Before we dive into why I started taking an omega-3 supplement, let's discuss the basics of omega-3s.
What is Omega-3?
Omega-3 is an essential fatty acid. Our body cannot make omega-3s, hence their essentialism. We must get omega-3 from what we consume.
Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats. There are three main Omega-3s...hence the "3." ;) They are...
EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid): comes mostly from fish.
DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid): comes mostly from fish.
ALA (Alpha-linolenic acid): the most common omega-3 in Western diets. It is found in nuts (specifically walnuts), flax seeds, flaxseed oil, chia seeds, rapeseed oil (aka canola oil), leafy greens, and in some animal fat of grass-fed animals (Source 1).
Our bodies need all three. Although our bodies can convert ALA into EPA or DHA, it takes significant time, and usually, our body uses ALA for energy. Thus, this conversion capability is limited (Source 1 & 2).
Why do our bodies need Omega-3?
Our bodies use Omega-3 for our cell membranes, and they affect the function of our cell receptors. Omega-3s provide the starting point for creating hormones that "regulate blood clotting, contraction and relaxation of artery walls, and inflammation. They also bind to receptors in cells that regulate genetic function" (Source 1).
Because of the influence omega-3, fatty acids have on our bodies, omega-3s have been shown to help prevent heart attacks, heart disease and strokes (Source 1 & 7). Additionally, omega-3s have been shown to control lupus, eczema, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, and may play "protective roles in cancer and other conditions" (Source 1). Other studies are showing a proper ratio of Omega-6: Omega-3 may actually help reduce obesity (Source 2).
*May = studies are finding evidence, but not yet enough for it to be proven statistically significant. More studies need to be conducted.
The following four paragraphs are taken directly from Source 2 as it explains the difference between omega-6 & omega-3 far better than I could!
"There are two classes of essential fatty acids (EFA), omega-6 and omega-3. The distinction between omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids is based on the location of the first double bond, counting from the methyl end of the fatty acid molecule. Omega-6 fatty acids are represented by linoleic acid (LA) and omega-3 fatty acids by alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).
LA is plentiful in nature and is found in the seeds of most plants except for coconut, cocoa, and palm.
ALA, on the other hand, is found in the chloroplasts of green leafy vegetables, and in the seeds of flax, rape, chia, perilla and walnuts.
LA is metabolized to arachidonic acid (AA) while ALA is metabolized to EPA & DHA.
AA is found predominantly in the phospholipids of grain-fed animals, dairy and eggs.
EPA and DHA are found in the oils of fish, particularly fatty fish."
The reason I share that is because in our Western diet, we consume a large amount of omega-6. With the increase in usage of vegetable oil in many processed foods, we may be getting far too much. Although omega-6 is also essential, too much may lead to inflammation and cardiovascular problems (Source 1 & 2). Studies suggest, our omega-6 to omega-3 ratio would be ideally be 1:1 (like how it was in the Paleolithic era...hence where the Paleo diet originated from), or some would say 4:1. Right now, many Westerns eat a ratio of 20(+):1. However, this ratio is still being researched.
What foods are high in Omega-3?
The following fish (the fattier the better) are high in EPA & DHA:
The following foods are high in ALA:
How much Omega-3 do I need?
One should be eating roughly 2 servings of fish a week. Yes, omega-3 can be found in other forms, but the most important is EPA & DHA since converting ALA to EPA or DHA takes time is often limited. Thus, just getting straight EPA and DHA is wonderful for your body.
Should you start taking an Omega-3 supplement?
If you do not eat fish twice a week, I'd suggest you consider talking to your doctor about starting an omega-3 supplement. If you decide to go on an over-the-counter supplement, a 1 gram dose of omega-3 with EPA & DHA is best.
Additionally, if your triglyceride levels are high, or you are at risk of cardiovascular disease, you may consider talking to your doctor about going on a high dose omega-3 prescription (Source 7).
But, please, as always, talk to your doctor! :)
Why did I started taking an Omega-3 supplement?
I started taking an Omega-3 supplement because I know I do not eat enough fatty fish to obtain the recommended amount of omega-3 in my diet. Because of the powerful benefits of omega-3, and its essentialism, I wanted to make sure I was getting an adequate amount. Although I do eat fish on occasion, I supplement with an Omega-3 (with EPA & DHA) over-the-counter pill. I purchase mine from Whole Foods.
I hope this blog post was helpful in creating a greater understanding of omega-3 & its importance in our diets!