#1 What are omega-3 fatty acids and what is their role?
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats in the human diet, meaning we do not synthesize them ourselves but must obtain them by eating animals and plants. They are what medical practitioners call the “good fats”, and four in particular are important in human physiology. Each of these Omega-3s has been found to have distinct advantages:
- Humans meet their ALA needs by eating plant leaves and seeds. We also convert ALA into small amounts of EPA and DHA (see below). ALA does not confer the cardiovascular health benefits of EPA and DHA, but like them it is essential to normal growth and health.
- Supports cardiovascular health
- Reduces joint inflammation
- Lowers cholesterol
- Boosts brain function
- Pregnancy and breast feeding
- Helps combat mood disorders
- Improves ocular health
- Repairs damaged vessels
- Optimizes Omega-3 intake
- Boosts absorption of EPA and DHA
#2 How much omega-3 per day?
There are no fixed recommendations for daily intakes of omega-3 fatty acids. However, recognized authorities have issued guidelines. For example:
- The US Institute of Medicine, which publishes Recommended Dietary Allowances for many nutrients, does not do so for omega-3 fatty acids. However, it does publish a less certain Adequate Intake value for ALA only, of 1.6 g/day for men and 1.1 g/day for women.
- The US Food and Drug Administration advises that adults can safely consume up to 3 g/day of EPA + DHA, with no more than 2 g coming from supplements.
- The American Heart Association, in view of the cardiovascular benefits of EPA and DHA, recommends people with no history of coronary heart disease or myocardial infarction consume oily fish twice a week.
- The European Food Safety Authority has approved a claim that “EPA and DHA contributes to the normal function of the heart” for products that contain at least 250 mg of EPA + DHA.
#3 How to consume enough omega-3?
A word on supplements: Supplements are a simple way to increase our levels of omega-3s. However, as with all vitamins and nutrients, it is always best if we can meet our needs through our regular diets. Supplements should be seen as an option when we are concerned our diet may be deficient, or when a medical condition requires them. If you use an omega-3 supplement, check whether it contains EPA and DHA, or ALA, depending on your needs.
The World Health Organization recommends consuming 1-2 servings per week of fish (equivalent to 200 to 500 mg/day of EPA + DHA) to protect against coronary heart disease and ischaemic stroke.
#4 How do you know if you have an omega-3 deficiency?
An omega-3 deficiency can cause a range of health problems, but is easily overlooked as symptoms are often very similar to other deficiencies, such as of iron or calcium. Or sometimes symptoms may not even be apparent to a sufferer.
Particularly prone to this deficiency are people whose diets are low in fish and vegetables, or are very low in fat. Following are the more obvious symptoms of an omega-3 deficiency.
- Cardiovascular concerns. Omega-3 fatty acids are critical for a healthy heart. Ensuring good levels will help prevent heart disease and keep harmful cholesterol levels under control.
- Dry skin, brittle hair, thin nails that peel and crack, skin rashes and dandruff.
- Sleep issues. Issues such as insomnia, and the fatigue that invariably results, can be hard to diagnose because there are so many possible contributing factors. But an omega-3 deficiency may be the culprit.
- Poor concentration. An omega-3 deficiency can contribute to difficulty with memory and focus, and also cause irritability and anxiety.
- Joint pain and leg cramps. EPA and DHA have excellent anti-inflammatory properties, helping prevent and reduce swelling and inflammation in the joints and throughout the body.
- Allergy symptoms. Hives, asthma and eczema can all indicate an omega-3 deficiency.
- Prolonged, heavy periods. Women who experience these, especially when accompanied by clotting, may find relief by upping their intake of omega-3s.
- Excessive ear wax. If wax is clogging your ears, taking more omega-3s may alleviate the problem.
#5 What are the best dietary sources of omega-3s?
The best dietary sources of EPA and DHA are:
- Oily fish. Many fish contain EPA and DHA, but the best sources are oily fish like salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies and sardines. Like humans, fish do not synthesize omega-3 fatty acids, but obtain them through the seaweeds and algae in their diet. So farmed fish have lower levels of EPA and DHA than wild fish, unless their feed is supplemented, as it often is, usually with fish oil (Source).
- Seal oil. This is a rich source of EPA and DHA, and also docosapentaenoic acid (DPA), a fatty acid similar in structure to EPA. For a detailed look at the benefits of seal oil, click here (Source). According to Health Canada, seal oil helps to support the development of the brain, eyes, and nerves in children up to 12 years of age (Source).
- The oil of these tiny crustaceans is a rich source of EPA and DHA, comparable to fish oil (Source).
Excellent dietary sources of ALA are:
- Many seeds, nuts and common vegetable oils are great sources of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Flaxseed is an excellent source and widely available. Unlike most other sources, it also contains little linoleic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid that most people’s diets already contain in excess. Others great sources are hemp seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, soybeans, spinach, and Brussels sprouts.
- These types of plant-based sources of omega-3s certainly can be healthy additions to your diet. However, these plant-based sources must be converted into long-chain DHA and EPA by the body. It’s just one more step your body doesn’t have to do with fish oil or seal oil.
#6 What is the best brand of omega-3?
It is hard to say one Omega-3 is “best.” The three Omega-3 fatty acids found in seal oil—DHA, DPA, and EPA—work together to offer may benefits to the human body. In fact, DPA (found in seal oil, but not in such a large quantity in fish oil) increases the body’s ability to absorb DHA and EPA; these are truly a trio that belongs together.
All brands available on the Canadian Seal Products online store meet strict criteria and guidelines ensuring the highest standards of quality, safety and traceability. We therefore recommend to purchase the Omega-3 brands that have received our #SealofApproval:
#7 When to take Omega-3 Morning or evening?
There is no optimal time of day to take Omega-3 fatty acids. You can take them anytime. Some people prefer to take them with food.