I’m Back…with the benefits of Omega-3’s

  • I’m back to blogging after a long hiatus. Since the last time I posted I completed my Masters of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics. I’m currently studying for the registration exam for Registered Dietitians (in addition to packing to move and finalizing wedding plans!).

    At graduation with my fiance, Matt

    I hope to do my best to post weekly (no guarantees), and decided to start with a topic I’ve been reading a lot about lately…omega-3’s.

    While I am weary of many supplement trends, especially those touted by Dr. Oz, there is one that I definitely support. That is omega-3 fish oil supplements. I know a lot of people cringe when they think “eww I have to take fish oil?!” and I was the same way, but there are so many benefits and you CAN easily avoid the “fish burp”. While working with Renee I have heard a lot of success stories of improved health in heart health, skin and joints. I recently started taking a fish oil supplement myself and have already seen improvements.

    What are omega-3’s?

    Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids, meaning we need them for our bodies to function properly and because essential they are not made in the body we need to get them from our diet.

    There are many types of omega-3 fatty acids, but the two important ones backed by extensive research are EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). EPA reduces inflammation, improves cardiovascular health, and is beneficial for autoimmune and inflammatory disorders. DHA is essential for proper brain, nerve, and eye cell function, and benefits cognition, fetal and infant development, pregnancy and depression.

    Why do you need to supplement?

    The key to good health is a balance of healthy fats. There should be a balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fats. The average American diet is only 20% fats from omega-3’s. It is recommended to eat fish (particularly fatty fish) at least 2 times a week to help achieve this balance. Fish high in omega-3 include anchovies, bluefish, herring, mackerel, salmon (wild has more omega-3s than farmed), sardines, sturgeon, lake trout, and tuna. Since many people are not meeting this recommendation (myself included) a fish oil supplement is beneficial.

    Symptoms of omega-3 deficiency include:
    • Fatigue
    • Poor memory
    • Dry skin
    • Heart problems
    • Mood swings/depression
    • Poor circulation

    Why fish oil vs flax or algae oil?

    Fish is the best, most efficient source of EPA and DHA. Flax contains another omega-3 fatty acid called ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). Our bodies can concert ALA to EPA and DHA, but do not do so efficiently, converting only 15% to EPA and minimal to DHA. Algae oil often provides only DHA.

    When choosing a fish oil supplement the most important thing to do is to not assume the milligrams of fish oil equal the milligrams of omega-3. A 1000mg fish oil soft gel refers only to the size of the pill, not the levels of EPA and DHA. For best quality you want to look for “pharmaceutical grade”. Look for the omega-3 content, found on the back label. You want to look specifically at the milligrams of EPA and DHA, the total of those two numbers is the amount of omega-3. A good quality fish oil supplement will be at least 75-80% omega-3 (most retail brands are only 30% omega-3).

    Buying a high quality omega-3 will also help you avoid the “fish burp”. Additionally, keeping your capsules in the freezer and taking them at night (before bed) can help eliminate fish burp. If you are taking a liquid supplement, it should always be refrigerated.

    Why take a omega-3 supplement? It’s more of a question why not?!…Here are just a few of specific problems omega-3 supplementation can help with:
    Heart Disease

    Omega-3’s can improve cardiovascular function and reduce the incidence of heart disease and heart attacks. They can decrease the risk of irregular heart beat and high blood pressure, and improve blood vessel function. Omega-3’s reduce cholesterol, decrease triglycerides, increase HDL and slow the development of plaque.

    Mental Illness
    Omega-3’s are highly concentrated in the brain and nervous system and support the transmission of brain signals, as well as provide building blocks for healthy tissue. They support brain function, mood and memory. EPA and DHA deficiency has been correlated with emotional, mental, and psychiatric disorders such as depression, anxiety, attention and learning disorders, Alzheimer’s and dementia. Omega-3 fish oil protects nerve and brain cells from oxidative damage and slows the progression of age-related memory loss.

    Skin Problems
    EPA is in cell membranes and transports nutrients into and waste out of the cell, regulates inflammation, retains moisture, promotes cell turnover, and distributes melanin evenly. Omega-3’s protect again photo-aging and wrinkles by preventing free radical and oxidative damage.
    Omega-3’s have been shown to improve eczema and psoriasis as well as improve and prevent acne. I myself have had keratosis pilaris (dry skin on the arms, thighs and stomach that kind of look like goose bumps) for as long as I remember and since I began taking fish oil supplements regularly I have noticed a definite improvement in the redness and roughness of my skin.

    Both rheumatoid and osteoarthritis suffers can benefit from omega-3’s. Omega-3’s naturally reduce inflammation, pain, stiffness, and swelling while improving joint mobility and flexibility.

    Omega-3’s promote healthy vision, tissue moisture, and tear production. DHA is particularly important for the eyes, and attains its highest concentration within eye tissue, where it accounts for approximately 30% of the total fatty acids

    General Immunity & Improved fitness
    Omega-3’s promote healthy immune response. When an injury, allergy, infection, or illness triggers an immune system response fatty acids are released from the cell membranes. These fatty acids are converted into molecules as part of the body’s natural healing response.
    Additionally, omega-3’s support lung function and promote blood flow and oxygen delivery by enhancing blood vessel function. They also enhance recovery from physical stress.

    Pregnancy/Fetal Development
    DHA comprises ~20% of the fatty acids in the brains cerebral cortex and supports healthy development of the fetal brain, eyes, and nervous system. Omega-3 deficiency increases the risk for vision and nerve problems. DHA also supports mood and nerves for new moms in the difficult weeks following her baby’s birth.

    Now that I have you convinced an omega-3 supplement can do no harm…how much should you take?
    You should consult your dietitian for recommendations based on your medical history and needs, but there are some general recommendations:

    Image and Information on Omega’s from http://www.nordicnaturals.com/en/About_Us/Why_Omega-3s/601