What is Omega-3?
Omega-3 is a name given to the polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are an essential component of the human diet. They can also be called essential fatty acids (EFAs). They are responsible for a myriad of crucial functions, including playing roles in growth, nerve and heart health, optimal brain function, healthy skin, as well as balancing blood fat and cholesterol levels. Research has shown that the consumption of EFAs has been beneficial in reducing inflammation and risk factors for coronary heart disease.
Different Types of Omega-3
The three main types of omega-3 fatty acids are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
ALA has shown to improve heart health and is the most common in the diet, found in many plant and seed fats, such as flaxseed (linseed), soybeans, tofu, walnuts and canola oil. EPA has shown to aid in inflammation and joint health, whereas DHA is believed to play a role in the development of the eye and central nervous system, and it is the most common and most important omega-3 fatty acid in breast milk. Collectively, all three are essential for proper metabolic function, and all can be synthesised in the body in varying amounts. ALA can convert into EPA and DHA; however, the body is inefficient at doing this, so they must be obtained from the diet, too. EPA and DHA are found almost exclusively in particular oily fish, such as tuna, anchovies, salmon, mackerel, herring, and trout. ‘DHA-enriched’ eggs are also becoming more popular on supermarket shelves. Plant-based sources of EPA and DHA include seaweed and algae.
Should I supplement?
Modern diets have generally lead to a decrease in oily fish consumption, and studies have consistently shown that levels of DHA and EPA are lower in vegetarians and vegans, with blood levels being approximately one-third of those found in omnivores. Taking an omega-3 supplement is recommended for vegans, vegetarians, and those who do not regularly consume fish. Fish oil or cod liver oil capsules can be the right choice for many, but vegetarians and vegans will want to purchase algal oil supplements – which is obtained from the algae that fish eat to get their omega-3 and is 100% plant-based. When choosing a supplement, find one that includes a daily intake of at least 500mg of EPA and DHA (combined), or be sure to take enough capsules to achieve this.
There are also omega-3 supplements available which contain ALA such as chia, flax, and hemp oil supplements; however, as mentioned above, the body is not efficient at changing ALA to the essential DHA and EPA. While these supplements may provide some health benefits, they should not be considered as an alternative to fish or algal oil supplements as they will not give the body adequate amounts of EPA or DHA.
Few medicines may interact with fish oil, so be sure to speak with your pharmacist or GP should you have any concerns regarding your medication.
Where can I purchase supplements?
Don’t forget that you can also pick up cod liver oil capsules from our branches, with the Kamsons range being 3 for 2 on all vitamins! Please note that our capsules contain fish oil and gelatine, and at this time we do not yet have a vegetarian/vegan supplement available. We hope to launch one soon.
Geissler, C. Powers, H. Human Nutrition 12th ed., Churchill Livingstone, 2010.