Omega 3 is a polyunsaturated fatty acid found primarily in fish, nuts and vegetable oils. The most common recommendation for adults is to eat at least 900 milligrams of it per day. Children need around half of this amount.
There are three types of omega 3: DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), and ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). Even though the emphasis is usually on the former two, in actual fact, you require all three. ALA contributes to the maintenance of normal blood cholesterol levels, after all, a benefit on which you do not want to miss out. According to Harvard University School of Public Health, at the moment it is not truly known if the ALA omega 3 type has substantial health benefits on its own, or whether the conversion that it undergoes to become EPA and DHA is where the majority of the benefits derive.
What is conclusive though is that everyone needs omega 3 in their diets to survive and be healthy. It's just that people with specific problems may benefit from a bit more of it than usual.
Who Needs Extra Omega 3?
Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should take some additional omega 3, as it helps with the normal brain and eye development of the foetus and infant. At least 200 milligrams of DHA over and above the normal amount is advised. Moreover, while there may not yet be a scientific consensus, it does seem that low levels of omega 3 in early pregnancy may increase the risk of a preterm delivery, which is unnecessarily risky for the baby.
According to a 2016 Danish study of 695 pregnant women, omega 3s from fish oils could also reduce the risk of asthma or persistent wheezing in offspring.
Vegans Who Are Pregnant
Followers of a vegan diet need to ensure that they consume sufficient omega 3 too. This is not difficult, but may require some planning. Nuts, seeds and vegetable oils contain primarily ALA, which the body must then convert to DHA and EPA. According to some experts, this conversion is inhibited by a high dietary intake of omega 6, which also happens to be abundant in some nuts, seeds and vegetable oils. In other words, vegans who eat plenty of nuts and seeds may eat more omega 6 than omega 3, and for that reason cannot benefit from the omega 3 that they do eat.
Consume More Omega 3 Than Omega 6
They must then ensure that their intake of omega 3 is higher – even twice as high – as their intake of omega 6. Soy, safflower, sunflower, sesame and mixed vegetable oils are high in omega 6. Soy, olive oil, avocado oil, mustard oil, flaxseed, peanut, walnut, canola, chia seeds, hemp seeds and sea vegetables are high in omega 3. Since the soy cancels out its own omega 3, you must consume some of these other sources too. Green vegetables and winter squash also contain more omega 3 than omega 6. If you don't have time to prepare delicious green vegetables, you could try one of our nutrient-rich Green Food Supplements. In some cases, a single scoop supplies nutrition equivalent to four or five servings of fruits and vegetables.
Pregnant Vegans Should Choose Fish-Based Omega 3 Supplements
If you are a pregnant vegan, be sure to supplement with an algae-based omega 3 supplement to ensure you get enough DHA for the baby to develop correctly. Even if too much omega 6 in the diet is to blame for ALA not converting to DHA and EPA correctly, according to Dr. Chris Kresser this conversion is completely limited and so supplementing with an omega 3 fish-based supplement during pregnancy would be better for those who adhere to a vegan lifestyle.
ALA Omega 3 Useful for Healthy Blood Cholesterol
ALA contributes to the maintenance of normal blood cholesterol levels and is thus useful for people who worry about their cholesterol. That is why so many studies show that Inuit Eskimos, with their high intake of fish, and Mediterraneans with their high intake of polyunsaturated fat, have some of the healthiest cholesterol levels in the world.
It is important to remember, however, that consuming plenty of omega 3 will not prevent high cholesterol if your current diet is unhealthy. That means that you must abandon the unhealthy food before you step up the omega 3. If you are currently taking physician-prescribed statins, continue to take them together with omega 3 and do be sure to tell your doctor you are doing so, as your dose of statins may need to be reduced over time.
Omega 3 Gives a Boost to Heart Health
DHA and EPA contribute to the normal functioning of the heart, and those with low levels are at higher risk of coronary heart disease and heart failure. The same conditions hold as those pertaining to cholesterol. Omega 3 is no magic bullet that can cancel out the excesses of an unhealthy diet high in saturated fat and hydrogenated oil. Still, if you have a family history of heart disease, or if you used to eat a heart-unhealthy diet, omega 3 may be beneficial.
Omega 3 May Help Improve Age-Related Memory Decline
Many studies on animals show that omega 3 is protective against age-related cognitive decline. The results on human beings are mixed, with some researchers being more positive than others about the role of omega 3 in slowing the deterioration of memory, concentration and thinking. They do agree, however, that omega 3 cannot worsen cognitive decline, so you cannot go wrong if you take it for this reason. If you are heading towards your senior years, give it a try.
Omega 3 Can Improve Concentration
The same holds for concentration difficulties that are not age-related. Researchers have discovered that children with ADHD have lower levels of omega 3 fatty acids in their blood than non-ADHD children. While kids who take omega 3 supplements report that their ADHD symptoms improve, studies with strict controls have been less conclusive. Still, if you experience serious problems with focus and concentration, you cannot exactly wait until all scientists concur before you tackle it. You may enjoy the same benefits as the ADHD kids describe by consuming more omega 3.
Omega 3 May Lift Your Mood
If you are struggling through a period of low mood or depression, omega 3 fatty acids may be beneficial, especially if you are looking for natural options that lack the debilitating side effects of synthetic antidepressants. The research is mixed, with some studies concluding that omega 3 works while others are less positive. This may be due to the fact that depression seems to have a wide variety of physical causes and symptoms that are difficult to separate in systematic studies. Still, these's enough evidence for us to feel confident in saying that omega 3 represents a compelling natural option for periods during when you feel low.
Omega 3 May Offer Relief From Joint Stiffness
Some studies show an improvement in morning stiffness, pain and joint flexibility in people with both rheumatoid and osteoarthritis, especially for those who take extra omega 3 together with an anti-inflammatory. Remember that the damage of the arthritis continues; it is only the symptoms that omega 3 may relieve. This may make it a useful option not only for people with arthritis, but also for those periods after strenuous exercise when your joints feel tender.
Omega 3 Could Help PMS
Women who suffer from dysmenorrhoea, or painful menstruation, have been found to be low on omega 3 fatty acids, and some of them enjoy relief if they increase their intake of it. It will not help if you increase your omega 3 intake only around that time of the month, however, so if this is a problem with which you struggle, you may benefit most from using a regular supplement.
Eat More Omega 3
If any of the aforementioned scenarios apply to you, you can try stepping up your omega 3 fatty acids consumption to see whether it helps. You can do this by eating more oily fish like salmon or mackerel, or vegan sources like walnuts and flaxseed. A good supplement can also be taken to ensure that you obtain the appropriate balance of DHA, EPA and ALA, which is especially vital if you are pregnant.
If you are lacking in omega 3, try our Fish Oil Supplements, in particular UnoCardio 1000 and Quattro Cardio, which will greatly boost your intake of omega 3. If you're interested in learning more about the benefits of fish oils, you can read an in-depth article on the topic here.