Omega 3: Everything you need to know
Omega 3 makes up 40% of your grey matter, supports heart health, and is in every cell in your body. Here’s the lowdown.
Research studies have found that a significant number of adults (up to 98%) don't get enough omega 3 fatty acids through their supplements and their diet.
Whether you're seeking to enhance your current omega 3 intake, or you're exploring this topic for the first time, the following guide will outline everything you need to know about omega 3 fatty acids.
What is omega 3?
Omega 3 fats are a type of essential polyunsaturated fat. Your body needs these fats, but your body can't make them on its own (hence the term “essential”), which highlights the importance of getting enough omega 3s through your food and your supplements.
Omega 3s are foundational to the health of your body and mind—quite literally—because they help to form the very structure of your cells and are therefore critical for the basic functioning of your body on a cellular level.
What are the types of omega 3?
There are actually a huge number of different types of omega 3 (if you want to get really nerdy, the classification is based on the position of a double carbon bond in the fatty acid molecule), but in general, there are three key types that matter when it comes to nutrition.
DHA (docosahexaenoic acid)
This form of omega 3 is found in algae, fish and other sources. It's especially important for the cells in your eyes and brain (approximately 40% of your brain's polyunsaturated fats are made up of DHA).
EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid)
You'll find this type of fat in seafood, such as fish oil, as well as algae oil. Your body needs it to create signalling molecules (which help your cells communicate).
ALA (alpha-linolenic acid)
You'll find this form of omega 3 in plant-based foods like nuts and flax. It doesn’t do as much as the other two on its own, but your body can convert it into EPA and DHA.
What are the benefits of omega 3?
Your brain needs fats for energy. It's actually the most fat-dense organ in your body, and omega 3s (specifically DHA) are the predominant form of fat in your grey matter. And because they are so key for your cellular health, the physical perks and brain health benefits of omega 3s are quite comprehensive. Omega 3s (in the form of DHA and EPA), contribute to:
Normal brain function
Normal function of the heart
Normal blood triglyceride levels
Normal blood pressure
Normal visual development of infants up to 12 months of age
Omega 3s are found in your brain, in your blood, in your skin, in your nerve cells. In fact, They’re in literally every cell in your body, and you can feel their effects all over.
How much omega 3 should I be getting?
There hasn't been a nutrient reference value (NRV) established in the UK for omega 3, but the standard NHS recommendation is two portions of oily fish a week.
And while some seeds contain ALA, it’s worth noting that the process of converting ALA to EPA and DHA is very inefficient (more than 90% will be lost), so you’d need to eat far more ALA to get to the recommended levels overall.
In every Vitals⁺ dose
We include 375mg of omega 3s in every dose of the Vitals⁺—250mg of DHA and 125mg of EPA, farmed from sustainable microalgae. Scientific studies suggest that this quantity will allow you to experience the full benefits of omega 3 for body and mind.
What are the food sources of omega 3
There aren’t a lot of food sources for omega 3s, particularly when it comes to DHA and EPA. However, the following foods can help boost your intake of omega 3 essential fats:
Fatty fish, such as salmon, sardines and herring
Shellfish, such as crab and oysters
And you’ll also find ALA in the following foods:
Flaxseed oil (and other plant-based oils)
Dark, leafy vegetables
It’s important to remember that ALA does not convert to DHA And EPA efficiently, so you’d need to eat vast quantities of those foods to get enough DHA and EPA.
Can I take an omega 3 supplement?
If you want to improve your omega 3 levels, you can take DHA and EPA supplements. These often come in the form of:
Fish oil (both natural fish oil, as well as processed fish oil)
Oil from shellfish, such as mussels
Mammalian oil (a technical term referring to EPA extracted from seal blubber)
Algae oil—Algae oil is actually the "original" form of DHAs and EPAs. Marine algae is very rich in omega 3 fatty acids, and fish are high in EPAs and DHAs simply because they eat a lot of algae.
The trouble with fish oil supplements
Despite its popularity, fish oil is not the best source of omega 3s. Leaving aside any questions of the ethics of vegetarianism, fish get their high omega 3 levels from eating marine algae. Taking a supplement made with algae oil provides you with the original, pure form of EPAs and DHAs as nature intended. Plus, it avoids some aspects of fish oil that some people may find problematic.
Damage to marine ecosystems
Most fish oil supplements use oil from the Peruvian anchoveta—“In some years, Peruvian anchoveta harvests have equalled as much as 10 million metric tons," says Paul Greenberg, author of The Omega Principle, in an interview with NPR. "Just to give you some perspective, that's like one-eighth of all the fish caught in the world."
Despite some safeguards being in place to prevent overfishing of Peruvian anchoveta populations, underreporting catches is commonplace, and the fish stocks in the Pacific are at risk.
Fish oil can go rancid quickly, especially if the supplements are not packaged properly or are exposed to light and air. Reporting in the Guardian suggests that “more than one in 10 fish oil supplements tested from among 60 large retail brands are rancid”. Long supply chains—fishing in South America, extraction and distillation in China, and packaging in North America, before finally arriving on a supermarket shelf—also increase the risk of the fish oil turning rancid.
Levels of heavy metals
Wild fish are naturally exposed to the numerous environmental pollutants in our oceans. When these pollutants are ingested by the fish, they tend to accumulate in the liver, and it's the liver where we get much of the fish oil itself. Researchers warn that some fish oil supplements may be high in heavy metals, especially mercury.
These are just some of the reasons that, if you’re looking for an omega 3 supplement, choosing one derived from farmed microalgae, with no impact on marine ecosystems, is better for you and for the planet.
Omega 3 is an essential nutrient that plays a huge part in the health of your body and mind, and to get enough of the right types, your options are limited. That’s why it can be an excellent idea to take a daily supplement that will cover your bases (for those weeks when you aren’t feasting on mackerel and sardines).
But not all omega 3 supplements are equal—you have to choose one that contains the right amounts, the right types, and is proven to work. Discover Vitals⁺ now.