Medical Science has been discovering the value of this nutrient for a very long time. Omega-3 is classed as an ‘essential’ fatty acid for a good reason. Even in the early 1950s when the National Health was in its infancy, mothers were given bottles of cod liver oil for their children because the value of boosting levels of omega-3 during those early years was known to be vitally important.
As a result of the huge amount of research into the properties and powers of Omega 3, we now know very much more about why it is one of the most important nutrients for our health. We are still discovering the amazing diversity of Omega-3’s positive effects across a broad spectrum of health-related issues. Studies and trials continue to reveal more reasons for ensuring we get our quota of this essential fatty acid that supports our health in such a multitude of ways.
Omega-3 Health Benefits
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There are an astonishing number of scientifically verified reasons for including omega-3 in your diet. You most probably already know that it is good for the brain and for easing those stiff, aching joints. It’s also well documented that cholesterol levels can benefit from a regular dose of omega-3, but new research has introduced another factor that is undeniably an attractive reason to make omega-3 a regular in your dietary regime.
A study published in June 2021 in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concludes that higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the blood are linked with an extra five-year life expectancy. Scientists used data collected over eleven years, documenting 2,240 people over the age of 65. The aim was to monitor how fatty acid levels in the blood were related to mortality. They found that four types of fatty acids, including omega-3s, all contributed to a longer life expectancy.
According to Dr Sala-Vila, a postdoctoral researcher and author of the study, a 1% increase of omega-3s in the blood is enough to move the needle.
The minimum intake recommended by the National Institute of Health is: 1.1 grams per day for adult females and 1.6 grams per day for adult males. For the sake of being able to estimate – 1 tablespoon of flaxseed oil has 7.26 grams, 1 once of walnuts has 2.57 grams, 3 ounces of wild Atlantic salmon has 1.57 grams, and 1 tablespoon of canola oil has 1.28 grams.
Omega-3 belongs to the group of fats known as long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids.
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
The main source of these acids are microorganisms that make up part of the marine life food chain and these are the reason that certain types of fish have higher concentrations of omega-3. The fish in question are those classed as cold water ‘oily’ fish such as albacore, tuna, sardines, salmon, mackerel, and herring. The recommended dietary amount of these fish to provide sufficient omega-3 to help prevent cardiovascular disease is at least 8 ounces each week. EPA and DHA are the fatty acids relevant to cardiovascular health.
ALA is found mainly in nuts and plant oils, including flaxseed, soybean and canola oil. It is a healthy and useful fatty acid but less bioavailable (utilised by the body) therefore researchers suggest a combination of DHA and EPA which are found in fish as well as seaweed and algae.
Heart-disease remains the top cause of death worldwide and many years ago medical research picked up on the fact that those parts of the world where fish was the staple diet had a lower incidence of heart disease. As time went by, and more formal studies took place into the correlation between a fish diet and heart problems, it became apparent that it was omega-3 that was the link to protecting heart health.
Further research into more ways in which omega-3 helps with various forms of heart-related issues has revealed many facts:
- A type of blood fat that can increase the risk of heart disease when levels are too high. Omega-3 is a major aid in reducing triglycerides.
- High Blood Pressure
- Omega-3 is known to reduce blood pressure in those with hypertension problems. Findings of further recent research into the ideal dose of omega-3s to help the large number of people struggling with high blood pressure, is revealed in a research review published in the Journal of the American Heart Association. It states that people who consume between 2 and 3 grams of a combination of DHA and EPA omega-3 fatty acids lower both their systolic and diastolic blood pressure levels by an average of 2 mm Hg.
- This conclusion was reached by scientists reviewing 71 clinical trials published worldwide between 1987 and 2020. This brought together almost 5,000 participants, ages ranging from 22 to 86, who took dietary and/or prescribed supplements of omega-3 for ten weeks. Some, but not all, of these participants had high blood pressure.
- The links between blood pressure and two types of omega-3 fatty acids were examined. These were DHA and EPA and they found that 3 grams of combined DHA and EPA offered a marked benefit. The largest drop in blood pressure readings were amongst those older than 45 who had high blood pressure.
- It is important when managing high blood pressure, as well as paying attention to diet and your omega-3 intake, to also consider physical activity, your stress levels, the quality of sleep and your alcohol consumption.
- Healthy Arteries
- Keeping arteries free-flowing means avoiding the build-up of plaque on the artery walls and omega-3 has been found to help eliminate this damaging substance which can restrict blood flow and damage arterial walls.
- HDL (high-density lipoprotein or “good” cholesterol)
- Omega-3 can help boost HDL cholesterol levels, which can reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.
- Blood Clots
- Omega-3 may help prevent the clumping of platelets in the bloodstream and this reduces the risk of blood clots forming. Researchers found that incidences of pulmonary embolism and deep vein thrombosis were reduced by a 30-day omega 3 fatty acid intervention.
Anxiety and Depression
Possibly the most widespread of mental illnesses, anxiety manifests itself in a state of constant worry. Living with chronic nervousness leads to a state of high stress and can also result in depression. Depression has a debilitating effect on sufferers, literally taking away the joy of living and causing sadness and constant lethargy.
Medical support is vital to help deal with these conditions but in terms of additional self-help, studies have shown that if you include in your diet sufficient quantities of omega-3 on a regular basis, this lessens the risk of depression. It has also been found that if you are already struggling with depression, starting to supplement with omega-3 may improve your symptoms.
There are three different kinds of omega-3 fatty acids, they are ALA, EPA and DHA. It has been found that EPA is the most effective form of omega-3 when treating depression. The results of one particular study revealed the fact that EPA was on a par with a well-known pharmaceutical anti-depressant drug.
It is important young children have enough omega-3 because it has been found that Omega-3 can engender much stronger brain health in early life. It is also known that getting enough omega-3 during pregnancy leads to great neurological benefits for the child. These benefits include higher intelligence, less communication difficulty and fewer behavioural problems such as attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD).
Research into psychiatric disorders has found that omega-3 can help improve mental conditions such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and mood swings. Clinical trials have revealed that many people suffering with mental illness also have very low levels of omega-3.
Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia
Research is ongoing but it has already been found that supplementing with Omega-3 during the early stages of Alzheimer’s or dementia, when the disease is very mild, may be beneficial.
The form of omega-3 that helps with eye health is DHA, and this constitutes an important structural part of the retina of your eye. If you are short of omega-3 you may begin to experience vision problems. Low levels of omega-3 is linked to a higher risk of macular degeneration which leads to eye damage and blindness.
A natural response to infection and damage within the body, a certain amount of inflammation is vital to good health. Problems arise when inflammation hangs around for a very long time or appears when there is no longer infection or damage. It then becomes a chronic condition, causing ongoing problems and is a contributory factor to many illnesses such as cancer and heart disease.
Omega-3 fatty acids have been found to have great anti-inflammatory properties so as well as getting omega-3 from diet, supplementing can have a very beneficial effect on inflammation.
This is where your immune system mistakes healthy cells for invaders and proceeds to attack them. One of the most common autoimmune diseases is type 1 diabetes where the immune system attacks insulin-producing cells within the pancreas.
Research studies have found that if children, during the first year of life, get enough omega-3s, they have a much greater protection from autoimmune diseases, including type 1 diabetes, autoimmune diabetes and multiple sclerosis.
Eating oily fish at least once a week can also protect adults from LADA (latent autoimmune diabetes). Omega-3s help with treatment of lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease and psoriasis.
This is not just one illness, but an umbrella term to cover various conditions. It raises many health concerns because it increases your likelihood of developing other very serious illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes. The term metabolic syndrome includes central obesity, also called ‘belly fat’, high blood pressure, insulin resistance, high triglycerides, and low HDL cholesterol levels.
Getting enough omega-3 gives protection from insulin resistance, inflammation, auto-immune syndromes, and risk of heart disease in those who are struggling with metabolic syndrome.
If you suffer with diabetes, depression, sleep apnoea, or if your BMI is on the high side (which can be a result of sleep problems), you may find that supplementing with omega-3 will help. Low levels of omega fatty acids are linked with sleep problems, particularly for children, and also with sleep apnoea in adults. Research has found that for both children and adults, supplementing with omega-3 can lengthen time spent sleeping as well as quality of sleep.
Fatty Liver Disease
The type of fatty liver that is not associated with alcohol consumption is one of the most common causes of liver disease in the Western world and is known as NAFLD (non-alcoholic fatty liver disease). Scientists have found that supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids can help greatly in reducing liver fat, as well as the resultant inflammation, in those suffering with NAFLD.
It is known that taking omega-3 can improve bone strength due to its ability to boost calcium levels and this can also help reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Arthritis pain may also be reduced and grip strength improved by supplementing with omega-3.
Trials have proven that women who take more omega-3 have less menstrual pain and one particular study, conducted with students of Babol University of Medical Sciences in Iran, has concluded that taking an omega-3 supplement is more effective than Ibuprofen in reducing severe period pain.
Skin Health and Protection from Sun Damage
Healthy skin is dependent on DHA which is the derivative of marine micro-organisms present in omega-3. It is DHA that protects the health of cell membranes that make up the structure of your skin. In healthy skin, the membranes are soft and supple, with few wrinkles.
Another component of omega-3 fatty acid is EPA which also has skin benefits such as keeping the skin moist and smooth. It helps to reduce premature ageing and protects from skin problems such as acne.
A further vital aspect of the protection given by omega-3 is that it helps to protect your skin from sun damage. EPA helps to block the release of substances that destroy collagen in your skin following time spent in the sun.
What are the Differences Between Omegas 3-6-9?
Omega-3-6-9 are the three main fatty acids, and although they each have different chemical structures, they are all three important for optimum health support. Fatty acids are made up from monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats and both have a very necessary role in keeping you in good health. Understanding the differences between good and bad fats and getting the right balance of omegas-3-6-9 is the key.
Omega-3 and 6 are both polyunsaturated fatty acids which help cell membranes, giving extra lubrication and flexibility to allow cells to function and communicate efficiently. EPA and DHA, found in omega-3, are present in significant quantities within your brain and eyes. Omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and omega-6 linoleic acid (LA) are both known as essential fatty acids because your body is unable to produce them, so you need to get them from your diet.
Omega-9 is a monounsaturated fatty acid, known as a non-essential oleic acid, because your body can produce it. However, it is possible, and desirable, to also obtain omega-9 from your diet. Foods such as avocados, olives, and the oils from both of these, have high amounts of omega-9. They are known to be good fats that help break down cholesterol. When replacing saturated fats, such as those found in butter, with oils rich in omega-9, such as olive oil, you will help reduce your cholesterol levels. This is because you are increasing good HDL cholesterol and lowering your levels of bad LDL cholesterol.
Vegan Forms of Omega 3-6-9
Omega-3 can be obtained from both plant and animal sources. We’ve mentioned cold-water oily fish, but omega-3 is also present in flaxseed, chia seeds, soybean, walnuts, canola oil and soybean oil. The substance known as alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is a plant form of essential fatty acid. Our bodies are not able to produce ALA and we can only get it by dietary means, and for this reason it is classed as an essential fatty acid.
Omega-6 includes both linoleic and arachidonic acids. Linoleic acid is primarily found in corn oils, safflower oil, peanut oil, sunflower oil, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds. Arachidonic acid is found in seaweed as well as in fish, meat, and milk.
Omega-9 is a monounsaturated fatty acid, and this means that it is not termed as ‘essential’. This is because it is not vital to obtain this nutrient from food as it can be manufactured by your own body. Omega-9 is still a very healthy fatty acid nevertheless and natural foods such as avocados, olives and olive oil, pecan nuts, almonds, hazelnuts, pine nuts, sunflower seeds, rapeseed oil and sunflower oil are all rich in omega-9.
Getting the balance of omega 3-6-9 just right is important, but can be a challenge. Clinical trials have found that seed oil from Ahiflower seed oil, a native plant of the British Isles, contains more omega 3-6-9 than any other natural plant or seed oil. When grown as a crop, one acre of Ahiflower provides as much omega-rich oil as 320,000 anchovies.
More About Ahiflower Seed Oil
As far back in time as 1597, the plant now known commercially as Ahiflower was recorded in Gerrard’s Herbal. The plant’s botanical name is buglossoides arvensis, also sometimes called lithospermum arvense. A small meadow and hedgerow plant that often spreads as a weed through fields of grain crops, buglossoides was found to have an unparalleled healthy oil content.
The decision was made to sow it as an agricultural crop, since when it has become a sustainable, reliable source of plant-based omega oils. Ahiflower (from the Hawaiian word ‘Ahi’ meaning yellowfin tuna) is the name given to buglossoides arvensis for commercial purposes.
Ahiflower oil is already proving to be a powerful and effective alternative to fish oil within the omega market, because apart from the fact that it is vegan, it has a clean taste and aroma. The other great plus point for this plant is that it is the richest plant-based source of omega 3-6-9. A further point in favour of Ahiflower seed oil is that, unlike marine sources of omega which are likely to be depleted in the coming years, the production of Ahiflower crops can be extended throughout the British Isles where the climate is ideal as well as to other countries with a similar climate.
In the quest to prevent cardiovascular disease (CVD) the therapeutic use of nutrition to lessen the risk is now a well-known strategy. Omega-3 fatty acids are one of the weapons against CVD and their use has proven beneficial. Marine foods such as cold-water fatty fish and fish oils have traditionally been the mainstay of this therapy but flaxseed, rich in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) has proved to be a powerful alternative.
Clinical trials and epidemiological investigations have shown that ALA has a good effect on CVD. A review has documented that flaxseed, due to its high ALA content, has been chosen for randomised, controlled trials to establish its ability to help prevent the onset of CVD. Those participating in the trials will be patients with symptoms of atherosclerotic heart disease.
It is thought that the omega-3 in flaxseed may help block certain types of cancer cells from developing. A 2013 survey found a lower occurrence of breast cancer among women who included flaxseed in their diets on a regular basis. Arthritis symptoms and joint pain and stiffness are thought to be lessened by taking flaxseed. It is also believed to ease rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and Raynaud’s disease. There is currently insufficient evidence to conclusively support these claims, but the fact remains that there are high levels of ALA in flaxseed, and this certainly indicates its ability to reduce inflammation.
Vegan Omega 3 Capsules
As it can be difficult to always be sure you are including enough essential fatty acids in your diet, and this can be even more of a challenge if you follow a vegan diet, we offer a Vegan Omega 3 supplement that is an alternative to krill oil, cod liver oil and other fish oil supplements.
The omega 3 in these capsules is sourced from algae grown in a pharmaceutical graded environment in tanks of pure filtered water, ensuring that the vegan omega-3 is free from toxins, pollutants, and heavy metals. It is even safe for pre and post pregnancy, babies, toddlers, young children, adults, and the elderly.
Read more about the ingredients in our Vegan Omega 3 Capsules.
Making Omega-3 Part of Your Life
Based on the overwhelming scientific results showing the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, you may decide to make them part of your regular diet. If you are concerned that you may be falling short of the recommended quantities, your doctor can arrange for you to take an omega-3 index test. You may even decide to cover your back by adding an omega-3 supplement to your everyday lifestyle.
Just to help you with any plans you may have to include more omega in your daily life, here are 26 omega-3-rich recipe ideas to try, courtesy of Eating Well.
When it comes to keeping you informed on health and nutrition, we’re here for you and aim to help where we can.
If you would like to discuss any aspect of using natural supplements, or would find advice helpful, please feel free to contact us on 01297 553932.