Omega 3 FIsh Oil Benefits

A closer look at Omega 3 – EPA/DHA & the latest Research

Omega 3 is an ‘Essential Fatty Acid’ and the topic of Omega 3 seems never far from the public eye as it is regularly reported on in the mainstream media. The phrase Omega 3 has also made its way more frequently onto food packaging of late – a good example being ‘Omega 3 Fish Fingers’.

This example illustrates that there has been a conscious effort by health organisations and the government to educate the public on the importance of Omega 3
and the food industry are bound to ‘piggy back’ on this increased awareness. It is fantastic (in our opinion) that such efforts have been made to raise nutritional awareness; another good recent example is Vitamin D.

The primary food source of Omega 3 is fish and especially oily fish such as mackerel and sardines. Fish consumption worldwide has generally declined dramatically over recent decades and this is certainly the case in the UK. The reasons are many-fold such as fears of pollution in fish, scares over farmed fish and the cost and the ‘fiddly’ nature of preparing many fish such as their bones.

The health benefits of oily fish can be mainly attributed to its fatty acid content. There are 2 types of fatty acid: Omega 3 and Omega 6. When we ingest Omega 3 our body breaks the fatty acids down to 2 other fatty acids – Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and these are the components our body uses for many essential activities such as the maintenance of eye health, cell membrane integrity, skin health, joint mobility, and normal liver function.

It is now evident that all aspects of our health are influenced by our intake of these precious nutrients, whatever our age. That is why they are now added to baby foods, and why the Government recommends we eat oily fish at least twice a week.

The UK government currently recommends eating two portions of fish a week, one of which should be oily fish (recommendations vary for pregnancy; see more below). There has been a commensurate growth in Omega 3 supplements as a result of the awareness of the importance of this essential fatty acid and for those who would rather take supplements than eat fish. The most popular supplements are typically fish oil capsules or liquid but also Krill oil supplements too.

When it comes to the nutritional benefits of good levels of Omega 3 the predominant health issues discussed are cardiovascular health, joint health, support for eye health (vision) and cognitive functions i.e. the ‘health’ of the brain and helping to prevent ailments such as dementia. In this respect there has been a lot of research into ADHD in children and whether omega 3 deficiency plays a role in the symptoms.

The ‘Mediterranean Diet’ has been lauded as a healthy combination of foods with research indicating that there are genuine health and longevity benefits. Some of this is attributed to the regular fish consumption in the diet.

It is considered that good levels of omega 3 are very important for pregnant women, not only for their health but that of the unborn baby. Similarly good omega 3 levels play an important role in good health and development for children from birth onward. However the NHS advise “But pregnant women should avoid some types of fish and limit the amount they eat” (normally fish at high risk of mercury pollution such as tuna and swordfish).

Fish oil supplements are either made from fish livers, body fish, or a combination of both Fish liver oils are high in vitamins A and D as these are stored in the livers of oily fish. Whole body fish oils only contain a small part of the livers in total and hence a much lower level of vitamins A and D. So cod liver oil for example is high in vitamins A and D. This is an important point for certain groups of people, primarily pregnant women and also older men. Pregnant women are advised by the NHS not to have too much vitamin A (Retinol) in either food or supplement forms.

There is at any time a number of eminent research projects going on throughout the world in respect of assessing the benefits (or not) of Omega 3 in relation to specific ailments and health issues. And to stress when it comes to Europe and the supplement industry we are only able to display ‘proven health claims’ for any nutrient as assessed by EFSA (The European Food Safety Authority). The current proven health claims for Omega 3 EPA/ DHA are listed below – subject to a minimum ingestion amount i.e. ‘250 mg EPA and DHA per day’ and ‘foods should contain 250 mg of DHA in one or more servings’:

  • Maintenance of normal brain function;
  • Maintenance of normal vision;
  • Maintenance of normal cardiac function;
  • Maintenance of normal blood pressure;
  • Maintenance of normal (fasting) blood concentrations of triglycerides

When it comes to fish or krill oil supplements you should look for a product that provides high levels of Omega 3 EPA/DHA, and that is pure, and pollution free. As previously mentioned fish oil supplements are either made from fish livers, body fish, or a combination of both –so you have a decision to make in this respect too. The fish liver oils are much richer in vitamin A (and vitamin D) however pollution in fish is concentrated in the liver so you need to ensure the product is pollutant free. At Cytoplan we only offer body fish oils.

It should be noted that for vegetarians and vegans who obviously do not eat fish a good supplement option for rich Omega 3 is flaxseed oil (extracted from the flax seed). For flaxseed oil supplements you will again look for a pure oil rich in ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), organic so it is free from herbicides, and cold-pressed, which means that it is unprocessed and that the fatty acid content will remain unharmed in the extraction.

Omega 3 Research in the News – Here are links to a number of recent stories where omega 3 research made the headlines:

Oily fish may reduce risk of rheumatoid arthritis – “Eating fish could halve risk of arthritis” is the encouraging news in The Guardian, as a Swedish study found that women who regularly ate high levels of oily fish were less likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis.” – NHS Choices ‘Behind the Headlines’ website reviews the research and their analysis is encouraging:

NHS Choices: Oily fish may reduce risk of rheumatoid arthritis

Fatty acids could aid cancer prevention and treatment – “Omega-3 fatty acids, contained in oily fish such as salmon and trout, selectively inhibit growth and induce cell death in early and late-stage oral and skin cancers, according to new research from scientists at Queen Mary, University of London.” – Queen Mary University London on this potentially very exciting research they have carried out:

Queen Mary University: Fatty acids could aid cancer prevention and treatment

Researchers enter NSW prison system to find out whether Omega 3 fats reduce criminal behaviour – “University of Wollongong researchers want to know if the good fats – like Omega 3 – might reduce criminal behaviour. Associate Professor Barbara Meyer from the university’s School of Health Sciences says small overseas studies suggest higher levels of Omega 3 do lead to less offending.” – As reported by ABC News:

ABC News: Wollongong University study Omega 3

Omega-3 supplements ‘could raise prostate cancer risk’ – “Men who take omega-3 supplements for a health boost may be putting themselves at higher risk of prostate cancer, researchers claim. “ – This very alarming story as reported by the Telegraph (link below) and all the mainstream UK media. The research and media storm was subsequently widely debunked and the link to our blog story examining the research is below. Also a link to Nutra Ingredients who provide a round-up analysis of the research and media stories:

Taking omega-3 supplements may help prevent skin cancer, new study finds – “Results of the study, funded by the Association for International Cancer Research, found that taking a regular dose of fish oils boosted skin immunity to sunlight. Specifically, it also reduced sunlight-induced suppression of the immune system, known as immune suppression, which affects the body’s ability to fight skin cancer and infection. The findings have been published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition this month.” – According to researchers at The University of Manchester:

Manchester University: Taking omega-3 supplements may help prevent skin cancer, new study finds

The Omega 6 and Omega 3 Balance

The human body needs not only sufficient amounts of both Omega 3 and Omega 6 but also a suitable ratio between the two. Oily fish are rich in Omega 3 fatty acids, whilst Grains are a rich source of Omega 6. With the fall in our consumption of fish and the wide availability of convenience foods which feature grain and seed oils, the ratio of these two fatty acids in the diet has swung dramatically in favour of Omega 6 and reduced the amount of Omega 3.

We therefore need to increase our intake of Omega 3 fatty acids to regain the beneficial balance of oils in our diet and reap the health benefits they can give.

The Beneficial Components of Omega 3 – DHA/EPA

When we ingest Omega 3 our body breaks the fatty acids down to 2 other fatty acids EPA (Eicosapentaenoic Acid) DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid). DHA and EPA are used in the membranes in every body tissue where their presence has both a stabilising and anti-inflammatory effect on the tissue.

Doctors and nutritionists are noticing that some people are unable to efficiently break down Omega 3 into the useful DHA and EPA components, which is why many people are now advised to supplement with clean, stable, whole body fish oils. 2 grams of Omega 3 would only contain 18 calories and almost all Omega 3 ingested is used for essential body processes.

If you have any questions regarding this article, any of the health topics raised, or any other health matters please do contact me (Amanda) by phone or email at any time.

Amanda Williams
01684 310099


8 thoughts on “A closer look at Omega 3 – EPA/DHA & the latest Research

    1. Hi Segun – Omega 3s are essential for normalising the inflamamtory response and therefore can hep manage pain in osteoarthritis, they are also important for cell membrane integrity and therefore support the structure of the joint.

    2. Will see coz im starting to take omega 3 3x a day as what my doctor prescribed as for my triglycerides and fatty liver . Who knows it might also lessen pain on ostheo arthitis aincw i have it also

    1. HI Hermant – Omega 3s are as useful supplement for pregnancy as DHA is the predominant omea 3 in the brain and is therefore utilised during cognitive development. I would recommend the vegan Omega 3 during pregnancy (2 per day) as has a higher ratio of DHA.

    1. Hi Mumbi – Lymphoedema is a symptom of a malfunctioning lymphatic system, characterised by chronic swelling caused by the accumulation of lymph. Inflammation is thought to play major role in the progression of lymphoedema and, as such anti-inflammatory nutrients such as Omega 3 fatty acids could be supportive. An adequate dietary intake of omega 3 from oily fish and plant foods (chia seeds, macadamia, walnuts etc) or a suitable supplement is associated with a reduction in inflammation – as is an increase in the use of spices like turmeric, garlic, prebiotic foods, vegetables, coloured berries and olive oil, which can all contribute to an anti-oedema action. Other dietary interventions would be to reduce intake of salt, trans fats, processed foods, caffeine and alcohol.

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