Thinking of Supplementing With Omega-3’s?

Omega-3 Supplementation – Buyer Beware

Are you thinking about starting omega-3 supplements but are unsure what brand or type to purchase?  Well you are not alone. The supplement shelves in the drug and health food stores are filled with products which claim to contain optimal levels of omega fatty acids.  Some, if not most, come with a health claim to cure all that ails you or be your fountain of youth. Unfortunately, none of the sensational marketing actually helps you decide which supplements are right for you. Do you purchase the bargain or the most expensive? Have you decided to go with salmon oil, omega-3-6-9, cod liver oil, flax/linseed oil or some combination? I would suggest that before you purchase any omega-3 supplement you first take a look in your fridge/freezer, cupboards, pantry and shopping cart – you might just be getting enough omega-3’s in your diet.  So, if you are still thinking of taking supplements here are some tips to help you choose the right omega-3 supplement for your needs.

Educate Yourself on Healthy Fat Intakes

Do you need more information on how to get more omega-3 in your diet?  Why not have a look at the American Heart Association’s Fats 101 which gives an excellent explanation of dietary fat, in particular the section on omega-3’s. In short, you have three main types of important dietary omega-3 fatty acids:

  • alpha-linoleic acid or ALA or sometimes 18:3(n-3)
  • eicosapentaenoic acid or EPA or sometimes 20:5(n-3)
  • docosahexaenoic acid or DHA or sometimes 22:6(n-3)

These three types of omega-3’s are mainly found in two parts of our diets:

  • ALA predominately from plant or seed oils, like flaxseed/linseed oil or canola/rapeseed oil.
  • EPA/DHA predominately from fish and marine foods, especially fatty fish and cold water seafoods.

If you consider yourself an average healthy person, then the total amount of omega-3 which is recommended for you to consume is between 1.1 and 1.6 g per day. This level of intake is achievable through a healthy and varied diet.  An easy way to keep track how much ALA and EPA/DHA you are consuming is to make a cheat sheet of food which are good sources and keep it somewhere visible in your kitchen (e.g. refrigerator door).  If you are among those who either dislike seafood or do not have access good access to seafood you enjoy then supplementing with EPA/DHA might be the best alternative for you.  Achieving a healthy intake of ALA should not be an issue if you carefully select vegetable oils and spreads which contain ALA.

Additional Health Benefits

There are researchers on both sides of the fence when it comes to omega-3’s and their health benefits. Some believe higher EPA/DHA intakes are beneficial for preventing the development of cardiovascular diseases, preventing and/or slowing the development of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, improving the symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). There are also researchers who stress that the benefits of omega-6 fatty acids and overall fatty acid profiles of the diet are more important than focusing on omega-3’s specifically. I personally fall somewhere in the middle of these 2 arguments. There is excellent clinical evidence for the use of EPA/DHA for the reduction of high blood triglycerides (high blood fat concentrations). There is also convincing data for EPA/DHA being cardio-protective or preventative approach to the development of cardiovascular diseases.  But this data is linked more closely to individuals who have high EPA/DHA consumption from dietary sources not supplementary.

In summary, it is highly unlikely you would not be consuming enough omega-6 fatty acid in your diet therefore it would be a waste of your money to be purchasing supplements which are mostly this type of fatty acid. If you do plan to increase your omega-3 intake with supplements then be sure to look for those supplements providing the highest dose of EPA/DHA per gram (the average fish oil or omega-3 supplement capsule weighs about 1 gram).  So why not just increase your weekly fatty fish intake as this would be the most cost effective and gastronomically pleasing way to increase your EPA/DHA status.

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Posted in Lipids and Lipid Metabolism, Nutrition, Supplements

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Dr Scott Harding

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