I’m sure I’m not the only one who has less than pleasant memories of my mother forcing me to swallow giant fish oil capsules because she read that it would help during exams? I used to have to chew them with chocolate and try not to throw up, as I just couldn’t swallow them. Good thing they worked – not. Despite a ridiculous amount of media coverage, supplementing with fish oil was never proven to improve exam results. Ah well.
However, there are definite benefits of getting enough omegas in your diet and healthy cognitive function is one of them. But they don’t just have to come from fish – plants can be enriched with omegas too.
(Abbreviations and references can be found at the bottom of this post)
Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) are essential for normal human growth and health, and have anti-inflammatory effects (unlike omega-6 fatty acids). The main omega-3 PUFA important to human health are ALA, EPA, and DHA. ALA is usually found in plants whereas DHA and EPA are usually found in animal sources. Dietary ALA is relatively easy to come by, and is found in most plant sources, however the conversion of ALA to EPA and DHA in the body is less than 5% – although it is slightly higher in women than men.
One of the intermediary products between ALA and EPA is SDA, which has a much better conversion rate as it bypasses the rate-limiting (slowest) step in the conversion reactions. There aren’t many dietary sources of SDA, so far we only know of blackcurrant oil (2-4% SDA), echium oil (12-14%), GM soybeans (20-30%), and Ahiflower Oil (20%).
Ahiflower Oil is a rich source of omega-3 and 6 fatty acids, and is more effective at increasing blood EPA levels than flaxseed oil, for example, which is often cited as a plant alternative to fish oil. With the growing public awareness around sustainability, and a growing number of individuals turning to vegetarianism or veganism as a way of eating, Ahiflower Oil could be a great way to get those essential fatty acids in your diet. This is especially the case for vegetarians and vegans, as fish oil is currently the richest source of essential omega-3 fats. Not only do you avoid a potential deficiency, there’s also no fishy smell or aftertaste (and no fishy burps – don’t judge, you know you were thinking it too).
So why should I take omega-3?
Omega-3 intake in itself has some benefits, including a decreased risk of stroke, decreased blood triglycerides, and lowered markers of inflammation (e.g. CRP, IL-6, and TNF-α for those in the know). If you diet is already rich in oily fish then supplementation will likely make little to no difference in your diet, but if you are vegetarian or vegan then obviously fish isn’t on the menu. In that case, where there’s a risk of deficiency, the benefits become more worthwhile.
The metabolites of omega-6 fatty acids are more inflammatory than those of omega-3, and the ratio of your intake has an effect on the body’s inflammatory state. Getting this balance right is important, although we currently have no fixed idea of what exactly that balance looks like. A typical Western diet has an omega-6:omega-3 ratio of around 30:1 or 10:1, whereas it’s been suggested we should be aiming for more around the 4:1 mark. Getting a higher intake of omega-3 is clearly beneficial here.
There’s also a possible link between omega-3 and depressive mood, so it has been suggested that EPA supplementation may be helpful in cases of depression as an addition to regular treatment. This is believed to be due to the effect of omega-3 metabolites on regulating inflammation, and these also being linked to depression. But this is still a new and uncertain area – we can’t say much for sure but it’ll be interesting to see how this develops in the future!
I don’t believe in unnecessary supplementation. So take a look at your diet, and if it’s devoid of sources of omega-3 then perhaps supplementing is something worth considering. It’s good to know that even you if you don’t eat fish you don’t have to miss out – there’s plant-based solutions out there!
ALA: alpha-linolenic acid
EPA: eicosapentaenoic acid
DHA: docosahexaenoic acid
SDA: stearidonic acid
This is a sponsored post, however all claims made are backed by evidence, and all opinions remain my own.