It is a well known fact that fish is an important part of a healthy, balanced diet. Current guidelines recommend eating oily fish two times a week to meet your quota of what is called the “Omega-3 fatty acids”. This equates to about 125-159g of raw fish which is roughly the size of your whole hand.
So what is “oily fish”? This is marine life that contains high amounts ofOmega-3 fatty acids which are polyunsaturated fats (referred to as the “good fats”) that contribute to your heart, retinal, immune and lunge health. Additional benefits may be helping minimise symptoms of chronic inflammatory diseases. They are also called essential fats because your body can not make these therefore you must get them from your food which adds extra emphasis on the importance of eating a nutritious, balanced diet. The “Omega-3” just refers to the position of the final double bond in the chemical structure which is three carbon atoms from the tail end of the molecular chain called the “Omega”.
Research has found that if you are healthy, consume fish often and have low/average risk of heart disease, the likelihood of needing supplementaryOmega-3 fatty acids is low. However, you may find that your Eye doctor, Nutritionist or GP recommends that you include Omega-3s in your diet to reap the many health benefits that come from it.
There are three main fatty acids called the Omega-3s:
1. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
2. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
3. Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
DHA and EPA are the long chain fatty acids found in certain fish such as salmon, anchovies, trout and mackerel (and many others) where the levels of Omega-3depends on the species, freshness of the fish and where they are farmed. ALA isa short chain fatty acid found in plant-based foods such as pumpkin seeds, flaxseeds and walnuts but your body can only convert it into tiny amounts of EPA and DHA so oily fish is preferable over plant-based sources of Omega-3s.
Omega-3 fish oil is derived from the tissues of these oily fish and when consumed, increases your plasma serum levels of Omega-3. Low risks for heart attacks and coronary events in populations that consumed large amounts of fish, such as in the Greenland Inuit and the Japanese, spurred research into the role of Omega-3s in cardiovascular health. Studies have been consistent with these findings where they showed that higher consumption of these fatty acids lowers your risk of cardiovascular disease and risk factors for it therefore it is often recommended as a supplement for people with poor heart health.
They have roles in the body as components that form the structures of your cell membranes such as in the retina (part of your eye) and brain which preserves cell membrane health and helps important communication between cells due to the high abundance of these fatty acids in these organs. Due to this it has been found that it may provide vision protection from certain eye diseases such as glaucoma and macular degeneration and is often used to help treat people with dry eyes by helping produce more fluid from the eye glands. Some studies have found that diets high in these fatty acids are associated with boosting memory and mood and can reduce risk of cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s and Dementia.
In addition to this structural role in cell membranes, they provide energy for the body to form signaling molecules called eicosanoids that have wide range of functions in the body’s cardiovascular, pulmonary, immune and endocrine systems. These signaling molecules have been found to reduce inflammation in chronic disease such as rheumatoid arthritis and retinal diseases due to anti-inflammatory effects by regulating the production of pro-inflammatory mediators (prostaglandins, thromboxanes and leukotrienes).
The NZ guidelines for Omega-3 consumption is 610mg of DHA and EPA for men and430mg daily for women to reduce the risk of heart disease, which equates to 2servings of fatty fish a week. Omega-3 fish oil comes in the form of oil, tablets or capsules and are readily available in pharmacies, supermarkets and online. It is important to look at the amount of EPA and DHA contained in the supplement rather than the fish oil content. For example, the label may read something along the lines of: Per serving: Fish oil 1000mg, EPA 180mg and DHA120mg. So EPA + DHA = 180mg + 120mg = 300mg of Omega-3 therefore this capsule may not be meeting your recommended daily intake.
Getting Omega-3s from the “real deal” is always preferable over taking the supplements and evidence shows little to no benefits for healthy people that are already consuming the recommended amount of fish. However, if you are someone who doesn’t enjoy eating fish and wants a cheap and simple way to help boost heart and immune health, you should consider taking this supplement. It is important you talk to your health care provider first so that they can ensure taking this supplement is appropriate for you based on your medical history and to help determine the correct dose.