Essential Omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA)
What are essential fatty acids (EFAS), & why do we need to take Omega-3 EFAS?
Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are polyunsaturated fats that our bodies need but cannot produce. Therefore, they must be consumed through food or supplements. There are two families of EFAs: omega-3 and omega-6, which need to be consumed in a balanced ratio. The body must receive a balanced supply of omega-3 and omega-6 EFAs to ensure proper eicosanoids production. Eicosanoids are hormone-like compounds that affect virtually every system in the body—they regulate the inflammatory response, help maintain proper blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and promote fluid nerve transmission. The problem is that, in our modern industrialized food system, omega-3s have become largely absent from the food chain while omega-6s have become overabundant. Even the healthiest diets contain too many omega-6s and not enough omega-3s. Decades of scientific evidence indicates that this EFA imbalance can contribute to a variety of chronic health issues. The most beneficial omega-3s that we’re missing are EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).
Can we get enough Omega-3s from the food we eat?
Fish is the primary food source of the omega-3s EPA and DHA, but Americans simply don’t eat enough fish on a regular basis. Even those who eat fish several times a week aren’t getting enough EPA and DHA because much of the fish consumed today is farm raised and lacks significant amounts of EPA and DHA. Also, many people are increasingly avoiding fish due to growing concerns about environmental toxins in fish (such as mercury, dioxins, PCBs, etc.). In addition, there are several factors that can lead to reduced absorption of EFAs—age, poor diet, alcohol consumption, low levels of certain vitamins and minerals, some prescription drugs, compromised immune status, and a diet high in saturated and/or trans-fatty acids (meat, dairy, fast food, fried food, baked goods, and processed foods). Moreover, people with health challenges or those who are currently deficient often require a minimum of 2–4 grams a day of EPA and DHA, which is difficult to obtain from fish alone.
What is the relevance of balancing the Omega-6:Omega-3 ratio?
Over the past 100 years, changes in the food supply in Western nations have altered the type of dietary fatty acids we consume, leading to a dramatic increase in the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. This increased omega-6:omega-3 ratio is known to influence a poor nutritional state that contributes to higher incidences of many chronic diseases. To address this omega-6:omega-3 imbalance, current recommendations suggest increasing the consumption of pre-formed omega-3s EPA and DHA in fish and/or fish oils, increasing intake of ALA (an omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid found in vegetables, flax, fruits) and decreasing intake of LA (the omega-6 linoleic acid in meat, dairy, eggs, vegetable oils).
If we get too much Omega-6 in our diet, then why does Nordic Naturals offer products that contain an Omega-6 (e.g. Nordic GLA, Complete Omega, Omega Woman)?
Omega-6 fatty acids (Linoleic Acid or LA) are found mainly in corn, soybean, safflower, and sunflower oils and, although essential, these fatty acids are over consumed and out of balance with omega-3 fatty acids in the modern Western food supply. For these reasons, omega-6 supplementation is not needed for non-strict-vegan westerners. However, there is one type of omega-6 (Gamma Linolenic Acid, or GLA) that does require supplementation. GLA is found in few sources such as borage and evening primrose oils. Used in some Nordic Naturals formulas, GLA promotes the production of beneficial prostaglandins and supports healthy skin, brain function, mood, joint, and cardiovascular health. It is most effective when taken along with the EPA and DHA in fish oil.
Do pregnant women need Omega-3s?
It is especially important for pregnant and breastfeeding women to consume DHA (one of the omega-3s in fish oil) because the developing baby is dependent on mom! DHA is an essential fatty acid—we must get it from diet or supplements because our bodies don’t make it—and consuming enough DHA is critical for normal and healthy development of infant brain, eyes, and nervous system.* Additionally, inadequate consumption of DHA during pregnancy has been linked to sub-optimal mood health for women after pregnancy.* Experts recommend that women consume 300–600 mg of DHA daily while pregnant and breastfeeding. Nordic Naturals DHA, Prenatal DHA, and Ultimate Omega all satisfy this dosage, each providing 450 mg DHA per serving. As with any supplement, it is best to consult your health care professional.
What about other beneficial Omega fatty acids like Omega-5s, Omega-7s, Omega-9s? Do we need those too?
All non-concentrated fish oils contain a myriad of other omega fatty acids besides the omega-3s EPA and DHA. The average fish oil contains 23 omega fatty acids. Any quality fish oil manufacturer should be able to provide a chromatogram listing the levels of all the omega fatty acids found in their fish oil. Often, when fish oil is concentrated, some of these other fatty acids will be removed in order to increase the amounts of EPA and/or DHA. You often hear the most about the omega-3s EPA and DHA because those are the fatty acids that have been shown, by decades of scientific research, to yield important health benefits for every cell, organ, and system in the body, and are considered the most functional omega-3s. And they are also drastically deficient in the food supply of Western nations, making it very difficult for us to get adequate amounts from our diet.
What should I look for when purchasing a fish oil supplement to ensure high quality?
- Third-party test results for purity and freshness. A third-party certificate of analysis indicates the levels of purity from environmental toxins, and the oxidation level (or freshness) of the oil. Certificates of Analysis are available on our website; simply enter your lot number to view the certificate for your specific bottle.
- Manufacturing standards. Is the fish oil manufactured according to international quality standards?
- Smell and taste. Does the fish oil smell or taste fishy? If so, the fish oil has most likely been exposed to oxygen and is becoming rancid. Rancid (oxidized) oils should be avoided, as they yield less-than-healthy effects. Avoid fish oils that have really strong flavorings added to them because they are most likely trying to hide the fishy flavor of rancid oil.
- Triglyceride molecular form. Research has shown that triglyceride form omega-3s are up to 70% better absorbed than synthetic ethyl ester omegas.
- Supportive scientific research to prove the efficacy of the fish oil brand.
- Sustainable fishing practices. Any environmentally responsible fish oil manufacturer should offer transparency into their fishing practices.