Getting The Best Out Of Omega 3 Supplements

Getting your omega 3s from supplements needs very careful consideration; you need to figure out if you really need it, what type of supplement you should take if you do, and what the risks are.

Do you need more?

Given the typical diet of an average person, almost anyone can only benefit from adding more omega 3 to their diet, especially nowadays when omega 3 intake has taken a dive over the last century.

However, there are people with certain conditions who can benefit more from consuming higher than normal doses of omega 3 fatty acids.  Omega 3 fatty acids have been found to help boost cardiovascular health, control levels of triglycerides, and lower blood pressure.  They also help with depression, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, asthma, ADHD, and many other health conditions.

Supplements versus Diet

The best sources of omega 3 fatty acids, or any kind of nutrients, are natural foods.  To increase the omega 3s in your diet, the best way to do it is to eat fatty fish like salmon, trout, or sardines.  Consuming fish at least twice a week is a good start.  The most beneficial types of omega 3 fatty acids are DHA and EPA and these are abundant in fish.  ALA is the third type of omega 3 fatty acids and are found in plants like walnuts, flax, and canola oil.  ALA is not as potent as DHA and EPA but it is still beneficial.

Omega 3 supplements taken to enhance your diet can be very beneficial but you are still required to have a healthy diet.  For some people, vegetarians for example, eating fish may not be acceptable and supplements are a better choice.

Supplements from Animal and Plant Sources

There are four types of omega 3 supplements that are available in the market.

Fish oil is made from various fish like anchovies and sardines and has the two most important omega 3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA.

Krill oil, which comes from the Neptune krill, is a means of getting all the benefits you get from fish without the fish.  It is a powerful antioxidant that are not found even in fish and cod liver oil.

Plant sources for supplements contain ALA, which is converted inefficiently into DHA and EPA in the body.  One of the most common sources for this is flaxseed.

Algae oil is another plant source for supplements and contains DHA.  Algae oil is commonly used to fortify many food products because of its DHA content.

Because DHA and EPA are the most beneficial omega 3 fatty acids, getting the krill oil, fish oil or algae oil supplements is the better choice.  For people who cannot tolerate fish oil, the plant-based supplements are a reasonable choice.  Food products that contain algae oil can also be considered as a source of DHA.

Supplement Dosage

To be safe, the dosage of omega 3 supplements should be recommended by a doctor.

One gram of DHA and EPA, combined, from fish oil is the daily recommended dosage by experts.  For people with certain medical conditions, the dosage may be increased to 5 grams per day.  High doses of omega 3 supplements should always be taken with medical supervision.

You should be aware that the recommended dosage of omega 3 refers to the weight in grams of DHA and EPA combined, and not the weight in grams of the source, like fish oil.  One gram of fish oil may contain only 300 mg of DHA and EPA combined, so to get the recommended daily dosage of 1 gram, you should take four grams or four capsules of fish oil.

With regards to ALA, the ideal dosage has still not been established because it has not yet been fully understood how it is converted in the body into DHA and EPA.  Again, always consult a doctor first.

Choosing the Right Supplement

  • Consult a doctor or pharmacist.
  • Consider getting prescription omega 3s.  They may not be necessarily superior to the generic or over-the-counter supplements, but you could save money because they are covered by your insurance.
  • Always check the labels for evidence of independent testing of the supplement by an independent third party company.  Independent testing makes sure that the supplement contains the nutrients that it claims to contain and that it is free from contamination.
  • Omega 3 supplements are available as capsules or liquid oils.  There are also energy bars that are fortified with omega 3.
  • One side effect of fish oil capsules is heartburn.  You can get capsules with enteric coating which may reduce the problem.
  • Get the supplements that have high levels of DHA and EPA per gram of fish oil so you will be taking fewer capsules to get the recommended daily dosage.

Side Effects

  • Fish oil supplements may cause indigestion, diarrhea, and fishy burp.
  • EPA in fish oil supplements has an anti-clotting factor and may affect people who are taking anti-clotting medication.  Before taking the supplement, consult your doctor first.
  • DHA and EPA in fish oil supplements may thin the blood.  Taking 1 to 2 grams a day is safe but for higher doses, ask for your doctor’s advice.  The same goes if you are also on medication or other supplements that thin the blood.  If you notice any symptoms like bruising or increased bleeding, stop taking the supplement right away and consult your doctor.
  • The intake of omega 3 supplements for children and pregnant and breastfeeding women should also be doctor-recommended.
  • Fish oil seems to be safe from contaminants like mercury since it is usually derived from smaller fish which are less like to be contaminated by toxins.  To be safe, always look for a brand that has been tested and proclaimed safe by an independent lab.

Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplements

  • If you are suffering from side effects that you do not like, try a different brand.
  • When taking supplements, you can reduce the risk of stomach upsets by taking them with food.
  • Fish oil should be stored in the freezer to keep it fresh and reduce the side effects.
  • You can consider alternatives to fish oil if the side effects are just not acceptable.  Plant-based supplements are an option or increasing your weekly consumption of fish. Krill oil may not be as heavily exposed to marine pollutants as other aquatic organisms, making them a safe substitute for fish oil.
  • If you are on other types of medication, ask your doctor about taking omega 3 supplements.  The supplements can boost the effects of certain drugs like anti-depressants and cholesterol medicines.  This means you can take a lower dose of your other medicine while still getting the same benefits.
  • If you have a medical condition, always talk to your doctor first and do not use omega 3 supplements, or any other kind of supplement, for self-treatment.
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