Omega-3 Supplements, Essential Fatty Acids and Fish Oil Supplements
Omega -3 Essential Fatty Acids are Importan to Vision and Eye Health, Dry Eyes and Cardiovascular Health and Reduce Inflammation Throughout the Body
Benefits and Uses of Omega 3 (Fish Oil) Supplements
Some of the benefits of Omega 3 essential fatty acids are:
- Reduces total cholesterol
- Increase HDL ("good") cholesterol
- Decrease LDL ("bad") cholesterol
- Decrease Triglycerides
- Lower blood pressure
- Prevent or reduce atherosclerosis (plaque in arteries)
- Improves regulation of blood sugar
- Reduce joint pain of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis
- Increases level of calcium and improves bone strength
- Reduces bone loss and osteoporosis
- Reduces feelings of depression, anxiety and hostility
- Reduces menstrual pain symptoms
- Slows or prevents macular degeneration
- Improves symptoms of dry eye syndrome
- Improves memory and learning ability and possibly reduces dementia/Alzheimer's
- Childhood-improves learning, reading, writing, coordination; reduces depression, ADHD and behavioral problems
- Pregnancy and breastfeeding-improves brain development and child's IQ
What are Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids?
Essential fatty acids are long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids. Polyunsaturated fat is one of the four different kinds of fats found in food. The other fats are cholesterol, monounsaturated fat, and saturated fat. Essential fatty acids cannot be synthesized in the body. They must be consumed from diet or supplements.
Essential fatty acids (EFA) have two distinct classes known as Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. Examples of Omega-3 EFA are alphalinolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Omega-6 group includes linoleic acid, gammalinolenic acid and arachidonic acid.
2. Monounsaturated fat
3. Saturated Fat
4. Polyunsaturated fat
Essential Fatty Acids
a. Alphalinolenic acid (ALA)
b. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
c. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
a. Linoleic acid
b. Gammalinolenic acid
c. Arachidonic acid
EPA and DHA are manufactured in the chloroplasts of certain phytoplankton (algae), and then absorbed into the fish as they feed on the phytoplankton. Vertebrate animals cannot produce Omega-3 or Omega-6 because there is no enzyme available that can put a double bond at the 3 or 6 position of the fatty acid molecule.
Understanding Inflammation in the Body
The inflammatory process begins with molecules called eicosanoids. Eicosanoids are further classified into four basic sub-classes: leukotrienes, prostaglandins, prostacyclins and thromboxanes. All of these molecules are produced by oxygenation of the essential fatty acids.
Two enzymes catalyze the EFA's to create the inflammatory molecules above. The enzymes are lipoxygenase which creates the leukotrienes and cycloxygenase which creates the prostaglandins, prostacyclins and thromboxanes.
Omega-6 Essential Fatty Acids are known to cause inflammation. In fact the omega-6 EFA known as arachidonic acid is at the top of the inflammatory cascade reaction. However, the omega-3 EFA eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) reduces the inflammatory effects of the aracidonic acid omega-6. EPA has the most anti-inflammatory potential of the Omega-3 EFAs. EPA's anti-inflammatory properties, along with its inhibition of arachidonic acid conversion into the highly inflammatory eicosanoids produces many health benefits, including reduced rates of heart attack, reduced atherosclerotic plaque and less inflammatory disease such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Important - it is the amounts and the balance of the essential fatty acids that either creates inflammation or reduces inflammation in our bodies and effects blood pressure, arthritis, triglycerides, cardiovascular health and dry eyes.
Corticosteroids and other anti-inflammatory drugs work by decreasing the creation of the inflammatory molecules leukotrienes, prostaglandins, etc.
Food and Supplements to Decrease Inflammation
Because the amount and balance of the EFA's either controls or creates inflammation it is imperative to maintain proper ratios of the inflammatory Omega-6's vs. the anti-inflammatory Omega-3's. Current medical research recommends a 1:1 ratio or no more than a 1:3 ratio in favor of Omega-6.
Typical diets in the U.S. and Canada have ratios closer to 10-20 to 1 in favor of Omega-6. Large amounts of meat and fried foods (corn oil, margarine, canola oil) contribute to a ratio that is way out of balance and leads to inflammation that increases heart disease, dry eyes, etc.
Numerous research studies since 1998 have demonstrated that increasing one's intake of essential fatty acids can reduce dry eye symptoms and decrease inflammation. One issue worth mentioning is the contamination of fresh coldwater fish with poisons such as methyl mercury and pesticides. To overcome this problem supplements can be substituted for fish that are guaranteed by their manufacturers to contain omega-3's from purified, mercury free fish oil.
Flaxseed Oil Cannot Produce the Needed Omega-3's
Omega-3 supplements enable most people to reach the proper ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6. The Omega-3's that provide benefits are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Flaxseed is a rich source of the other omega-3 known as alphalinolenic acid (ALA). Unfortunately, less than 1% of ALA converts to EPA & DHA in humans. Thus, we cannot derive the benefits of Omega-3 EFAs from a plant source, such as flax. Therefore, flaxseed oil supplements will not provide the needed amounts of Omega-3's.
Not All Fish Oil Supplements are Created Equal
The most important elements of fish oil supplements (the main source of Omega-3 supplements) is purity and potency. Selecting an Omega-3 supplement can be confusing. There are many products to choose from with different concentrations, features, quality, and prices. A high quality Omega-3 supplement should have the characteristics listed below.
Purity, quite simply means no toxins, heavy metals (mercury), PCB's, dioxin or pollutants. The best method of achieving purity is deriving the product from natural fish oil from small, short-lived, non-predatory fish in clean waters. Small fish that don't eat other fish (sardines, anchovies, herring) and don't live for very long do not accumulate pollutants or toxins.
The fish oil should then be purified with multiple molecular distillation steps at an FDA-approved pharmaceutical distillation facility. The facility should have GMP ("Good Manufacturing Practices") certification. The fish oil should have multiple distillation steps to provide a highly purified form of fish oil.
Potency is a function of concentration times absorption. Most fish oil products sold commercially are low in Omega-3 concentration (20-30%) and are in a poorly absorbable (20-30%) ethyl ester form. The triglyceride form of fish oil is the form that is found in fish. The triglyceride form is up to 300% more absorbable than the synthetic ethyl ester forms found in most fish oil products. The only thing that counts in fish oil is the concentration of EPA & DHA.
The potency (concentration x absorption) is very low in most fish oil products. The best Omega-3 supplements available commercially have a 60% concentration. That product also has a 90% absorption resulting in a 54% potency (concentration x absorption). Although that product appears to cost more, it is really less than almost all other products because of its potency being so much better than other products that appear to cost less.
Side Effects of Fish Oil Supplements
The U.S. National Institute of Health classifies low doses of fish oil as "Generally Regarded as Safe". However, high doses can have some of the following side effects:
- Fish oils seem to decrease platelet aggregation and therefore can cause reduced blood clotting or increased bleeding. Patients on blood thinners such as Coumadin or Plavix or those that bruise easily should take note and discuss fish oil supplements with their doctors.
- Vitamin E plays a role in metabolizing fish oil so patients may need to add a vitamin E supplement to offset the potential reduction of vitamin E.
- There have been some concerns about fish oil causing some problems with glucose concentration in the blood. However, numerous studies have proven that not to be true.