GOED Omega3

Omega-3 Basics

What fats—and omega-3s—do for us

Fat is a fundamental component of our body and everyone needs some fat in their diet. The amount and type we need can vary, depending on our age and lifestyle. Some fats are primarily a source of energy (calories), while others like EPA and DHA omega-3s serve distinct and essential functions in the body. For example, fat is part of all cell membranes, skin, vital organs, and both male and female hormones. Fat protects our muscles, bones, and vital organs (e.g., liver, brain); and we need fat in order to absorb and use fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin D. 

What are fatty acids?

Omega-3s, omega-6s, and omega-9s are all fatty acids. Fatty acids are components of the fat molecules that exist in food and in our bodies. Some are essential to the diet and some are not. Both omega-3s and omega-6s are required in human health but cannot be made by the body so we must consume them. They are, therefore, called essential fatty acids. In contrast, omega-9 (found in olive oil) is also a fatty acid but it is not essential because the body can make it. Learn more about the Chemistry of Fats

Why marine oils are a good choice

  • They provide EPA/DHA omega-3s, the essential fatty acids required by humans for optimal health and needed to reduce our risk for debilitating health conditions.
  • EPA/DHA are unique long-chain fatty acids with multiple bonds that make critical contributions to human health.
  • There is no substitute for these fatty acids. 
  • Some marine oils contain more omega-3 than other oils. 
  • Concentrated marine oils are the most efficient way to consume more beneficial EPA/DHA.
  • Most of the research on omega-3s has been completed on omega-3s from marine sources.
  • Marine-sourced omega-3s have been extensively studied around the world. Health benefits from regular consumption through diet or supplements have been clearly documented. 

Where research has shown human health
benefits with EPA & DHA

  • Cardiovascular health
  • Cognitive health 
  • Eye health
  • Healthy inflammation response
  • Joint health
  • Mind and mood health
  • Pre- and post-natal health
  • Sports nutrition

Omega-3 impact on the cardiovascular system

Benefits of fat from marine sources in human health were first published in the 1970s when it was observed that Eskimos, whose traditional diet consisted of substantial amounts of fish, seal, and whale meat, had significantly lower rates of heart disease than cultures with similar intakes of fat from dairy and animal meats. Upon further investigation, the difference in health was shown to be the result of the high intake of EPA and DHA in the traditional Eskimo diet. 

Clinical research in humans then led to the discovery that sufficient intake of EPA and DHA omega-3s can reduce blood triglycerides, improve HDL cholesterol levels, slow the progression of plaque (e.g., clogged arteries), and improve circulation by supporting healthy blood vessels and capillaries, blood viscosity, heart rate, blood pressure, and heart muscle functions. The beneficial role of EPA and DHA in heart health is one of the most studied, and experts agree that EPA and DHA play critical roles in the health and maintenance of the heart. Some of the first intake recommendations for EPA and DHA were established by countries and health organizations in support of heart health. 

Today, cultures that include high amounts of fish in their diet continue to report better heart health, better overall health, and more longevity. 

Omega-3 impact on the brain—brain food

Brain tissue is composed of about 60% fat. DHA is selectively stored in the brain in infants, children and adults. Higher DHA levels have been associated with better cognition in middle-aged adults. Research also indicates that older adults with higher DHA levels have better memory and cognitive function and less cognitive decline. A key element here, however, appears to be prevention. Clinical studies with fish oil supplements in people with mild cognitive decline have demonstrated good effects, while studies in people who have already lost cognition have been disappointing. Second, DHA is a source for the production of compounds that protect brain cells from damage related to inflammation and oxygen deprivation in conjunction with acute brain trauma or injury. 

Omega-3 impact on the eyes

Our eyes have a special need for DHA. DHA is a component of the retina, the part of the eyes that processes visual images so we can see. Infants need enough DHA so their eyes can fully develop, and research suggests that adequate DHA helps maintain better eye health across the lifespan. In fact, low levels of DHA are associated with eye disease, especially as we age. Sufficient intake of DHA is associated with lower risk of deterioration in the macula of the eye. Macular degeneration is the most common cause of vision loss among people age 50 and over, characterized by loss of clear central vision. This form of vision loss has significant impact on quality of life, such as the ability to drive, read, and do many of the details of work and daily life.   

The importance of balance

Our ancestors consumed a balance of omega-6 and omega-3 of about 2:1 in the diet. Today, because of the foods we eat, this balance ranges between 10:1 or 20:1. A balance of 3:1 or 4:1 of omega-6:omega-3 is a good goal to work towards. 

Note: It takes time to increase omega-3 levels throughout the body so getting regular intake of omega-3 is best. Your diet, lifestyle, family history, and health status impact your overall need for omega-3s. Your doctor or dietitian may suggest higher levels of EPA and/or DHA. 

Omega-3 as an anti-inflammator

EPA and DHA are both involved in managing response to tissue injury and inflammation, although EPA appears to be more involved primarily because of its role as an eicosanoid. Clinical research has shown that supplementing with fish oil supports joint health (e.g., flexibility, range of motion, and tissue integrity), aids athlete performance, and improves vascular health and circulation.

In general, omega-3s have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body while omega-6s have a pro-inflammatory effect. Both omega-3s and omega-6s are needed for optimal health but they need to be in balance. Blood and tissue levels in which there are high levels of omega-6 and low levels of omega-3 are now being linked to the risk of chronic and debilitating health conditions such as allergies and immune conditions, mood disorders, joint discomfort, periodontal health, heart and circulatory problems, and obesity. Central to these health conditions is a state of increased and chronic inflammation.

Omega-3 impact on mood

Mental health conditions are rising around the globe. Depression is predicted to soon become a leading cause of work disability. In recent decades, depressed moods and other challenges with mental health have increased as dietary intake of omega-3s has fallen. People who live in cultures that consume more seafood and omega-3s have better moods (these societies also have lower rates of cognitive decline and heart conditions).

Dozens of research studies with omega-3s from fish oil have shown positive impacts on mental health and mood. Specifically, fish oil that is higher in EPA than DHA appears to be the most beneficial. While EPA and DHA are essential nutrients and not drugs, research suggests that they enhance the effectiveness of therapies and are widely reported to improve general mood.

The infant’s need for omega-3s

The developing infant, both in the womb and in early life, needs a considerable amount of long-chain fatty acids, particularly DHA, for proper development of the brain, eyes, and the immune and nervous systems. Health authorities recommend that pregnant and lactating women consume at least 200-300 mg of DHA per day; some recommend a daily intake of 900 mg. (Research has shown safe use of up to 1100 mg DHA omega-3 per day.) Clinical research has reported the benefits of adequate intake during and after pregnancy in both mother and child. For example, women are more likely to carry their babies to full term when they eat fish or consume fish oils. Additional physical and mental benefits for mom have been documented. 

Keeping your body in balance

Before processed foods, many people ate a diet that contained good amounts of both omega-3s and omega-6s. Omega-3s were consumed from fish and seafood, and omega-6s from meats, whole nuts, and seeds. Although omega-6 fats are also essential fatty acids, since industrialized nations gained the ability to refine nuts and seeds into cooking oils, our diets have become disproportionately high in omega-6s, predominantly from corn and soybean oils and meats from grain-fed animals. Since then, the original balance in our food supply has disappeared.

Therefore, for a healthy diet, it’s important to limit consumption of packaged, refined, and convenience foods made with plant oils, to moderate dairy and meat intake, and to increase consumption of EPA and DHA omega-3s. Consuming sufficient EPA and DHA from fish, seafood, and fish oils can improve the balance. 

Recommended intake of omega-3s

Many countries and health organizations around the world recommend consumption of a minimum of 500 mg EPA and DHA per day. The average intake in the United States is around 100 mg per day. 500 mg EPA and DHA per day can be achieved by eating fatty fish, such as salmon or sardines, at least twice a week or by supplementing with fish oils. Experts advise that children follow these same dietary recommendations. A daily intake of at least 1000 mg EPA and DHA is recommended for adults with known heart or mood conditions.   

Today, cultures that include high amounts of fish in their diet continue to report better heart health, better overall health, and more longevity. 

Good sources of EPA & DHA omega-3

  • Salmon
  • Anchovy
  • Sardine
  • Tuna
  • Herring
  • Purified fish oils

Summary

Everyone needs to consume EPA and DHA omega-3s; these fatty acids provide nutrients that are essential to the healthy body. One way is to regularly consume oily fish and seafood from cold waters (e.g., salmon, herring, and sardines). Keep in mind, though, that not all fish are good sources of omega-3s, and some people don’t like fish or can’t get fish. People who travel, people who would benefit from taking higher amounts of EPA and DHA, and those who want a consistent and reliable source of essential nutrients often use supplements. For many people, consuming purified, concentrated fish oil is a convenient, effective, and safe choice.