OMEGA-3 fatty acids play a vital role in our health. They are essential, hence the term EFA = Essential Fatty Acid and the body does not produce them, we must get them from food or supplements.
We need three basic types of fatty acids and these need to be balanced in the body for good health. These are Omega-3, Omega-6 and Omega-9 but over the last 40+ years our diet, much higher in Omega-6 due to increased consumption of highly processed vegetable oils and processed foods in the developed world, has changed and this balance has been lost.
Omega-3 fatty acids comprise of:
ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) comes from plants and is found in foods like flax seeds, chia and walnuts and these are very beneficial to the health of hair and nails. The body can convert ALA to the other forms but inefficiently at about 15%.
EPA ( epicosapentaeoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) which are found in fish, fish oils and krill oils but are originally synthesised by micro-algae not by the fish. When fish consume phytoplankton that consumed micro-algae they accumulate Omega-3 in their tissues. Human Breast milk contains all 3 Omega-3 fatty acids.
The benefits of Omega-3 are anti-inflammatory; they are important for all cell membranes, energy, mood, Cardiovascular, pulmonary, immune and endocrine health. DHA is particularly high in brain tissue, the Retina of the eye and in sperm.
Omega-6 when deficient causes impaired growth, hormone disturbances and immune system abnormalities but when in excess causes inflammation and cancer. The ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 is generally advised to be approximately 2:1 to 4:1 but in the Western Diet the Omega-6 ratio has risen to approximately 20:1 and we know from studies that this has lead to an increase in Cardiovascular Disease, arthritis and cancer.
The best sources of Omega-3’s
FISH: Salmon, Herring, Mackerel, Anchovies, Oysters, Sardines, Tuna and trout.
VEGETARIAN sources of Omega-3’s: Algae (high in EPA & DHA), Algae oil supplements, walnuts, flaxseeds, Brussel Sprouts, Kale, Spinach and Parsley.
If you do not eat fish 2-3 times a week you are unlikely to get enough Omega-3’s and therefore a Fish oil supplement or an Omega-3 Supplement from Algae would be beneficial.
A typical Fish oil supplement of 1,000mgs contains approximately 180mgs EPA and 120mgs DHA but it can vary a lot. it also has to be screened and any heavy metal toxins removed.
Krill oil contains higher bioavailabilty than fish oil but there are questions over whether the fishing for Krill is damaging to the ocean ecosystem.
Algae on the other hand, can be cultivated in pure water and contains more DHA than standard fish oil. It is suitable for Vegetarians, people with fish allergies and does not damage the environment.
National Institutes of Health Omega-3 fatty acids
Brain, eyes/Retina – PubMed ncbi-nlm-nih.gov
Omega-3’s and depression – ncbi-nlm-nih.gov
Omega-3’s can reduce levels of Triglycerides – nih.gov
Omega-3’s may help relieve symptoms of RA – nih.gov