All you need to know about Omega-3
Omega-3 is a term that is bandied about quite often in relation to foods and numerous conditions. Do you know what omega-3 actually means, what it is or what they can do for you? Let’s find out.
Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated long-chain fatty acids that contain a double bond at the 3rd carbon in their chain – hence the name Omega-3. They are an integral part of cell membranes all throughout the body and affect cell receptor function within the membranes. Hundreds have been identified, but the three that are focussed on the most are known as ALA, EPA and DHA.
A trio of Omega-3 fatty acids
Alpha-linoleic acid, or ALA, is an essential omega-3 acid that our body cannot synthesize. This means we need to get it from our foods. ALA is commonly found in nuts (especially walnuts), flaxseeds and flaxseed oil and leafy green vegetables. ALA is generally used as an energy source, however it can also convert to other omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA. However this process isn’t very efficient – between 8-30% of ALA is converted - so it’s recommended to maintain a healthy intake of all three fatty acids.
As explained above, EPA - eicosapentaenoic acid - and DHA - docosahexaenoic acid (the essential fatty acids we are most familiar with and is what is found in fish oil) - can be synthesized in the human body from ALA. They are also present in high amounts in marine foods, such as cold water fish and shellfish, as well as some seeds and nuts. Unfortunately, most people don’t meet their omega-3 requirements through diet alone.
Actions of Omega-3:
Aside from their structural role in cell membranes, omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to help reduce inflammation, maintain healthy triglyceride levels in healthy individuals, support cardiovascular health and support neurological (brain) function.
- EPA is most commonly associated with anti-inflammatory actions. It’s been shown to help reduce joint inflammation and swelling in mild osteoarthritis.
- EPA has also showed ability to inhibit LDL-oxidation, while both EPA and DHA may help reduce plasma triglyceride levels in healthy individual.
- EPA & DHA have been shown to reduce inflammatory markers including C-Reactive Protein (CRP) which is strongly associated with cardiovascular health risk.
- DHA is more associated with the brain, eyes and nervous system as it is the primary fatty acid found within neurological tissue. DHA is important for visual and neurological growth development of children.
- DHA status has also been linked to cognitive function, as it appears that low levels increases the risk of cognitive impairment.
Omega-6 vs Omega-3
Easily confused with omega-3 fatty acids are omega-6 fatty acids, such as linoleic acid, gamma-linoleic acid and arachidonic acid. These are also essential for human health and a healthy diet will ideally contain a 1:1 balance of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. Unfortunately, due to the abundance of omega-6 fatty acids in packaged foods, a typical Western diet now contains a 20:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3, which can have deleterious effects on the human body.
Sources of Omega-3
You can boost your intake of these fatty acids by including omega-3 containing foods in your meals. Foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, flaxseed, chia seed, walnuts, oysters, soy bean, eggs and spinach.
Fish oil, krill oil and calamari oil supplements are all sources of both EPA and DHA, albeit in different amounts. In standard (not concentrated) 1000mg capsules:
- Fish oil has 180mg of EPA and 120mg DHA.
Fish oil contains the highest concentration of EPA.
- Krill oil contains 120mg of EPA and 70mg DHA which are bound to phospholipids, which are easily absorbed by the body.
Krill oil also contains the antioxidant astaxanthin.
- Calamari contains 100mg EPA and 470mg DHA.
Calamari oil contains the highest concentration of DHA.
- Flaxseed oil contains ALA, which can be synthesized to EPA and DHA by the human body.
Are all omega-3 oils good for everyone?
Not always! High doses of omega-3 fatty acids have an anti-platelet action. This means they can’t be used by everyone, including people on blood-thinning medications and people at risk of bleeding. Always check with your health care provider before supplementing with omega-3 oils.
The heavily polluted state of the world’s oceans means that heavy metals can accumulate in the marine food chain. Fish can be a source of mercury, with some fish being more likely to have high mercury levels than others. Fish that contain high levels of mercury include shark, orange roughy, swordfish and ling.
The oils used in all Australian NaturalCare omega-3 products are meticulously tested for mercury and other heavy metals, so that you can take our products with confidence.