Ever heard of it?
The supplement space is hazy, lets face it. Though many supplements claim to offer health benefits, the science behind these products is often tricky and inconclusive. Bearing this in mind, you should always be skeptical when evaluating a supplement.
This isn’t to say some supplements aren’t worthy of consideration or purchase. Based on available research and experience, Omega 3 fish oil would qualify as a supplement worth experimenting with.
The Basics: Omega 3 vs. Omega 6
The benefits of Omega 3 fish oil begin with an understanding of its counterpart, Omega 6, and the food industry in the United States. Research shows that humans likely evolved on a diet with an Omega 3: Omega 6 ratio of somewhere around 1:1 (1). Compare that to today when the average person in the Western world eats a diet with an Omega 3: Omega 6 ratio in excess of 15:1. This poses many problems as a diet deficient in Omega 3 EPA and DHA (think of all the pitfalls of the Western diet: processed carbohydrates, sugar, and gluten) is linked to many cardiovascular, inflammatory, and autoimmune diseases (2).
This is where Omega 3 fish oil supplements come in. Taking a fish oil supplement rich in EPA/DHA (more on this in a sec) restores the healthy balance of Omega 3’s and 6’s. Moreover, it acts in an anti-inflammatory capacity, suppressing the harmful effects of Omega 6’s on the body and brain. It’s also been shown to alleviate symptoms of depression and improve pregnancy outcomes (3,4). Omega 3’s are even being considered as a supplement for traumatic brain injury patients (5). EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (ducosahexaenoic acid) are the two main fatty acids in Omegas 3. The two are unique as they are highly unsaturated fats (contain six and five double bonds on their very long structural chains). As polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA’s) , they are at the center of most research on Omega 3’s, and are linked with numerous improved health outcomes. DHA, for instance, is a critical component of all cell membranes and is found in the brain and retina (6). You can think of these two PUFA’s as brain-essential.
How much to take? That depends on many factors, including the condition you’re trying to treat, your Omega 6 daily intake, age, and various other factors. We advise you to consult your doctor for dosage recommendations.
Searching for brands online? A brand we recommend (having tried/continuing to use it) is Nordic Naturals. Importantly, the Nordic Naturals product has sufficient EPA/DHA levels, which many other fish oils brands neglect. As stated on the products label, of the 1280 mG of Omega 3 in each capsule, 1100 mG is EPA/DHA. Many fish oil supplements contain significantly less EPA/DHA as a percentage of the total Omega 3 content. Consider Nature Bounty’s fish oil for instance, which contains 1200 mG of fish oil but just 360 mG of Omega 3 EPA/DHA. Not worth it. We recommend looking for supplements that have 50% or more of their Omega 3 Fish oil comprising EPA/DHA. Which brings us to the most important part of the article.
EPA/DHA and PCB’s:
While fish oil is widely regarded/known as a supplement, most don’t realize the importance of EPA/DHA levels in the product, nor the products purification (elimination of PCB’s). PCB’s, or polychlorinated biphenyls, are man-made chemicals consisting of chlorine, hydrogen, and carbon atoms. PCB’s are associated with several negative health outcomes, including damaging neurological, immune, and reproductive effects (7). It’s essential that the fish oil supplement you choose strictly adheres to all PCB standards. Nordic Naturals, for instance, “surpasses all PCB standards set by Prop 65, the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3 (GOED) voluntary monograph, and recognized international standards—as documented by third-party analysis” (8).
The take home point? Take a look into fish oil supplements, but do so with the skeptical eye that we promote at Health and Life. When considering brands, make sure to choose one that maintains sufficient EPA/DHA levels and adheres to PCB standards. We recommend Nordic Naturals’ product for that reason!
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