What exactly are omega-3 fatty acids and why do I need them? Omega 3’s belong to a group of fatty acids known as essential fatty acids or EFA’s. EFA’s are called just that because they are required by your body to function properly and prevent disease but cannot be produced by your body. Being deficient in omega 3’s can cause a variety of health problems, including cardiovascular disease, mood disorders or depression, some forms of cancer, arthritis, and more(1). Right now, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of omega 3 supplements on the market. Most of these supplements consist of fish oil and a smaller number consist of other forms of omega 3. While fish oil is phenomenal source of omega 3 fatty acids, not all of these supplements are actually safe. Americans spend over $1 billion a year on omega-3 fish oil supplements alone, so make sure you know what you are taking. Here are 12 things you should know when choosing an omega 3 supplement:
1. Know the benefits of an omega 3 supplement – Do you know why your taking, or thinking of taking an omega 3 supplement? Because it’s become so popular, some people take it just because they know other people who are. Omega 3 essential fatty acids are a vital part to your overall health. They are essential to numerous different functions of your body. Some of the more known benefits are: increased heart and cardiovascular function, increased cognitive function, less joint pain, and better overall health.
2. Choosing the right form of omega 3 – While the most popular form of omega 3 is fish oil, you do have some other options. You can get this essential fatty acid from plant-based sources like flaxseed and chia seed. These two options are much more popular amongst vegans and vegetarians because they don’t consist of animal-based products.
3. Flaxseed oil supplements – As far as omega 3 supplements go, flaxseed oil is probably the second most popular form, well behind fish oil. Flaxseed has been harvested for over 7000 years. It was originally used in skin balms and other medicinal concoctions used for constipation. Today, it is used as an omega-3 supplement that also has cholesterol lowering capabilities. It is a safer method to obtaining your omega 3 fatty acid, while also giving you omega 6’s also(4).
4. Chia seed supplements – Chia omega supplements have become an increasingly popular way for vegans and vegetarians to obtain their daily recommended allowance of omega 3 fatty acids. Chia seeds give you a number other nutrients besides omega 3. They also contain fiber 11 g, protein 4 g, calcium 9 g, manganese 30% RDA, magnesium 30%, and phosphorus 27% RDA. They also contain trace amounts of Zinc, Vitamin B1 (thiamine), Vitamin B2, Vitamin B3 (niacin) and Potassium(5). They pack a nutritional punch superior to fish oil with none of the possible contaminants. This is why chia omega supplements are my personal choice for obtaining omega 3 fatty acids.
5. Research the manufacturer – Get familiar with the company who’s producing your omega 3 supplement. Not all men and women are created equal….and neither are vitamin and supplement manufacturers. In this industry, you really do get what you pay for most of the time. Do a little bit of research, make use of the internet and search engines to find out what other consumers and experts opinions are of the product and manufacturer. This will give you insight and help to narrow down this rather saturated field of the health industry.
6. Try to address more than one issue – Many vitamin and supplement companies are now incorporating other ingredients into their omega 3 products. You may now also get ingredients like vitamins D and E, digestive enzymes, EPA, DHA, other heart health ingredients like CoQ10 and many more. So, if you do have some other health concerns you save some money by buying one supplement to address multiple issues.
7. Know the source and identify possible contaminants – Omega 3 fish oil supplements can be extracted from a variety different fish. As most of you know, fish are becoming more contaminated with mercury and other different toxins each year. Be sure you find out the process that your supplement goes through and the source of the fish being used. Are they farmed fish or naturally caught? Many companies use a distillation process to remove toxins and potentially hazardous materials. Some manufacturers distil their product several times just to make sure what you are taking is a safe omega 3. The more times it’s distilled the safer it will be. This is the most important of these facts(3).
8. Maintain the proper balance – Omega 3 is not the only fatty acid you need to maintain optimal health. There are also other essential fatty acids like omega 6 which are not a common deficiency in the US. Omega 6 is usually obtained through vegetable oils. A health problem may rise when your ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 becomes severely imbalanced. Most people in the US have an average imbalance of 15:1 to 16.7:1, while the optimal balance is 1:1. This imbalance has been scientifically linked to common diseases like breast cancer, inflammation from rheumatoid arthritis, asthma and cardiovascular disease(2). So be sure to get your omega 3’s and keep the balance!
9. More is not always better – While taking an omega 3 supplement is a great idea, taking more than the recommended dose is not! It will not further lower your risk of disease or improve your health that much more(1). Take just the recommended daily amount, don’t go overboard with it!
Whatever form you choose to get your omega 3 fatty acids in, just make sure you get them!
1. Harvard – blog – Fish oil friend or foe
2. NIH – ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12442909 – The importance of the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 essential fatty acids
3. Nutrition Facts – nutritionfacts.org/topics/omega-3-fatty-acids
4. Herb Wisdom – herbwisdom.com/herb-flaxseed-oil.html
5. Authority Nutrition – authoritynutrition.com/11-proven-health-benefits-of-chia-seeds