There are certain things in the world that we know are healthy for us. Apples, 8 glasses of water and walking are just things we've been told enough times to know how good they are. Omega-3 fatty acids
are quickly becoming part of that list. But we should still look into why we say they're good so we don't spread misinformation and perpetuate false health facts.
Much like how there's no scientific evidence
we should be drinking 8 glasses of water a day but we still follow it, the belief behind Omega-3s is becoming something we say without really knowing why. It's not that fatty acids aren't important, but knowing why you need something is just as important as taking it. And knowing the difference between the kinds of fatty acids could save you from taking the wrong kind of supplement or eating a certain food for the wrong reason.
The facts are actually pretty simple; we drink water to stay hydrated and we need fatty acids because our body can't produce them. We call these types of nutrients "essential". Not to be confused with essential oils, which are based on the word "essence", these fatty acids are actually essential to our body's health.
There are three types of Omega-3 fats:
Eicosapentaenoic (EPA)Docosahexaenoic (DHA)Alpha-linolenic Acid (ALA)
EPA and DHA are found in animal-based sources like fish. ALA is found in plants like chia
and vegetable oils
. It's a precursor to EPA and DHA, meaning it will turn into them in the body, but the conversion rate is slow. It's unclear the effectiveness of ALA alone. Some studies haven't seen any of the results usually associated with Omega-3 when they only use ALA. This could be a problem for those that stick to a vegetarian diet. It's not impossible to get DHA from vegetarian sources, just tricky. Vegetarian supplements
derived from algae-sourced DHA is great for keeping levels up.
The Omega Difference
You may know that Omega-3 isn't the only fatty acid out there. There's Omega-6 and Omega-9 and for all you know, Omega-10 floating around out there you're now searching for (I just made that last one up). Still, it's hard to know what the difference is between them.
All Omega fatty acids are essential so it's important to our body. What makes them different is structure. Their molecules are similar enough in shape to be named alike but differ in key difference that scientists identify them by number. It's all very scientific.
Because of their different structure, Omegas preform slightly different functions in the body. The problem comes from the fact that they're all competing for the same space. Call Omega-3 a car and Omega-6 a truck. You can only park one in a spot and once the parking lot is full, the rest of the cars or trucks are useless. Eating too much Omega-6 can hamper your ability to use Omega-3 because all the spots are full. And unfortunately, Omega-6 is more common in our diet than Omega-3 is.
That's why you always hear about those crazy "balanced diets". You mean I have to eat fish AND vegetables?
If you don't like fish, you do have some supplement options. You can get Omega-3 most commonly in fish oil
. These are typically larger softgel pills you can see through with a vibrant yellow color.
Another way is through liquid supplements
. These are great for people unable to swallow the bigger pills. The downside to the liquid is the "fishy" taste. Some brands
have tried to hide it under lemon or other flavors but it's suggested to mix with water or juice if you have a strong issue with it.
For vegetarians, check for algae-sourced EPA and DHA.
Getting back to the star of the article, Omega-3 fats seem to pop up whenever you need to treat something. It's alright to be a little confused in what exactly they can help with. The list is kinda long.
Even good things have side effects, Omega-3 fatty acids are the same. If you're starting a supplement look out for:
Symptoms usually decrease the longer you take a supplement. However, there is a chance of having an allergic reaction to Omega-3 supplements. Because most are made from fish sources, there's a chance of shellfish or other allergens you may or may not be aware of.
Allergic reactions can consist of rash, itching/swelling of the face, tongue or throat, severe dizziness and trouble breathing. Seek medical attention immediately if you experience any of these after taking an Omega-3 supplement.
You may be wondering how much you need to take advantage of all the great benefits Omega-3 can help you with. Well, wonder no more.
1 gram of EPA plus DHA a day is enough to help keep your heart strong, provided you don't have any preexisting problems.
2-4 grams for those with elevated triglyceride levels.
3 grams (at least) to reduce morning stiffness and treat tender joints from rheumatoid arthritis.
For decreasing blood pressure, ask your doctor about higher doses of Omega-3.
Look out for mixing Omega-3 supplements with these.
Blood-thinning medications like warfarin (Coumadin) or PlavixBlood sugar medicationsCyclossoporine like SandimmuneCholesterol medications like Liptor or ZocorNSAID pain-relievers like Aspirin, Aleve, Advil or Motrin
If you are pregnant or nursing, check with your doctor before starting an Omega-3 supplement.
When looking for an Omega-3 supplement, it's important to look at the source. First, are you getting EPA and DHA or ALA? Second, there are various studies looking into krill oil
versus fish oil. While both provide the Omega-3 you need, some supplement brands are now turning to krill oil for the sustainability aspect
. Krill only contains 14% of Omega-3 fats, as opposed to the 30% of fish oil, but krill have a higher rate of reproduction so they are less likely to be overfished. While the Alaskan sea is already being prone to population shortages of fish, a precautionary catch limit has been set for krill that has yet to be met.
Also look for any added allergens like nut oils or artificial ingredients that may seem to make the fish oil more tolerable. Not only may they set off an allergy but you could be ingesting something you don't need or diminishing the effectiveness of the supplement.
If you're not always on top of your supplement ritual or you want to try to get Omega-3 naturally, it's actually easier than you might think. That is, if you like fish.
True, you can get ALA from a lot of sources but as I said above, there's a lot of speculation about its effectiveness. Still, here are the most popular Omega-3 heavy sources:
Herring - EPA/DHAAnchovy - EPA/DHACrab - EPA/DHASalmon - EPA/DHAShrimp - EPA/DHASardine - EPA/DHA
One way to incorporate Omega-3 into your life is to replace the chicken and start serving fish for dinner more regularly. According to this
, two servings a week of fish is enough to keep your family health and Omega-3 rich. So break out the tartar sauce and the old family recipes.
Whatever you decide to do about adding them in, Omega-3s can now be apart of your health routine. And the next time you see a headline totting the "Flaxseeds high in Omega-3!" you'll know exactly what they're talking about. Tell use your favorite health myth or rare-known fact on our Facebook
Check back in next week for more nutritious facts and healthy living tips. Until then, try the fish!