What's Omega 3?
Omega 3 is an essential fatty acid. This means your body cannot make it and so you have to consume it from food sources. It's considered a 'good' fat because it has such a crucial role in brain functioning and reducing inflammation in the body. Omega-3 fatty acids come in more than one form. There is DHA and EPA, which seem to have the strongest health benefits, and another form known as ALA (1).
The NHS and British Dietetic Association reviewed the scientific literature on fish oils back in 2004. They found that there was a large body of evidence to support the claim that fish oils (containing DHA and EPA) reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. These types of Omega 3 can lower blood pressure and blood cholesterol and also breakdown fat build up in arteries - thus, reducing the risk of heart attack (2, 3).
It's also thought that it helps reduce the pain associated with rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease which causes inflammation in the joints (3). As it stands there is also lots of ongoing research, investigating links between a diet rich in Omega 3 fatty acids and their effect on sports recovery, Dementia, eye health, mental health, Osteoporosis, skin disorders, Irritable Bowel Disease, cancer, period pain and ADHD. The results of many previous studies in these areas are mixed, so much more research is needed before further health claims can be made (2, 3).
What about Omega 6?
It is important to have the proper ratio of Omega-3 and Omega-6 (another essential fatty acid) in the diet. Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce inflammation, and most Omega-6 fatty acids tend to promote inflammation,so they need to be in balance (3). Omega 6, found in vegetable oils and red meat, has it's place in the diet (it helps stimulate skin and hair growth, maintain bone health, regulate metabolism, and maintain the reproductive system) but too much Omega 6 and not enough Omega 3 can result in excessive inflammation and an elevated risk of heart disease (4).
Typically British and American diets lack sufficient Omega 3 and contain excessive amounts of Omega 6. For this reason, its recommended to eat a more Mediterranean diet as this contains much more Omega 3 from plant oils (such as Olive) and oily fish while also containing less red meat (3, 4).
Where can I find Omega 3?
DHA and EPA types of Omega 3 fatty acids are found in oily fish, while ALA is found in vegetable oils, flaxseed, chia seed, and dark leafy vegetables, like spinach. The body can change a small amount of ALA into EPA and DHA, but not very well (1). The NHS recommends two portions of fish a week, one of which should be oily, in order to obtain enough DHA and EPA (2).
Oily fish includes salmon, sardines, mackerel, tuna and trout. For those who don't eat oily fish on a regular basis, fish oil supplements may be recommended. As always, make sure you consult a medical professional before adding supplements to your diet as some can interfere with prescription medication (blood thinners, for example) and some conditions, such as bleeding disorders (3).
When choosing a fish oil supplement, it's important to make sure they don't contain high levels of heavy metal pollutants such as mercury or lead, or contain additives. For this reason, I particularly like Intelligent Labs Ultra Pure Omega 3, 120 soft gels (£24.99, available to buy direct from Intelligent Labs Website or from Amazon) as Intelligent Labs publish their independent lab testing reports on their website. It's also obtained from sustainable sources: wild caught Mackerel, Anchovy and Sardine from the pristine waters of the Antarctic (5).
Each serving (3 capsules) of Intelligent Labs Omega 3 capsules, has a huge 1224mg of EPA and 816mg of DHA. This EPA:DHA ratio of 3:2 is the exact ratio that is recommended by scientists after extensive experiments, other brands use a higher EPA:DHA ratio of 4:2 or sometimes even 5:2 because it is cheaper to produce. These capsules also contain Omega 3 in it's natural Triglyceride form. This form is also specifically scientifically recommended, but most other companies use a chemically altered lower quality Estyl Ester form, which is less well absorbed and less effective in the body (5). All of the above explains the price tag for a 40 day supply.
For me personally, I recently discovered in my DNAFit test, that I had an elevated need for Omega 3. it was recommended that I increase my amounts to speed up my post workout recovery and I've been doing just this and seem to be having a lot less days of soreness.
*Disclosure: This post was sponsored by Intelligent Labs, as always, my opinions and research are my own.