The health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids have become well known in recent years particularly for their properties which support cardiovascular, joint and brain health. Omega-3 (and omega-6) fats are considered essential fatty acids as the human body does not possess the enzymes required to produce its own omega-3 and 6, therefore they must be obtained from the diet.
As is well documented, one of the snags is that the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 is very high in the average western diet and therefore is shifted towards a more pro-inflammatory response which has, in part, been attributed to the progression of many chronic diseases. Therefore, supplementation with omega-3 is often indicated. However, with so many different supplements on the market, which one is appropriate for each individual?
This article aims to explain the differences between Cytoplan’s omega-3 supplements to help you make the appropriate choice for yourself or your clients.
Alpha Linoleic Acid
Alpha linoleic acid (ALA) is actually the only truly essential omega-3 fat as all other forms of omega-3 can be produced from it. Its main dietary sources are flax, hemp and chia seeds (and their oils), dark leafy green vegetables and sea vegetables. It is the only dietary vegan source of omega-3.
ALA does not have active properties within the body and therefore needs to be converted via enzymes, which require sufficient zinc and magnesium, to the active constituents EPA and DHA (discussed later). Excess omega-6, stress, nutrient deficiencies and insulin resistance all have the potential to inhibit this pathway and so even if dietary intake of ALA is adequate, the conversion into bioactive omega-3 may be inefficient1.
Cytoplan’s flax seed oil is an excellent source of ALA. It has Soil Association Organic Certification, is grown on a UK farm and is cold pressed in small batches. The cold pressing means that it is unprocessed and the fatty acid content will remain undamaged by the extraction. Flax seed oil is the richest source of ALA and Cytoplan’s Organic Flaxseed Oil contains approximately 45-65% ALA, in addition to small amounts of vitamin E, beta carotene and lecithin and other phospholipids, which support fat absorption.
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) & Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
EPA is produced from ALA via the Δ5 and Δ6-destaurase and elongase enzymes and can also be obtained in the diet from oily fish, grass fed meats and some eggs (from chickens fed on flax seeds). It is a bioactive form of omega-3 fatty acid and plays an essential role in cell membrane health and modulating inflammation.
EPA is the precursor to the anti-inflammatory prostaglandin series PGE3 and also inhibits the conversion of the omega-6 fat, arachidonic acid, to the pro-inflammatory prostaglandin PGE2. Many of the benefits of omega-3 fats are attributed to the anti-inflammatory properties of EPA. EPA is also important for maintaining and stabilising cell membranes where it performs a structural role and aids cell membrane fluidity which supports normal cell signalling2.
Most fats which are rich in EPA also contain DHA and therefore DHA is obtained from the same sources as EPA. It is also produced from EPA via Δ4-destaurase and elongase enzymes. DHA is the most unsaturated omega-3 fat with 6 double bonds in its 22 carbon structure. Therefore, it is an extremely fluid and bendy molecule, perfect for aiding fluidity of cell membranes. DHA is the predominant omega-3 fatty acid in the brain and has been shown to be essential for cognitive development and function3.
There are a few different types of omega-3 oils that contain both DHA and EPA available from Cytoplan, therefore each one is explained in detail below.
First a side note: Fish oil is not to be confused with cod liver oil. Cod liver oil is, as it says on the tin, sourced from the livers of cod. As the seas where cod are fished are often polluted and toxins are stored in the liver, cod liver oil is often high in environmental pollutants particularly heavy metals such as mercury. So although the oil does provide a source of omega-3, it may be highly contaminated and should therefore be avoided.
Our high strength fish oil contains 330mg EPA and 220mg DHA per capsule. It is therefore a good source of EPA and very useful for supporting anti-inflammatory pathways. Fish are sourced via sustainable fishing methods. The oil is extracted from the muscle of the fish as opposed to the liver and is tested to have no trace of any ocean pollutants or heavy metals etc. (detection is now possible in parts per billion).
Krill oil has become increasingly popular; as well as containing EPA and DHA, it offers additional health benefits. Krill are small shrimp-like crustaceans that exist in large swarms and feed mainly on phyto-plankton and sea ice algae, making them a source of omega-3. Krill Oil is high in phospholipids, which aid emulsification of fat and therefore absorption of fatty acids. Phospholipids are also utilised in cell membranes and, as krill omega-3s are on a phospholipid backbone, they are more readily incorporated into cell membranes than fish oils which are in triglyceride form.
In addition, it naturally contains the phytonutrient antioxidant asthaxanthin as well as vitamin A. Krill oil also contains phlorotannins which are powerful antioxidants present in the algae that the crustaceans eat.
Krill Oil from Cytoplan contains 150mg of EPA and 90mg of DHA per 2 capsules. Again, the EPA makes it useful for promoting a healthy inflammatory response and the additional phospholipids aid cell membrane function and therefore cognitive development. The additional antioxidants present are also supportive of cardiovascular health.
Our source of krill oil is fished from sustainable sources from the Antarctic and our suppliers are committed to maintaining the sustainability of krill within the strict guidelines of CCAMLR (the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources). There has been some controversy regarding the use of krill oil as krill is the main food supply for whales in particular.
Cytoplan’s source of Krill oil is Neptune who only harvest Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba). The total biomass of that species alone weighs in at approximately 420 million metric tons. “The CCAMLR allows licensed krill operators in the Antarctic to collectively catch a limit of 620,000 tons of krill (around 1 percent of the total biomass) annually. This limit has never been reached, with annual catches remaining at around 200,000 tons annually for the last several years”4.
The CCAMLR also ensures that there is no effect on other species who rely on the krill. It has been shown that krill fishery does not create a shortfall for the whale population and the annual catch is less than 3% of what the Baleen whales consumed in the same time period. The same is true for krill and penguins. While a recent study looked at the decreasing penguin population, this urgent matter cannot be linked to krill fishing. The researchers did not find any correlation to krill fishery or a declining food supply4.
Cytoplan’s Omega 3 Vegan is a perfect option for vegans as it still contains DHA and EPA but is sourced from marine algae and therefore 100% vegan. This is useful as most vegan sources of omega-3 such as flax seed oil are only in the form of alpha linoleic acid, which as mentioned before needs to be converted by the body to EPA and DHA. This conversion can be affected by many factors, as mentioned above.
Omega 3 Vegan consists of 33% DHA and 15% EPA on a phospholipid backbone, it is therefore helpful for supporting cognitive function and development due to the higher ratio of DHA. Omega 3 Vegan is a good option for pregnant women due to the high levels of DHA and no vitamin A.
Isolated from herring roe R-Omega has been shown to be 3 times more effective than standard fish oil. It again is particularly supportive for cognitive function as it contains 40% DHA and 15% EPA on a phospholipid backbone. In addition, R-Omega is high in phosphatidylcholine and phospholipids (250mg per capsule) which includes phosphatidylserine (90mg per capsule).
Research has shown that there is a change to phospholipid content of the brain in Alzheimer’s patients which may contribute to the increased production of beta-amyloid. One study also showed that 2 weeks supplementation with R-Omega increased plasma levels of DHA and EPA by between 2.8 and 3 fold5.
As you can see there are many options for omega-3 fatty acids and the appropriate option will be dependent on the needs and budget of each specific individual.
- Flax seed oil is a vegan source of alpha linoleic acid which can be converted to EPA and DHA by the body. However, some people may not carry out this conversion effectively.
- EPA is the essential fat that is really important for reducing inflammation and protecting against pro-inflammatory conditions. Research shows it is supportive for cardiovascular function. High strength fish oil and krill oil are rich sources of EPA.
- DHA is the predominant omega-3 fatty acid in the brain and low levels are associated with dementia. It is essential for cognitive function and development. R-Omega and Omega 3 Vegan are rich sources of DHA.
- Phospholipids aid emulsification of fatty acids and therefore help fat absorption. They are also important for supporting membrane function in the brain, in particular phosphatidylcholine and phosphatidylserine. Krill Oil and R-Omega are rich sources of phospholipids.
- Research has shown that R-Omega is 3 times more effective than standard fish oils.
- Krill oil additionally contains vitamin A and asthaxanthin.
If you have any questions regarding the topics that have been raised, or any other health matters please do contact me (Helen) by phone or email at any time.
[email protected], 01684 310099
Helen Drake and the Cytoplan Editorial Team
- IFM. Textbook of Functional Medicine.; 2006.
- Swanson D, Block R, Mousa SA. Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA: health benefits throughout life. Adv Nutr. 2012;3(1):1-7. doi:10.3945/an.111.000893
- Weiser MJ, Butt CM, Mohajeri MH. Docosahexaenoic Acid and Cognition throughout the Lifespan. Nutrients. 2016;8(2):99. doi:10.3390/nu8020099
- Cook CM, Hallaråker H, Sæbø PC, et al. Bioavailability of long chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids from phospholipid-rich herring roe oil in men and women with mildly elevated triacylglycerols. Prostaglandins, Leukot Essent Fat Acids. 2016;111:17-24. doi:10.1016/j.plefa.2016.01.007