Just like for my previous article on Vitamin D3 supplementation, I took quite some time to write this post. I wanted to make sure that everything you read in the following is well-researched. Again, I am not a doctor or studied (certified) nutritionist. Though, I took various nutrition trainings to feel comfortable in raising a voice and sharing my opinion but I will always and forever leave the final word including dosage recommendations to doctors and pharmacists who deal with omega-3 supplementation on a daily basis.
But let's get started - the post is structured as follows:
1. What are Omega-3 Fatty Acids and the difference between plant & maritime Omega-3
2. The Difference Between Omega-3 & Omega-6
3. Health benefits of an optimal Omega-3 Supply
4. Omega-3 deficiency & its consequences
5. Daily Omega-3 demand & optimal Omega-3 supply
6. Tips on how to naturally integrate Omega-3 into your diet (Omega-3 & Omega-6 Rich Foods )
7. If I choose to supplement Omega-3, what should I pay attention to?
8. The Best Recipes For Omega-3 Supplementation
Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated "good fats" that are essential for the correct functioning of our bodies and play a major role in the maintenance of our immune system. They form a part of all the cell membranes, being crucial for the retina of the eye, the brain, and our nervous system. Unlike saturated fatty acids, our body cannot produce Omega-3 fatty acids without any "fuel". Therefore, we must supply omega-3 fatty acids from external sources - i.e. via food.
There are many types of omega-3 fatty acids. The most important ones are
- ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) - found in plant foods
- EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) - found in animal (marine) foods and algae
- DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) - found in animal (marine) foods and algae
DHA and EPA are omega-3 fatty acids which naturally occur in fatty fish and seafood. In contrast, ALA are omega-3 fat compounds which can exclusively be found in plant foods and are therefore particularly relevant for vegans.
Just like Omega-3 Fatty Acids, Omega-6 Fatty Acids are healthy unsaturated fats vital for our survival. We count 4 main forms of Omega-6 Fatty Acids
- LA (Linoleic acid)
- ARA (Arachidonic acid)
- GLA (Gamma linoleic)
- CLA (Conjugated linoleic acid)
Omega-6 Fatty acids naturally occur in the same "fat-rich foods" as Omega-3 fatty acids do. Though, the challenge or "problem" with Omega-6 fatty acids is its high doses in our diet. Going back evolution, experts estimate the human intake ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 at 1:1. Nowadays however, the average intake has shifted to a 20:1 ration of omega-6 fatty acids to omega-3 fatty acids in the "standard Western diet".
While omega-3 fatty acids help to reduce inflammation processes in our body, omega-6 fatty acids can promote the development of inflammation and eventually promote disease if the ratio is out of balance. Doctors therefore recommend a balanced ratio of < 5:1 omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids.
Clinical studies have found many benefits of Omega-3 intake:
Scientific research has suggested that Omega-3 consumption could protect our thinking abilities. Harvard Health Publishing has spoken about this in its website, citing a study in which it was observed that older adults who consumed fatty fish or seafood two or more days a week had performed better in thinking skill tests. More surprisingly, people carrying a gene that codifies for a higher propensity to Alzheimer’s disease, apparently have shown to be highly benefitted by a diet consisting of many Omega-3 rich foods.
A study on the Neurological benefits of omega-3 fatty acids published by S.C. Dyall and A.T. Michael-Titus in 2008, states that the nervous system is filled with omega-3 fatty acids, which influence cellular function. They say as well that there is evidence that increased consumption of omega-3 from the EPA and DHA (marine source) kind can give benefits to many psychiatric and neurological conditions, mainly neurodegenerative ones. It seems to be that this essential nutrient can also have properties that protect the neurons in the case of an injury in the nervous system.
Omega-3 also seems to have mood enhancement effects. According to the results of more than 30 clinical trials, it could help people struggling with depression. On patients that were taking prescribed antidepressants with little or no mood-enhancing benefits at all, Omega-3 dietary supplements proved to be effective as a combined treatment for this mood disorder.
Disease Prevention & Relief Of Symptoms
Studies show that Omega-3 supplements can have positive effects in people with insulin resistance because Omega-3 fatty acids can lower the levels of blood triglycerides and inflammatory markers, two things that are usually elevated in patients suffering from this illness. Lowering triglycerides can be extremely good for people with cardiovascular disease as well, and doctors often recommend them to consume seafood, rich in EPA and DHA.
Besides, there is contradictory research about Omega-3 preventing some types of cancer. While some studies say that it may lower the chances of having breast and colorectal cancer, some others say that the clinical trials searching for the positive effect of Omega-3 in cancer prevention had not found conclusive results. More research needs to be done on the subject.
Omega-3 seems to be good for the brain as well. Supposedly, people who consume foods high in Omega-3 are less prone to develop neurological diseases such as dementia, Alzheimer's and present better cognitive function than people who suffer from illnesses affecting that aspect of the brain.
It is a known fact that eyesight degenerates with age. There is an illness that affects older people called AMD (age-related macular degeneration) in which the macula of the eye, a region rich in fatty acids, degenerates and this has detrimental effects on the retina. Patients affected by this condition experiment loss of vision. It has no cure as of today, so it can only be prevented. Research has shown that omega-3 consumption could help with the prevention of the disease, although once contracted, omega-3 fatty acids can’t improve the symptoms.
An eye illness that may be helped by Omega- 3 is Dry Eye disease. The EPA and DHA found in some omega-3 rich foods are thought to help to relieve the symptoms experienced by people with the condition, such as eye discomfort and vision problems. However, this is yet to be confirmed, because studies on the subject had not given conclusive results.
Further studies suggest that omega-3 can help people with Rheumatoid Arthritis, a condition that causes chronic pain, swelling, and stiffness of the joints. It has been observed that when combined with the usual medications for this illness, the patients need less pain relief medication.
Lastly, it has been said that Omega-3 can help with the symptoms of ADHD, childhood allergies, and even cystic fibrosis. Hypothetically it could be true, but extensive research on the subject needs to be done yet.
The study of Omega-3 and its effects on the body is still relatively recent and for that reason, it is hard to find studies on the effects of Omega 3 deficiency. However, knowing how Omega-3 works in the organism, we can make some assumptions on what could happen if its concentrations in our body are below the recommended range.
One of the functions of Omega-3 is forming part of the skin barriers, giving them integrity when it is present. If a person had an Omega-3 deficiency, it would probably be shown by their skin over time. An absence of this nutrient can cause dryness and sensitivity in this area of the body.
As we’ve seen earlier, Omega-3 also has mood-enhancing benefits. Studies on depression had observed that depressed people often have low concentrations of this nutrient. A lack of Omega-3 could certainly be detrimental to our mental health.
It is also thought that because Omega-3 fatty acids can have pain relieving benefits in patients with rheumatoid arthritis and also have been proven to reduce inflammation, a lack of the nutrient can be a risk factor for joint inflammation and pain.
As mentioned above, it's not only about how much Omega-3 we take but also about how much Omega-6 is absorbed by our body through various foods. Just like with so many things in life, balance is key! As mentioned earlier, doctors recommend a ratio smaller than 5:1 between omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. Translated into per day intake recommendation, experts recommend an intake of 250-500mg Omega-3 fatty acids, plus 0,5% ALA and 2,5% LA of the daily total calorie intake for people above 10 years.
Find more details in the chart above.
Of course, rule number one when it comes to keeping omega-3 to omega-6 levels in balance is watching the daily diet. The more saturated (unhealthy fats) are included in the diet, the higher the risk for an inadequate omega-3 supply. Besides, vegetarians and vegans who choose to stay away from animal produce (especially fish in this case), run a high risk of being omega-3 deficient.
But this doesn't mean that we must supplement omega-3. People, who pay very close attention to their daily diet - even vegetarians and vegans - may be able keep their omega-3 to omega-6 ratio naturally in check. The chart above illustrates the plant foods that contain natural high amounts of omega-3 and omega-6.
As you can see, especially flax and chia seeds with an amazing omega-3 to omega-6 ration of 4:1 and 3:1 should be a staple food in anyones diet. Other foods high in omega-3 fatty acid (aside from fish of course) include Sacha Incha seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, olives as well as soy beans, peanuts, sesame and almonds. Though their omega-3 to omega-6 ratio worsens in chronological order.
If you choose to support your health with natural omega-3 sources, always make sure to eat them alongside with a second fat source as adding another source of fat increases the omega-3 absorption rate tenfold.
First and foremost, consult with your doctor before you choose to supplement Omega-3 and ask for his opinion on how much he would recommend for you. We are all unique and have different physics, different lifestyles, eating habits and mental states which all influence the way we synthesize Omega-3 naturally. Hence, always ask for advice first.
Then, step number two is to choose a high-quality product. My personal advice (and I am not sponsored by them. They were only so kind to provide me with the shooting material) is Norsan - a German provider for high quality Omega-3 supplements containing EPA, DHA and Vitamin D3 altogether. I personally tested and can recommend their Omega-3 Total Fish Oil (200ml) and as a Vegan alternative their Omega-3 Vegan (100ml). 1 Tbsp Omega-3 Total contains 700 mg EPA and 1060 mg DHA plus 92 mg DPA - a total of around 2000 mg Omega-3 per day they promote. For their vegan alternative they recommend 1 Tsp instead of a Tbsp.
My personal doses: I don't take Omega-3 oil every day. Instead, I usually have it in my fridge and add it to salad dressings, smoothies and overnight oat bowls whenever I like. I don't believe in strict rules. Instead eating should be fun, healthy, delicious and leave from for creative and spontaneous choices! :)
Basically everything cold is a great choice for Omega-3 supplement recipes as Omega-3 fatty acids aren't heat stable. I personally love to mix them into smoothies, juices, breakfast bowls, dips and salad dressings. One of my favorites are juices though as they are loaded with nutrients, super refreshing and an easy and simple way "handle" the supplement intake. For my go-to smoothie, I run 4 carrots, 1 celery, 2 apples through my juicer, add a pinch of turmeric and pepper plus omega-3 oil.
Another wonderful breakfast idea is to make a healthy breakfast spread with added Omega-3 oil (see photos above). Plus for extra beauty, you can top the bread with caramelized "apple roses".
For the delicious Chickpea-Cinnamon spread I used
- 350g chickpeas (either whole and soaked over night or glas jar without additives)
- 1 Tbsp Cinnamon
- 80g Almond Butter
- Pinch of Salt
- 1 Apple (grated and optional. I also love the spread without)
- Dash of ground Vanilla
- 10ml Omega-3 Oil
I mix everything in my food processor. Et voila - the spread is ready.
I hope you enjoyed this little intro into the world of unsaturated Omega-3 & Omega-6 Fatty Acids. Feel free to share this post and comment below and share your personal opinion with us... as sharing is caring and we all benefit from individual learnings each of us had! Plus, if you want to get in touch with me directly, tag me on Instagram, Pinterest, Youtube or Facebook or leave a direct message through my contact form.
Love & Plants, Karo
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2. Akademie für Sport und Gesundheit (2020): Ausbildungsskript Ernährungsberater(in)
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*Note: This blog post has not been sponsored by Norsan. They solely provided me with their products upon request.