OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS – WHAT ARE THEY?
They are commonly known as fish oils, which are a group of essential polyunsaturated fats which means that our body can’t produce them and therefore they must be obtained through food or supplements.
There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids:
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These are found in dark oily fish such as salmon, sardines, and mackerel (Atlantic mackerel, King mackerel is higher in contaminants).
- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) – This is found in vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds such as flaxseed oil, walnuts, and chia seeds. It is also found in dairy products of animals fed on grass – in much smaller amounts though. The conversion rate of ALA in our body to EPA and DHA is very limited and for this very reason, vegetarians need to have Omega -3 supplements to close the gap in EPA and DHA deficiency.
When they are consumed through our diet, they are incorporated into the cell membranes of all tissues in our body. They also take part in the production of hormones that regulate blood clotting and are anti-inflammatory. They have been shown to help prevent cardiovascular diseases, help control skin inflammation, and reduce acne breakouts (1).
Clinical study results have shown that omega-3 supplementation may contribute to the improvement of general skin conditions.
In the UK, NHS recommends two portions of oily fish consumption per week. Pregnant women, women who are trying to get pregnant, lactating women, and children under the age of 16 should avoid consuming marlin, swordfish, and shark as they are high in marine contaminants.
It is best to get your fish oil from your food as you will also be intaking a wealth of vitamins and minerals as well as EPA and DHA. For recipe ideas check out my delicious and vibrant Beetroot Marinated salmon.
If you don’t eat fish or other seafood, supplements may be beneficial to you. Vegans and vegetarians can supplement their EPA and DHA deficiency through Algae oil (ALGAL EPA & DHA) supplements.
If you are pregnant or planning to get pregnant you should avoid supplements containing Vitamin A or retinol and always consult with your doctor before taking any supplements.
People who are on anticoagulant/ blood-thinning medication such as warfarin and aspirin should avoid taking Omega oil supplements and always consult with their doctor.
FROM FISH OR KRILL?
Fish oil is derived from oily fish and krill oil is derived from a shrimp-like small crustacean called Antarctic krill. Whilst both contain similar amounts of EPA and DHA, the structure of the Omega-3 fatty acids in Krill oil is in phospholipids form- different from the ones in fish oil which is in triglycerides form. Some studies show that the difference in the structure increases the absorption rate of fatty acids in krill oil, however, there are not enough research studies to conclusively support this.
In addition, Krill oil is a rich source of a super antioxidant called astaxanthin which is not present in fish oil. Since fish oil is more widely available, it is more affordable than krill oil.
REMEMBER! Supplements should not be used as a substitute for a varied and balanced diet and healthy lifestyle.
What factors should you consider when you choose your supplements?
- Purity: is the supplement purified to eliminate the potential contaminants?
- Stability: Is it stabilised so that it does not go rancid?
- Format: Liquid supplements are easy to swallow whilst it may have some fishy smell. Capsules may be preferred by those who are averse to fishy smell.
- Flavour: If flavoured, is it natural or artificial?
- Allergens: Always check the label for allergen information.
- If pregnant: check the label that it is free from Vitamin A or retinol and is safe for pregnancy.
- ALWAYS READ THE LABEL AND CONSULT WITH YOUR DOCTOR IF YOU ARE UNDER MEDICAL SUPERVISION BEFORE TAKING SUPPLEMENTS.