oil. So cheaply made fish oils may have been heated and thus be rancid, influencing the flavor and aftertaste of the oil – as well as the benefits of the supplement. Nordic Naturals uses an enzymatic process to purify their oil that does not cause rancidity. It also has lemon extract so if you do have burps, they will taste like lemon.
Another important factor to consider with fish oil is the source of the fish because of the incidence of mercury. He told me Nordic Naturals uses sardines and anchovies, which are small and have very little exposure to mercury.
I bought their Ultimate Omega formula, which provides both EPA and DHA. It was on sale at the time I bought it, but I paid roughly $22 for a one month supply.I have been taking it around lunch time each day, with a meal that includes fat, and haven’t experienced any “fish burps” or bad aftertastes. The brands website recommends taking the supplement at first with fat so your body will release the proper lipase enzymes that hydrolyze fats. Your body will break down all the fat at the same time so you won’t have any side effects.
I am not recommending you take Nordic Naturals. I am simply telling you what type of supplement my research led me to and what I have started taking. If you feel you have enough omega 3s in your diet, don’t feel like you need to take a supplement. For me, taking a supplement was important. Also taking a supplement with both EPA and DHA was important to me, so I chose a fish oil supplement rather than an algae based supplement.
There are a few benefits I am hoping to see from the fish oil. Because I have a thyroid disease, I am hoping the idodine in the fish oil will improve my thyroid function. If it does, possibly my issues with poor circulation/always being cold, slow metabolism and light sensitivity will be improved. It takes roughly 2 months for any benefits to be seen – so I’m eagerly awaiting for this time to pass to see if I notice any difference!
I also want to say that Omega 6 fatty acids are also essential – however these are very common in a westernized diet and no supplementation is usually necessary for a properly nourished person.
Do you take omega 3 supplements? If so – which brand do you take?