Could omega-3 fatty acids be the health answer you’ve been fishing for? There’s some pretty strong evidence that a diet rich in seafood — the most common dietary source of these essential fatty acids — serves up an ocean of benefits to heart health, brain health, joint health and more.
But can you get those same perks without the seafood? And even if you are a fish fan, do you get enough omega-3s? If you’re wondering whether omega-3 supplements are worth looking into, we’ve got all the answers below.
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What Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids?
Omega-3s are known as essential fatty acids. That means your body can’t make them, so you need to get them from outside sources. You probably know that not all fat is equal, and (to put it simply) saturated fat is “bad” and unsaturated fat is “good.” Omega-3s are a vital type of polyunsaturated “good” fat.
These fatty acids are important parts of your cells’ membranes, especially in your eyes and brain. Your body also uses them for energy, and they play important roles in your immune system, as well as your cardiovascular, lung, and endocrine systems. Their clearest benefit is lowering triglycerides, which are fatty substances in your blood that can contribute to heart disease.
Good news: You’re probably not truly deficient in omega-3 fatty acids, according to the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS). But, per the agency, most people can benefit from taking in a little more.
Want a closer look at why you need omega-3 fatty acids? Read our article: 7 Reasons It’s Time to Up Your Omega-3s.
Types of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Saturated, unsaturated, polyunsaturated, monounsaturated? Why does all this fatty acid stuff have to be so complicated? Well strap in — there are a few more terms you’ll need to know, because there’s more than one type of omega-3. These are three that are most commonly found in supplements:
Alpha-linoleic acid (ALA)
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
ALA is mostly found in seeds and nuts, while DHA and EPA are found primarily in fish. Per the ODS, most Americans get plenty of ALA, but it doesn’t provide the benefits that DHA and EPA do, according to a study in Advances in Nutrition. This is because our bodies can convert ALA to EPA and DHA, but not very efficiently.
When it comes to the best ratio of DHA to EPA, it doesn’t seem to matter much. One study in Nutrients found a similar reduction in triglycerides with different ratios, with a few subtle differences. Bottom line: You’ll likely benefit from supplementing any combo of the two.
How Much Omega-3 Do You Need?
Researchers haven’t pinpointed the exact optimal amounts of omega-3s, DHA, or EPA. According to the ODS, the National Academy of Medicine puts the adequate daily intake of omega-3s at 1.6 grams for men and 1.1 grams for women.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends not going over 3 grams per day.
Why Not Just Eat Fish?
FIrst of all, you should probably eat fish. As one review in Global Journal of Health Sciences acknowledges, regular seafood consumption is linked to reduction in heart disease and death from heart disease. Fish intake also has a direct link to reduced diabetes risk, as well as benefits for inflammation, cancer prevention, and brain health. Fish is also a good source of lean protein.
Pro tip: Add some veggies to your fish dinner, after you’ve had a sip of vinegar. Why? Find out in our article, 10 Longevity Hacks to Live Longer and Stronger.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, the reasons it may be more effective to get your omega-3s from food instead of supplements include:
Eating seafood might be part of a healthier diet and healthier lifestyle
Other nutrients in seafood may be beneficial as well
Seafood may provide all the omega-3 you need
Part of the problem, though, is that most Americans don’t get enough. According to a 2021 study in Advances in Food and Nutrition Research, the federal government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) call for eating seafood at least twice a week, but the study points out that fewer than one in five Americans get that much.
Worse, the problem has been that way for a while. One study examining data from 2003 to 2008 states that Americans get, on average, just 68 mg of EPA and DHA each day. Another more recent study that looked at pregnant women and women of childbearing age found that a full 95% of participants studied didn’t get the minimal recommended amounts of EPA and DHA.
So, while you can eat seafood to get enough omega-3s, you probably aren’t, and that’s where supplementation can help. But how do you choose a good omega-3 supplement? Keep reading for our guidelines.
Lifeforce Omega is one of the most comprehensive omega-3 supplements available. Omega-3s are at the core of heart, brain, immunity, and mood support. This high-purity, high-impact, broad spectrum omega blend helps your body absorb three times more long-chain omega-3s than similar products. This makes Lifeforce Omega an effective tool to support heart health, immune function, and inflammatory response. It also helps boost mood, regulate blood sugar, and optimize HDL, LDL, and triglyceride levels that are within a healthy range.
How to Choose the Best Omega-3 Supplement
If you’ve decided to take an omega-3 supplement, you’ll be glad to know that you have some choices. The bad news is, you have hundreds of products to choose from. So how do you choose? Here are some factors to consider.
1. Consider the Source
The first factor to consider is the source of the omega-3s in your supplement. These supplements can come from a wide variety of plant and animal products. Some of the most common are:
Fish oil: “Fish oil” is nearly synonymous with “omega-3 supplements.” The omega-3s in fish oil come from fatty, cold-water fish such as herring, mackerel, salmon, and tuna.
Krill oil: Krill are tiny shrimp-like sea creatures that feed on algae and are in turn eaten by many of the fish from which fish oil is derived. Some researchers believe that omega-3s from krill oil are more bioavailable — more easily used by your body — than those from fish oil. They also think that because krill are so tiny and short-lived, they have less buildup of toxic metals and chemicals (more on that later).
Algal oil: If you’re a vegetarian, algal oil is the omega-3 supplement that you want to reach for. Even if you’re not, you should consider it, because algae is the source of all that DHA and EPA that are so good for you. Small marine animals, e.g. krill, eat the algae, which are in turn eaten by bigger fish like salmon and tuna.
2. Find the Right Form
Most omega-3 supplements come in pills, tablets, and oral suspensions, but that’s not really what we’re talking about here. The omega-3s themselves come in different chemical formulations, and some work better than others.
Ethyl esters: The majority of fish oil supplements are in the form of ethyl esters (EEs), a result of processing fish oils. Although this form of omega-3 is safe and stable, there’s evidence that your body does not absorb it as efficiently as other forms.
Triglycerides: Omega-3s “packaged” as triglycerides (TGs) are closer to their natural form found in fish than EEs are. A study in European Journal of Clinical Nutrition compared omega-3 levels in the blood of people who took omega-3s in the forms of EEs and TGs. It found TG omega-3s increased blood levels about 15% more than the EE omega-3s.
Re-esterified triglycerides: Re-esterification turns the ethyl esters of processed omega-3s back into triglycerides. Re-esterified triglycerides are more bioavailable than EE omega-3s.
Free fatty acids: The final form of omega-3s are free fatty acids. This may be the most bioavailable form of all. A study of two prescription omega-3 medications — one an EE and one a free fatty acid — found blood omega-3 levels four times higher in the people who took the free fatty acid.
To find the form of your omega-3s, read the supplement facts on the back of the packaging.
3. Check the Certification
When you take omega-3 supplements, you want to feel good — not just in your body, but in knowing your supplements were harvested in the most sustainable and environmentally-friendly way possible. Look for these certifications on the packaging:
4. Look at Freshness and Preservatives
Omega-3 supplements don’t last forever. They’re long, complex molecules that break down and oxidize easily over time, and in the presence of heat or light. This causes them to lose their potency.
Supplement companies will usually add preservatives such as vitamin E or rosemary to keep them fresher longer. Oxidation also causes a fishy aftertaste and odor in omega-3 supplements, so if you notice either your fish oil might be rancid.
What to Avoid in Your Omega-3 Supplements
Knowing what to avoid is almost as important as knowing what to look for in an omega-3 supplement. Luckily, this list is a bit shorter.
Although ethyl esters are cost-effective, other forms of omega-3 have a longer shelf life and better bioavailability. You’re better off looking for free fatty acids or re-esterified triglycerides.
Mercury is a toxic metal found in a number of sea life species. According to the FDA, you should avoid eating — and taking supplements derived from:
Tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico
Remember to read your supplements label. It will often list the fish it may contain, and may also tell you if your supplement has been purified to remove heavy metals.
Some omega-3 supplements will be combined with omega-6 essential fatty acids. These are used by your body in a similar way to omega-3s, but they promote more inflammation. You probably get plenty of omega-6s, so look for a 3:6 ratio as heavily weighted in omega-3 as possible.
Now you know why omega-3 fatty acids are good for you, how to choose the right one, and what to avoid. So, it’s time to check your omega-3 levels, as well as more than 40 other biomarkers, with the Lifeforce Diagnostic. It’s the first step to living better, longer.
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This article was medically reviewed by:
Julia Afridi, DO, ABIHM Board Certified in Family Medicine and Osteopathic Medicine