Omega -3 fatty acids have now been on the market for several years in supermarkets, pharmacies and speciality stores. Also known as fish oil, this product is sold as a supplement for the improvement of physical and mental health and well-being, as it is believed that the particular fat from which it is extracted can counteract cardiovascular problems, development of cancer cells and more generally some inflammatory reactions of the organism. The multiple beneficial effects commonly attributed to omega-3s could be perplexing and raise some questions.
Is it a panacea? Are the effects real? Would it be better to integrate omega-3 oil into our diet, and what effects can we expect? To answer this type of question, but above all to explain the usefulness of these supplements and the differences between the various offers on the market, we have drawn up this buying guide, particularly suitable for those who are not familiar with acronyms such as DHA, EPA or do not know the functions of so-called polyunsaturated fats. Here you will find everything you need to know about omega-3-based supplements: if you are looking for information on other supplements useful for the overall improvement of psychophysical well-being, we recommend that you also consult our guides dedicated to branched-chain amino acids, arginine.
What Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids, And What Are They Used For?
Omega-3 fatty acids, also called ω-3 or n-3 fatty acids, are polyunsaturated fatty acids (abbreviated with the English acronym PUFAs, polyunsaturated fatty acids ) which have the first double bond with the third carbon atom in the part end of its molecule, hence the name omega (for the terminal portion of the molecule) and 3 (for the position of the double bond). Although these fats are essential for our body, the body cannot produce them independently and must assimilate them through the diet. Here are some of the ” essential functions ” performed by these fatty acids:
- They allow the correct development of the brain and visual abilities in children;
- They contribute to the thinning of the blood and, therefore, to better vascular circulation;
- They can reduce the risk of heart attack ;
- They can regulate heart rate, thereby reducing arrhythmia problems;
- They help lower blood pressure thanks to their vasodilatory function;
- They can relieve inflammation in the body, such as joint rheumatism or atopic dermatitis.
In addition, omega-3 fatty acids are associated with certain functions of the psyche and are sometimes used to combat diseases such as depression, pathological aggression and hyperactivity. In some cases, omega-3s are believed to effectively counter the development of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s syndrome.
In Which Cases Is It Recommended To Take Omega-3s?
Let’s briefly summarize the cases in which it might be useful to take an omega-3 supplement: remember that these are generic indications and that before using a supplement, it is important to ask your doctor for advice. We also remember that taking omega-3 does not necessarily mean using a supplement; changing your eating habits by integrating foods rich in these essential fats is also very useful and is certainly the first step to take if you find this deficiency. Omega-3s are recommended:
- In pregnancy ;
- In old age ;
- When suffering from metabolic pathologies ;
- When you suffer from chronic inflammatory diseases;
- When following an improper diet ;
- To increase the protection of blood vessels against risk factors.
The Main Types Of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Different types of omega-3 fatty acids are present in both the plant and animal world. The omega-3s useful to humans are those of marine origin, those with a long chain, i.e. eicosapentaenoic acid (abbreviated with the initials EPA ) and docosahexaenoic acid (whose initials are DHA ). These two acids are produced independently by some algae (especially red algae ) and plankton, i.e. those essential elements at the base of the food chain of most marine fauna, small and large fish and crustaceans.
And it is from these algae and fish fat that omega-3s are extracted. Another fatty acid of the omega-3 series isα-linolenic acid ( ALA ), which is contained in very few foods of plant origin, such as flax seeds, walnuts and hemp from which the oil is extracted, in which there is a higher concentration of omega-3 fatty acids. Unlike EPA and DHA, ALA fatty acids are less effective as they must be converted into EPA and DHA to be exploited by our body. . This conversion is carried out directly by the human body. Still, in this process, only between 5 and 10% of the fatty acid ALA is used, while the remainder is lost.
Below You Will Find An Analytical Table In Which The Main Differences Between These Acids Are Presented: The Omega-3s in Our Diet
It is not strictly necessary to purchase supplements to ensure access to omega-3s in your diet. Omega-3 fatty acids are present in various fresh foods, and in this sense, it will be necessary to ensure that you establish a varied and fish-rich diet. In the following table, we list the fish that contain omega-3 fatty acids (both EPA and DHA) and in what concentration this nutrient can be found per 100 grams. Naturally, these data are purely indicative and may vary according to the type of fish conservation or the meat’s freshness.
If You are following a vegetarian or vegan diet, you will not be forced to give up omega-3 fats because you can use flaxseed oil to maintain a balanced intake of omega-3 in the diet, even in the absence of fish. Flaxseed oil is preferable to ground flax seeds since the oil guarantees a much higher intake of omega-3 ALA fatty acids than seeds.
However, flaxseed oil has a rather fragile structure and can deteriorate even if exposed to sunlight or direct heat sources; for this reason, it is necessary to use this raw oil in order not to alter its nutritional values, using it, for example, as a condiment for dishes. Other plant sources of alpha-linoleic acid are walnuts, oat sprouts, hazelnuts, almonds, some green leafy vegetables (for example, spinach, broccoli, lettuce and green cabbage), some legumes (for example, beans, peas, lentils, chickpeas, soy and its derivatives) and some algae.Omega-3 supplements
We now come to omega-3 supplements, which, as we said at the beginning of this guide, are increasingly purchased and present on the shelves of supermarkets and pharmacies. Before analyzing the various types of supplements and their differences, it is appropriate to make some premises to more easily distinguish the various types of products on the market and understand which are the most suitable for our needs. Before purchasing an omega-3 fatty acid supplement, we should always consult a specialized doctor or a dietician to determine if it is appropriate to include these food supplements in our diet.
For example, suppose we are taking drugs to treat deep vein thrombosis, for prophylaxis related to reinfarction or in any case to other problems of the cardiovascular system. In that case, we should avoid taking omega-3 supplements. Drugs related to cardiovascular dysfunctions, particularly those against thrombosis, usually have a thinning effect to avoid blood thrombus formation.
In this case, taking omega-3 values (EDA and DHA) higher than 3 g per day could intensify the effect of the drugs and give rise to other disorders. The above should clarify the importance of a specialist visit before inserting an omega-3 supplement into our diet. What omega-3s do the supplements contain? We can distinguish two macro classes of omega-3 supplements derived from fish oil and krill oil. But let’s see in detail the main differences between these two types of oil.
The fish oil used to make the omega-3 supplements is extracted from small fish such as sardines and anchovies, fish at the base of the food chain that is caught in huge quantities yearly. Intensive fishing of these species is motivated by their use in various productive-industrial fields: these are used as feed for other fish or in the food industry for the creation of low-cost fish products. The distillation of the oil is a rather complex process, but wanting to summarize, we can say that the first step consists of the separation of the proteins of these fish from their oil, while all the remaining parts (bones, entrails, etc.) are reused as feed for other fish.
Krill oil, on the other hand, is obtained from krill shrimps, precisely, that is, tiny crustaceans that inhabit the seas all over the world and are found with a greater concentration in the icy seas of the Antarctic. From the point of view of biological balance, these small shrimps play a key role and are very important organisms because they make up the so-called zooplankton, the staple food of blue fish and large fish and marine mammals, such as sharks: whales and cetaceans. The dimensions of the krill do not exceed 6 centimeters in length for a weight that does not exceed 2 grams.
In general, the producers of omega-3 supplements specify that krill oil is qualitatively superior to fish since the former contains 40% polyphosphates and the remaining 60% is composed of triglycerides and other fatty acids. Free. Furthermore, krill oil has a higher degree of digestibility than most fish oils and has significantly higher assimilability levels than the average fish oils. However, we must not think fish oil is generally of lower quality than krill. On the contrary, high-quality fish oils can offer very high nutritional values combined with an astonishing amount of omega-3 fatty acids.
Other Frequent Ingredients In Omega-3 Supplements: Vitamin E
As an antioxidant, vitamin E ( tocopherol ) performs a very important function linked to omega-3 fatty acids and their action in the body. Furthermore, its concentration determines the quantity of omega-3 (EPA and DHA) taken daily. The reasons for the importance of vitamin E at this juncture are dictated by the very nature of omega-3 fatty acids. These are naturally oxidizable inside the human organism; they react in contact with the oxygen present in the blood plasma or cell membrane, altering and losing their beneficial characteristics. To counteract this risk, taking a part of vitamin E and supplements of omega-3 fatty acids is absolutely advisable. Fortunately, most of the supplements on the market already contain a percentage of vitamin E to avoid the risk of oxidation of omega-3 fats.
Format Of Omega-3 Supplements
Like most food supplements, omega-3 fatty acid supplements are available in various formulas. The most used formula is that of the soft capsule, also called soft gel capsule, but there are also some omega-3 supplements in tablets: let’s see the difference.
In the case of oils containing omega-3s, capsules are the most common choice among companies in the sector and the most practical for the consumer. These capsules have an outer gelatin membrane that protects the oil inside, preventing it from being altered or dispersed and ensuring it reaches the digestive system intact. Inside the capsule, you can commonly find fish oil or krill oil, but some vegan or vegetarian variants use algae oil or olive or flaxseed oil. In this regard, supplements based on algae oil are preferable since these are distinguished by a very high intake of EPA and DHA acids, able to satisfy the daily omega-3 requirement of an adult with a few tablets. In contrast, vegetarian and vegan flaxseed oil supplements have relatively low omega-3 levels, making it necessary to take several daily tablets to satisfy the physiological need for omega-3 fatty acids.
The tablets, unlike the capsules, are made with “compressed” omega-3s; in practical terms, the oils are transformed by heat into powder, which is then “pressed” to create the pills we all know. This mechanism of making tablets makes them much less used than capsules since, in this transformation process, some more volatile molecules may degrade or disperse, thus making the supplement less effective. There are also more excipients in the tablet insert or substances that keep the tablet of the desired shape and compactness. The excipients are not bad, but if we compare an omega-3 soft gel capsule with a tablet, it is easy to understand that in the first case, we have a greater “purity” of omega-3.
Frequently Asked Questions About Omega-3 Supplements
Do Omega-3s Make You Lose Weight?
There is no direct correlation between weight loss and omega-3s, but an omega-3 supplement can still promote weight loss if combined with other interventions. In general, the effect of omega-3s is to defend against diabetes, counteract the absorption of triglycerides and activate the sense of satiety, all things that help reduce the fat mass percentage. However, it is necessary to remember that taking omega-3s not accompanied by a low-calorie diet and regular physical activity does not bring direct benefits to weight, although it can improve overall physical well-being.
Are Omega-3s Suitable For Training?
Yes, omega-3s also support those who play sports and train regularly, even at intensive levels. Omega-3s allow you to fight muscle fatigue, reducing the feeling of fatigue and improving the reactivity for recovery times. This means that taking these supplements will improve your sports performance since resistance to efforts will be progressively higher and recovery faster; moreover, those who take omega-3 regularly are less prone to muscle inflammation.
Can Omega-3s Be Taken During Pregnancy?
Yes, omega-3s are particularly recommended during pregnancy. There is a lot of research stating that omega-3 uptake is particularly important in the second and third trimesters to allow for the ideal neuronal development of the fetus. The omega-3s in pregnancy also helps to have an optimal course, reduce the risk of premature births, help correct retinal development, and improve the baby’s cognitive abilities. Despite all these positive aspects, asking your gynecologist or doctor is still necessary before taking an omega-3 supplement. In the presence of conditions or pathologies, omega-3 supplementation may not be suitable.
Can You Give Omega-3s To Cats or Dogs?
Many vets recommend supplementing your four-legged friend’s diet with omega-3 supplements for animals. The benefits of omega-3s on dogs and cats are diverse: they reduce inflammatory skin and coat disorders, reduce the incidence of heart disease and cardiovascular disorders, and help prevent kidney disorders, osteoarthritis and joint disorders. They are also useful in improving the cognitive functions of older dogs and cats and supporting the proper neurological development of puppies. There are omega-3 supplements specifically designed for cats or dogs, with different dosages and formulations than supplements for humans. Before starting an omega-3 treatment, we recommend you ask your trusted veterinarian which product is more suitable and what the required dosage is.