Omega 3 is a healthy fat with potent anti-inflammatory action. It can be used to manage cholesterol or glucose levels, and to prevent cardiovascular or cerebral disease. It can also improve memory and overall mood.
There are 3 types of omega 3: docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).These can be particularly be found in ocean-bred fish (like salmon, tuna and sardines), as well as in seeds (like chia and flaxseed).
Omega 3 can be consumed as an oral supplement in capsule-form. Supplements are typically sold at pharmacies or natural health stores.
Due to its properties, omega 3 is a nutrient that is recommended to be a part of a healthy and balanced diet. It possesses a variety of health benefits which include:
1. Decreased inflammation
Omega 3 contains anti-inflammatory properties that can be very helpful in the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease or rheumatoid arthritis. This is because omega 3 reduces the production of inflammatory substances like eicosanoids and cytokines. The anti-inflammatory action of omega 3 also helps to prevent cellular damage that can lead to the development of cancer.
2. Cardiovascular disease prevention
Omega 3 helps to reduce bad cholesterol and triglycerides, which are responsible for the formation of fatty streaks and plaques in the arteries. Omega 3 is associated with better arterial function, and can therefore help to prevent infarct, arrhythmias, cardiac insufficiency and brain injuries.
In addition, omega 3 increases circulating levels of good cholesterol, manages blood pressure, and reduces cellular damage (all which help to keep blood vessels healthy).
3. Blood clot prevention
Omega 3, especially DHA and EPA, contains anticoagulant properties, which decreases the formation of blood clots. Omega 3 prevents platelets from sticking to each other and building up, and therefore this nutrient is associated with the prevention of serious conditions like deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or pulmonary embolism.
4. Management of depression
Omega 3 protects brain cells and improves their overall function, which leads to an increase of substances that influence emotions, mood and wellbeing (like serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine).
Therefore, omega 3 can help to treat depression and can be used as an adjunct to treatment. It can help to decrease depressive symptoms, as well as help with sleep disturbances and libido (which are commonly affected by those suffering from depression).
5. Management of asthma
Due to its anti-inflammatory action, omega 3 can also help to manage asthma and prevent asthma attacks. Therefore, the consumption of foods with his omega 3 contents or the use of supplements as directed by a dietitian can be used as an adjunct to the therapy prescribed by the doctor.
6. Prevention of auto-immune disease
Some studies show that omega 3 can reduce the risk of auto-immune diseases, which occur when the immune system does not recognize healthy, naturally-occurring cells in the body and attacks them. Examples of auto-immune diseases include type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis. This healthy fat can also be used as a compliment to prescribed treatment of lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, Chrohn's disease and psoriasis.
7. Control of glucose of levels
Some studies show that omega 3 can help to reduce blood glucose levels by improving insulin resistance (which is very important in the treatment of type 2 diabetes).
A 2020 study by Thota et al. shows that supplementation with omega 3 capsules containing 1g of fish oil (with 430mg of DHA and 60mg of EPA) reduced insulin levels. This suggests that omega 3 supplements can be used to prevent the development of diabetes.
8. Improved brain function
Omega 3 is a very important nutrient in terms of brain function. 60% brain is made up of fat, particularly omega 3. Therefore, a deficiency of omega 3 can be associated with decreased ability for learning or decreased memory.
Therefore, increase omega 3 intake can help to protect brain cells, guaranteeing good brain function, and improved memory and decision-making
9. Prevention of Alzheimer’s
Some studies show that omega 3 intake may reduce memory loss as well as improve attention span and decision-making. This may help to reduce the development of Alzheimer’s by improving neuronal function in the brain. Nonetheless, more studies on this subject are needed to confirm this correlation.
10. Improve skin quality
Omega 3, especially DHA, is a naturally-occurring component of skin cells. It is responsible for the health of the cell membrane, which keeps the skin soft, hydrated, flexible and wrinkle-free. Therefore, by consuming omega 3, it is possible to achieve these characteristics in the skin.
In addition, omega 3 contains anti-oxidant properties that can protect the skin from sun damage, which can cause early aging or skin cancer.
11. Management of ADHD
Many studies show that low levels of omega 3 is associated with ADHD (attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder) in children, and that the increase of omega 3 intake, especially EPA, can help to reduce related symptoms. Omega 3 can help to improve attention span, the completion of tasks, impulsivity, agitation and aggression.
12. Improved muscular stamina
Omega 3 supplementation can help to reduce muscle inflammation associated with exercise. It can speed up muscular recovery and decrease post-training soreness.
Omega 3 can also improve overall mood, which can lead to more efficient workouts. It can even help with motivation to start working out or participate in medical treatment like physiotherapy or cardiac rehabilitation.
Foods with high omega 3 content
A main dietary source of omega 3 is ocean-bred fish, like sardines, tuna and salmon. Omega 3 can also be found in seeds (like chia and flaxseed), chestnuts, and olive oil.
Among vegetable-based sources, flaxseed oil contains one of the highest concentrations of omega 3. This can be a good option for vegetarians.
Benefits of omega 3 during pregnancy
Supplementation of omega 3 during pregnancy may be advised by the obstetrician, as it can prevent premature labor as well as improve neurological development in the baby. Omega 3 can also improve cognitive capacity in premature babies, as low omega 3 intake may be associated with lower IQ levels in babies.
Omega 3 supplementation can lead to benefits like:
- Prevent prenatal or postpartum depression;
- Reduce the risk of pre-eclampsia;
- Reduce the risk of premature labor
- Reduce the risk of low birth weight
- Reduce the risk of the development of autism, ADHD and learning disabilities in the baby
- Decreased risk for allergies or asthma in the baby
- Improved neurocognitive development in the baby
Omega 3 supplementation can also occur while breastfeeding to ensure nutritional necessities are met in both the mother and the baby. Supplementation in this case should be done as directed by the doctor.
Daily recommended dose
The daily recommended dose of omega 3 will vary with age. See the recommended doses below:
- Babies from 0 to 12 months: 500 mg;
- Children from 1 to 3 years old: 700 mg;
- Children from 4 to 8 years old: 900 mg;
- Boys from 9 to 13 years old: 1200 mg;
- Girls from 9 to 13 years old: 1000 mg;
- Boys from 14 to 18 years old: 1600 mg;
- Girls from 14 to 18 years old: 1100 mg;
- Adult and elderly men: 1600 mg;
- Adult and elderly women: 1100 mg;
- Pregnant women: 1400 mg;
- Breastfeeding women: 1300 mg.
It it important to note that if you are supplementing due to an omega 3 deficiency, supplementation should be supervised by your doctor or dietitian.
When to take omega 3 supplements
Omega 3 supplementation is usually indicated for a variety of reasons, like during pregnancy and breastfeeding, if there is a deficiency, or for treatment of flaky skin or acne. In addition, omega 3 can be recommended to prevent diseases like diabetes, Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular illness.
To prevent decreased levels of omega 3, you should maintain a balanced diet and opt to consume fish at least twice per week. Vegetarians can use flaxseed oil (to season salads, for example), which should be consumed at least once a day.
How to select the best supplement
Omega 3 supplements can come in many forms, like fish oil, cod liver oil, or krill oil. Vegetable-based options include seaweed oil, flaxseed oil or chia seed oil.
To pick the right supplement for you, we recommend the following:
- Opt for supplements that contain solely EPA, or supplements that contain more EPA than DHA in their capsules
- Fish-based oils are ideal, as they contain the best quality of omega 3
- Read supplement labels to ensure they are sustainably sourced, contain pure oil, and report the percentage of EPA and DHA within capsules
EPA and DHA dosing will vary with different manufacturers. Fish-based oils will contain about 1000mg of fish oil per capsule, about about 180mg of EPA and 120mg of DHA. Seaweed oil contain 100mg to 300mg of DHA, although some can also contain EPA.
Additionally, you should give preference to omega 3 supplements that are easier to absorb, like those with fatty acids natural triglycerides, re-esterified triglycerides, and phospholipids. You should avoid supplements with ethyl esters.