Good levels of omega 3 essential fatty acids in the form of EPA and DHA are required for our brain, eyes, immune system, heart, skin, cognition and nervous system. Omega 3 forms part of the cell structure which explains why it’s so integral to so many systems in the body. We can get these fats from the foods we eat and from sourcing the best quality supplements.
Here are Wild Nutrition’s top 3 benefits of omega 3:
1. Keeps omega 3:6 in balance
In the western diet we often get more omega 6 than omega 3, which can disrupt our omega 3:6 ratio. This means our need for it goes up as it’s important to keep these two essential fats in balance to help prevent inflammation. Eating wild caught oily fish can be helpful or alternatively you can supplement with a fish oil to keep your omega 3 within a healthy range.
2. There is no need for conversion
Many people consume flax, chia and hemp and assume they are getting enough omega 3. However, these plant based foods contain the precursor to omega 3 called alpha linolenic acid (ALA). The body has to convert ALA to omega 3 but unfortunately the conversion rate can be quite low in humans. This conversion is also reliant on iron and zinc so these nutrients must not be deficient. Taking a high quality fish oil that contains omega 3 which has already been converted in the body of the fish, means it is therefore readily available for the human body to use.
3. Prepares the body to conceive
Omega 3 is very important if you are preparing to or trying to conceive for both the man and the woman. It plays a central role in sperm formation, having a positive effect on fertility. The foetus, young infant and growing child need omega 3 just like their parents as EFAs (essential fatty acids) are very important for brain development. The human brain is around 60% fat with DHA found predominantly in the grey matter, which includes areas of the brain responsible for sensory perception and intelligence.
Wild Nutrition have recently launched a new easy-to-swallow Pure Strength Omega 3 with small capsules, Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified Alaskan Pollock and a ratio of EPA to DHA that is naturally found in these fish.
By now it is well known that omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial for health; however, it is important to know that not all omega-3s are the same. The various chemical structures of different types of omega-3 fatty acids exert varying effects on health.
The science of fatty acids
So a bit about the science: ‘short-chain’ fatty acids are those found in plant oils and as the name suggests, they are made up of a smaller number of carbon atoms, therefore making the chain short in length. ‘Long-chain’ fatty acids, such as omega-3 EPA and DHA found in fish, are those with more carbon atoms, and are longer in length. The longer chain fatty acids are those that produce the anti-inflammatory effects in the body by producing hormone-like substances called eicosanoids.
Vegetarian plant source
If you are vegetarian or vegan, you may be wondering how you can achieve this anti-inflammatory effect without eating fish. Fortunately, the body is adept at converting fatty acids (to a certain extent), so that when we eat ‘short-chain’ fatty acids such as echium seed oil, the body can metabolise these fats into the same chemical structure as the ‘long-chain’ omega-3 EPA found in fish. In this process, only a certain amount of short-chain fatty acids are converted to long-chain fatty acids, depending on both the type of fat consumed and the presence of other vitamins and minerals which are required for enzymes to work properly.
Echium seed oil
Echium seed oil is one of the finest oils of choice for vegetarians, as it naturally contains an optimal balance of omegas 3, 6 and 9. Unique to echium seed oil is its rich source of the specific omega-3 fatty acid SDA, which is the direct precursor to omega-3 EPA, meaning that it is very easily converted to EPA in the body, with usually around 25-30% conversion. This makes echium seed oil one of the best plant-sourced oils to consume for reducing inflammation; it may therefore help to reduce symptoms for conditions such as arthritis and inflammatory skin disorders. EPA is also required for synthesising neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine, so echium seed oil may help to enhance mood.
Echium seed oil also contains the omega-6 fatty acid GLA, which is great for skin health and hormone balancing. Omega-9 oleic acid, also in echium seed oil, is high in a Mediterranean-type diet and is otherwise found in olive oil. Echium seed oil contains twice as much omega-3 compared to its omega-6 and omega-9 content, therefore is considered to be anti-inflammatory, and can help to balance the omega-3 to omega-6 ratio.
Linseeds are often the omega-3 of choice for vegetarians as they are the richest source of the short-chain fatty ALA, although in reality only around 5-8% of this is converted to EPA, so for vegetarians, you would have to consume huge amounts of linseed oil to obtain the anti-inflammatory effects. It is important to stress that it’s healthy to continue to include these fatty acids in your diet as the fibre and vitamins & minerals found in linseeds are particularly beneficial to health, so keep up with the ground linseeds sprinkled over your breakfast, but don’t rely on the oil to reduce inflammation in the body.
Algae oil is another interesting oil of choice for vegetarians, as algae are a direct source of food for fish. Algae oil contains the long-chain omega-3 DHA, and a very small amount of EPA. The high DHA to EPA ratio does not give great support for controlling inflammation in the body, as it is EPA required at the higher dose, and EPA and DHA also compete for enzymes in the body. High DHA from algae is, however, beneficial during pregnancy, as DHA is required for making the brain structure of an unborn foetus.
Other plant-source oils
Omega-3 can also be found in other plant oils such as hemp seed oil, chia seed oil and pumpkin seed oil; however, all of these oils contain the short-chain fatty acid ALA, which is therefore not converted as readily as the fatty acid SDA found in echium seed oil. Hemp, chia and pumpkin oil are also much higher in omega-6 fatty acids compared to omega 3, so the ratio is not as anti- inflammatory in the body.
For vegetarians and vegans, choosing an oil high in omega-3 SDA such as echium seed oil is likely to do wonders for your health, so consider this an option over other oils which may be more difficult to convert to EPA in the body.
Inflammation is a natural process and is part of our immune system, helping to heal injury and protect us from infection. Unfortunately inflammation can sometimes get out of control. Modern living appears to encourage chronic low-grade inflammation. For example, when the body is under stress, from poor diet, excess weight, pollution or even simply through ageing, inflammation can be triggered.
Once inflammation is triggered, it can become a chronic problem. Professor William Meggs, chief of toxicology at East Carolina University explains: “Once inflammation begins, it sets off a series of physiologic reactions that cause additional inflammation and the body’s reactions become more and more difficult to turn off” (1).
Conditions such as arthritis, heart disease, periodontal disease, premature ageing, inflammatory skin conditions and allergic reactions are all examples of chronic low grade inflammation. Achieving optimal health means taking measures to control your inflammation risk. Below are some simple dietary guidelines for controlling and reducing levels of inflammation.
1. Aim for 9 servings of fruit and vegetables daily.
Phytochemicals in fruit and vegetables have both anti-inflammatory and antiallergic agents. Studies have found that increased fruit and vegetable intake lowers markers of inflammation and oxidative stress (2). Aim each week to eat at least one of these top inflammation-fighting foods from each of the following categories:
2. Increase levels of omega 3.
The best sources of omega-3 are oily fish such as mackerel, salmon, tuna, sturgeon, anchovy, herring, trout, sardines and mullet. Better still, choose those with lower levels of mercury contamination such as sardines, salmon and North Atlantic mackerel. Fish oil suppresses anti-inflammatory cytokines, reducing inflammation (3). Alternatively, fish oil supplements can be added to your diet. If you are vegetarian, you should include a tablespoon of good quality flaxseed oil daily.
3. Decrease levels of omega 6.
While omega-3 has anti-inflammatory effects, omega-6 is usually pro-inflammatory. A good balance between the two is essential for optimal health. Unfortunately the ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 in the modern diet tends to be too high. In the UK, our ratio of omega 6 to 3 is around 20:1 whereas the ideal ratio of omega 6 to 3 is thought to be nearer to 4:1 (4). Limiting processed and fried foods containing vegetable oils and reducing foods high in arachidonic acid, such as red meat, may help to reduce levels of undesirable inflammatory markers such as C-reactive protein (CRP).
4. Add olive oil to your diet.
Olive oil improves cholesterol levels and contains powerful antioxidants. This oil plays a huge part in the Mediterranean diet, which is linked to longer life expectancy and lower rates of cardiovascular disease. A recent study found that adding just 1.5 tablespoons of olive oil daily for one week reduced levels of LDL cholesterol (5). Try using olive oil as a salad dressing, or substituting the oil for your usual margarine.
5. Watch your AGE.
Highly processed foods and meats cooked at high temperatures are likely to have high levels of Advanced Glycation End products. AGE products increase inflammation, and are caused by prolonged processing such as heating and sterilising. Fortunately there are several ways to reduce AGE products. Cooking using a lower temperature, using moist heat, and adding acidic ingredients such as lemon juice or vinegar will help (6). If you are making a stir-fry, the best way to reduce AGE products is to include plenty of vegetables with a small amount of protein. You can also try steaming fish and seafood, simmering chicken in a sauce and braising red meat in liquid.
1. Meggs WJ (2003) The Inflammation Cure. New York: McGraw Hill.
2. Root et al (2012) Combined Fruit and Vegetable Intake Is Correlated with Improved Inflammatory and Oxidant Status from a Cross-Sectional Study in a Community Setting Nutrients 4(1): 29–41.
3. Calder PC (2002) Dietary modification of inflammation with lipids. Proc Nutr Soc Aug;61(3):345-58.
4. Erasmus U (1993) Fats the Heal, Fats That Kill. Canada: Alive Books.
5. Stark AH (2002) Olive oil as a functional food: epidemiology and nutritional approaches. Nutr Rev 60(6):170-176.
6. Urribarri J et al (2010) Advanced glycation end products in foods and a practical guide to their reduction in the diet. J Am Diet Assoc. Jun;110(6):911-16.e12.