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Unlocking the Power of Omega-3 Fatty Acids: A Comprehensive Guide

Updated: Apr 1

Understanding Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are a class of polyunsaturated fats that are vital for optimal health. The three primary types of omega-3s include alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). While ALA is found predominantly in plant-based sources such as flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts, EPA and DHA are primarily derived from marine sources like fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines) and algae).

Health Benefits

Research over the past few decades has illuminated the profound health benefits associated with omega-3 fatty acids: Besides helping to reduce inflammation, they can help lower the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer and arthritis.


  • Heart Health: Omega-3s are renowned for their cardioprotective properties. They help lower triglycerides, reduce blood pressure, decrease inflammation, and prevent the formation of blood clots, thus lowering the risk of heart disease and stroke.

  • Brain Function: DHA, in particular, is a crucial component of brain tissue and plays a pivotal role in cognitive function, memory, and mood regulation. Adequate intake of omega-3s has been linked to a reduced risk of age-related cognitive decline and may even alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety.

  • Joint Health: Omega-3 fatty acids possess anti-inflammatory properties that can mitigate joint pain and stiffness associated with conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis

  • Eye Health: DHA is a major structural component of the retina, making omega-3s essential for maintaining optimal vision and reducing the risk of age-related macular degeneration.

  • Pregnancy and Infant Development: Omega-3 fatty acids are critical for fetal brain and eye development during pregnancy. Maternal supplementation has been associated with improved cognitive function in infants and a reduced risk of preterm birth.


Signs and symptoms associated with low essential fatty acids:

  • Dry flaky skin, eczema

  • Dry, lacklustre, brittle hair

  • Small bumps on back of the upper arms

  • Cracking/peeling skin

  • Excessive ear wax

  • Dry mouth/throat

  • Dry eyes

  • Menstrual cramps

  • Vaginal dryness

  • Premenstrual breast pain

Sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Incorporating omega-3-rich foods into your diet is key to reaping their benefits. Here are some excellent dietary sources:


  1. Fatty Fish: Salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines, and herring are among the richest sources of EPA and DHA.

  2. Flaxseeds: These tiny seeds are brimming with ALA, making them an excellent plant-based alternative for obtaining omega-3s.

  3. Chia Seeds: Like flaxseeds, chia seeds are rich in ALA and can easily be added to smoothies, yogurt, or oats.

  4. Walnuts: Walnuts are not only delicious but also packed with ALA, making them a convenient snack for boosting omega-3 intake.

  5. Algal Oil: For vegetarians and vegans, algal oil supplements provide a direct source of DHA derived from algae.

Supplementation

While obtaining omega-3s through dietary sources is ideal, supplementation may be necessary for individuals who struggle to consume adequate amounts through food alone.


Quality

Fish oil supplements are everywhere. Even the super market sells them. But grabbing the big tub on special may not be the best option.

A good quality fish oil should be independently tested after manufacture (post encapsulation).

What environmental contaminants have been tested?

Where have the fish been sourced?

Talk to your health care professional about finding a good quality supplement.


Dosage

For disease prevention, a dose of around 1,000 milligrams fish oil is recommended per day.

For chronic pain, dosing will generally need to be higher. If you have a chronic inflammatory condition, its best to seek advice from a healthcare professional


What's the best time to take your fish oil?

It depends on the form. Triglyceride-based supplements are better absorbed vs ethyl-ester based forms (which might cause absorption issues, but can be overcome by taking with food). 

The triglyceride form is the form naturally found in fish and the form the body most easily recognizes and absorbs.


Testing

Yes, you can test your omega status. A dried blood spot analysis can give you your Omega 3 index score . The EPA / DHA content is expressed as a percentage of total fatty acids. A score of 4% or below usually indicates low fish consumption, whereas a score above 8% indicates good intake of fish with a reduced risk of disease.


Conclusion

If your diet includes 2-3 serves of oily fish as well as nuts, seeds and leafy greens you shouldn't need a supplement.

If you don't think you are consuming adequate omega 3 fatty acids, taking a lower dose for a longer period would be more beneficial for disease prevention and reducing inflammatory conditions as we age.

Personally, I include a good quality fish oil supplement as part of my healthy ageing protocol.


If you need help sourcing a good quality fish oil or interested in testing, please get in touch.


Many thanks

Jules x


References

1.Gammone, M. et al. (2019, Jan 11). Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids: Benefits and Endpoints in Sport

2. Braun, L. Chronic (2024, Feb 20). Pain and Inflammation, Part 2. [Audio podcast episode].FX Medicine.https://www.fxmedicine.com.au/podcast/replay-four-perspectives-chronic-pain-and-inflammation-part-2

3. Sutherland, E. (2023, Aug 14) Fish Oils and Omega 3s. [Audio podcast episode].FX Medicine.https://www.fxmedicine.com.au/podcast/fish-oils-omega-3s-sustainability-safety-and-testing-emma-sutherland-and-dr-kristina-harris#10:00



Casuarina Holistic Health is conveniently located on the Tweed Coast, between Kingscliff and Cabarita Beach. Naturopathic consults are available in Casuarina or online via Zoom.






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