Many people supplement with essential fatty acids because they fear they cannot obtain enough from their diets. An essential nutrient is one our bodies can’t produce so must be obtained in the diet. Essential fatty acids, such as omega-3s, are primarily found in fish so those not consuming enough fish in their diets oftentimes supplement with omega-3s.
When discussing the importance of essential fatty acid supplementation, the recommended amounts, etc.., we forget conversations about the quality of these supplements. Are issues of purity and sustainability considered when choosing an omega-3 supplement?
In this article we’ll explore balance, sustainability, quality, regulations and purity of omega-3 sources. So that you can make informed decisions.
Omega’s in Balance
Omega-3-6-9 fatty acids must be consumed in balance. Fish oil contains omega-3 essential fatty acids, also known as polyunsaturated fats. The human body cannot produce omega-3 fatty acids, therefore it’s critical to consume them in your diet.
There are three types of omega 3’s that you should know about:
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) - is a long chain fatty acid that influences inflammation processes in the body.
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) - is a long chain fatty acid, essential for the development of a healthy brain.
- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) - can be converted in the liver to EPA and DHA. However, in most people this process isn’t efficient. ALA is neuroprotective and impacts the Central Nervous System (CNS) and behavior.
Omega-3s are essential for many bodily functions, such as increasing good cholesterol, lowering triglycerides, supporting mental health, supporting healthy weight and liver fat composition.
Omega-6 & -9
Omega-6 is an essential polyunsaturated fatty acid that must be consumed via your diet. Omega-6’s are a rich source of energy, but can be deleterious if taken in excess. The western diet is normally chock-full of omega-6 so people in developed countries have to be careful to limit their omega-6 intake.
Unlike omega-3 and -6, omega-9 can be produced in adequate amounts by the body. Omega-9s have been found to support healthy inflammation and insulin sensitivity in several studies.
When it comes to omega-3, -6 and -9 fatty acids, balance is the key.
The ideal ratio is 2:1:1 for omega 3-6-9, which means that we require a lot more omega-3s when compared to -6 and -9. For this reason, a high quality fish or algae supplement is recommended to optimize health, especially if your diet is low in fatty fish. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends two servings of fatty fish per week.
The Importance of Purity (from mercury to microplastics)
Fish absorb toxins that contaminate the marine ecosystem. For example, microplastics, heavy metals (like mercury and lead), chemicals (such as PCBs), pesticides (such as DDT and dieldrin) and sediments from their food and environment fill our ocean waters.
Because contaminants can accumulate in the body over time (some chemicals such as PCBs can take five years or more to detox out of your body), the issue of fish sourcing is critically important. Mercury, which is commonly found in the tissues of larger fish, takes over a year to begin to release from the body.
Microplastics are found in just about every inch of the earth, including the Arctic and Antarctic. This is especially true in the soil and water systems, where pollution and industrial overflows run down stream and into our oceans. Alex McGoran, PhD, a researcher in microplastics explains that:
'There is no doubt that microplastics have a negative effect on the human body, but whether they stay in our system long enough to have a severe effect is uncertain.'
Sustainability (keeping marine ecosystems in balance)
Our marine ecosystem is in danger of collapsing, in part, due to overfishing. For this reason, it’s important to choose fish oil that has been harvested from sustainable fish species. The Good Fish Guide has rated fish so that we can easily see what fish impact the environment more or less. Red rated fish (graded 5) are unsustainable, while green reated fish (graded 1 and 2) have a reduced impact on the environment.
This system was developed by the Marine Conservation Society allowing us to easily choose the most sustainably caught fish. Some of the least sustainable types of seafood are shark, Atlantic Salmon, Caviar and Tilapia. At Biotics Research, we take sustainability seriously, and for this reason we choose Anchovies for our fish oil. Anchovies have low vulnerability, because they can endure higher levels of fishing activity. Although every fish is vulnerable to extinction, it’s important to find a fish oil source that recognizes if the ocean’s biomass is at risk, and allow time for repletion.
Sourcing Omega-3 from a Reputable Provider
Although many fish oils undergo rigorous testing for heavy metals and oxidation levels (TOTOX), this testing is minimal compared to what needs to be done to assure purity. The FDA sets standards for supplement companies, but oftentimes, residual toxins such as microplastics may still be present. For this reason, it’s important to buy from a reputable provider who pays attention to testing beyond what is required to guarantee the omega-3 supplements are clean.
Take Home Message
Choosing safe, sustainable seafood for omega-3 consumption can be tricky. There are many factors to be taken into account, such as contaminants, sustainability and nutritional quality. It’s important to check certifications and the ethics of your chosen supplement manufacturer. Not all omega-3 fish oils are the same. We are proud to be able to say that we take time to observe due diligence when harvesting nutrients for our supplements to ensure that patients get the best results and cross contamination is strictly avoided.
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