What’s All The Buzz About Omega 3s?

By Maille Devlin

Omega 3s have been a hot topic in not only the healthcare world but in general media for a few years now. What are these mysteriously healthy fats? Why are they so good for us? How do we get more?

What are they?

Omega 3 fatty acids are a group of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) that are needed for the proper structure and function of our cells. These fats are not made by our body in high enough quantities and are therefore considered essential parts of the diet. There is some debate over the use of the word essential for omega 3s as their parent molecule is what is technically the essential molecule based on the clinical definition.

There are three major types of omega 3 fatty acids: ALA, EPA and DHA, with the latter two being the most effective. Omega 3s have an anti-inflammatory effect on our bodies, which is why they have been proven to reduce chronic disease and maintain good health. There are several proven benefits to consuming these fats as well as continued research in their function in improving many conditions.

Some Studied Benefits

  • Cardiovascular disease (2-4 g/day)
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (2-4 g/day)
  • Mental health (1 g/day at ratio greater than 2:1 EPA:DHA)
  • Pregnancy and infant development (minimum 300 mg DHA/day at ratio of 2:1 EPA:DHA)
  • General health and disease prevention (900 g/day)
  • Mild Alzheimer's disease

Other Researched Benefits

  • Cognitive function
  • Migraines
  • Autoimmune conditions
  • Skin health
  • Macular degeneration

How can we increase our intake and protect ourselves from chronic disease?

We add omegas into our diet through: naturally occurring omega foods, like fish, walnuts, flaxseeds as well as foods with omegas added in (functional foods) like eggs, milk, yogurt or soy milk, or through natural health supplements.

Some Extra Tips to Keep in Mind

  • When adding omega 3s into your diet make sure to look at the actual amounts of EPA, DHA, ALA per supplement or serving. Some supplements have such small amounts people have to take several capsules a day to reach their daily intake!
  • Keep in mind that EPA/DHA are more potent forms than ALA and have many of the beneficial functions explained above.
  • Some people can experience "burp back" which can be caused by a low-quality fish oil supplement. To avoid this try taking the supplement with food.
  • To increase absorption, look for supplements with free fatty acids (FFA), triglycerides (TG) or reformed triglycerides (rTG) rather than ethyl esters (EE).
  • Keep supplements in a dark place and preferably in the fridge to last longer; check expiration dates!
  • Take a supplement with a meal that includes fat to increase absorption!

About the Author

Maille Devlin is a second-year Naturopathic Doctorate candidate at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine, and has an undergraduate degree in Biomedical Sciences with distinction from the University of Guelph. Upon graduation she hopes to assist her future patients in achieving their individual health goals using an evidence-based holistic approach. Devlin has specific interests in nutrition, digestion and cardiovascular health, as well as the gut-brain axis. She looks forward to contributing toward a progressive, effective and individualized healthcare system.

References

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  2. Goldberg RJ, Katz J. A meta-analysis of the analgesic effects of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation for inflammatory joint pain. Pain. 2007;129(1-2):210-23.
  3. Marchioli et al. Early protection against sudden death by n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids after myocardial infarction: time-course analysis of the results of (GISSI)-Prevenzione. Circulation. 2002;105(16):1897-903.
  4. Nemets. Omega-3 treatment of childhood depression: a controlled, double-blind pilot study. Am J Psychiatry. 2006;163(6):1098-100.
  5. Yokoyama et al. Effects of eicosapentaenoic acid on major coronary events in hypercholesterolaemic patients (JELIS): a randomised open-label, blinded endpoint analysis. Lancet. 2007;369(9567):1090-8