Omega 3: why should we take it?
The VITL Nutrition Team
Omega 3 is one of the most common supplements people take. But what is it? Our in-house nutritionists explain everything you need to know.
What are omega-3 fatty acids?
Omega-3s are essential polyunsaturated fatty acids. Essential nutrients are nutrients that the body can’t make on its own, and therefore need to be consumed from our diet. They are a key building block to cell membranes (present in all our cells) and they play an important role in the growth and development of the brain, the regulation of blood pressure, inflammation and immune responses.
What about EPA and DHA?
EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) are omega-3 fatty acids that are abundant in oily fish and some algae, that the body needs to develop and function optimally in every stage of life.
What are the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids?
Omega-3 fatty acids are powerhouses of health benefits, as they are involved in:
Heart health: Omega-3 fats may be cardioprotective by reducing a number of risk factors for a heart attack including reducing blood pressure, blood triglyceride levels, and preventing plaque from building up in arteries - a condition known as ‘atherosclerosis’ 1
Brain health: The walls (membranes) of our brain cells are made up of fats. If the fatty membranes surrounding brain cells are relatively fluid, as they are with lots of omega-3s, then messages from neurochemicals such as serotonin can be transmitted more easily. Equally, omega-3 fatty acids have also been found to help alleviate symptoms of mental health conditions (such as depression), help prevent age-related mental decline and protect against Alzheimer’s Disease. 2
Immunity: Omega-3s are anti-inflammatory and therefore guard against chronic low-level inflammation. This kind of inflammation threatens our long term health and is thought to be implicated in the development of many diseases including cancer, heart disease, arthritis, asthma, autoimmune diseases, eczema and psoriasis.
As if that wasn’t enough, omega-3 fats have also been associated with reducing insulin resistance (a gateway condition to type 2 diabetes), and can improve skin, joint and bone health. Phew!
Which foods contain omega-3 fatty acids?
Oily fish (i.e. mackerel, salmon, herring and trout) is a great source of omega-3 EPA and DHA, but you need to be eating it 2-5 times a week to be getting enough. If you are vegetarian or vegan, look to flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts as a source of omega-3.
The Western diet is typically higher in omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3. Omega-6 are pro-thrombotic and pro-inflammatory fatty acids, while omega-3 are anti-thrombotic and anti-inflammatory. Several studies indicate that humans evolved with a diet in which the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 essential fatty acids was 1:1, whereas in the Western diet it is 15-16.7:1! This distorted balance of omega-3 to omega-6 intake is thought to be one of the most threatening aspects of the Western diet, contributing to excess chronic inflammation in the body, and potentially increasing the risk of various diseases.
Meanwhile, the richest source of omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA) remains oily fish. Some of it can be obtained by plant sources through the conversion of ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), found in canola oil, flaxseeds, chia seeds and walnuts, to EPA and EDA (a conversion that takes place within the body). However, the conversion rate (how quickly ALA is converted to EPA and DHA) is very inefficient, making vegans and vegetarians at particularly higher risk of inadequate EPA and DHA status, compared to e.g. pescatarians or those who consume oily fish.
This is why we strongly recommend taking an omega-3 supplement, especially if you are vegan, vegetarian or don’t get enough oily fish. Check our omega-3 pocket packs, which have been carefully formulated by our experts, to provide you with highly absorbable krill oil, DHA and EPA.
I can’t supplement with fish oil; is there a vegan alternative?
Of course! Currently, fish oils represent the largest dietary sources of EPA and DHA, however vegan omega-3 oils are becoming more and more popular as these are derived from algae instead of fish or krill. Check our vegan omega-3 pocket packs now!
You might also be interested in: