If you were to create a nutritionally perfect diet, you’d be eating plenty of fresh, wild-caught fish. Yet in the real world, even professional athletes, celebrities, and others who can afford personal chefs don’t get everything right with their nutrition, and even if you eat fish regularly, you might not be consuming the most beneficial kinds. Next week, we are releasing our newest Momentous product. You guessed it — Omega-3! As we prep for this product launch, we’re sharing what advantages omega-3s provide, when you might not be getting enough from your diet alone, and which kinds are best if you decide to supplement.
What are the Main Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids?
There are three main types of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) are derived from fish, while ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) comes from plant sources, meat (grass-fed beef, bison, and others are higher in ALA than grain-fed options), and eggs. DHA and EPA are highly bioavailable and readily absorbed by your body, whereas ALA needs to be converted into the other two kinds to be usable (more on this later).
There’s a large body of evidence detailing the health benefits of DHA and EPA.One of their primary functions is to balance out omega-6s, which are found in nuts, seeds, oils, and added to bread, snack foods, and many processed products, and they can be pro-inflammatory if consumed in excess. According to a report from The Center for Genetics, Nutrition and Health, omega-6 intake has increased substantially due to elevated consumption of fast food and processed snacks, with the average omega-6 to omega-3 ratio in America and Western Europe now at between 15 and 16.7:1. The author suggested that reducing this ratio of 4:1 led to “a 70% decrease in total mortality” in one cardiovascular health study, with other research showing that consuming less omega-6 and more omega-3 lowered the incidence of certain cancers, arthritis, and asthma.
This isn’t just another random statistic. Research suggests that a dramatic imbalance tipped in favor of omega-6s promotes a state of chronic inflammation in your body in which disease flourishes. Such persistent inflammation has also been linked to cognitive decline conditions like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and dementia, heart and cardiovascular disease, and a whole host of metabolic issues.
A paper published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine noted that omega-3s function as precursors to hormones that help reduce inflammation levels. They might not only help tackle existing problems in this area but also prevent inflammation from getting out of control in the first place. To this end, a review conducted at the University of Southampton in the UK discovered that EPreduce production of inflammatory cytokines and eicosanoids.
DHA and EPA are also essential for brain development and maintaining cognitive function as you age, with the former making up 40 percent of the polyunsaturated fats in your brain tissue. In a study out of UCLA’s Department of Medicine, the authors wrote that, “DHA is also protective against several risk factors for dementia” and suggested that it may help slow other forms of age-related mental decline.
While there are some contradictions in the scientific literature about the relationship between omega-3s and heart health, a meta-analysis published via the International Journal of Molecular Sciences in 2020 found a strong correlation between high blood levels on EPA and DHA and “lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD), especially coronary heart disease (CHD) and myocardial infarction (MI), and cardiovascular mortality.”
How Can Omega-3 Fatty Acids Benefit Athletes?
Omega-3s have the potential to help athletes as well as the general population. Researchers from the University of Toronto found that after 21 days of supplementation, participants improved neuromuscular function during strength sessions. A review published in Research in Sports Medicinestated that consistent omega-3 intake might improve endurance performance by reducing the oxygen cost of long-duration workouts. The authors also stated that higher blood levels of DHA and EPA increase fat and protein utilization within muscle cells.
Are All Fish Created Equal from a Nutrition Perspective?
In a word, no. While all fish are a solid source of protein and fat and are low in carbs, their nutritional breakdown can vary quite widely, particularly when it comes to their fatty acid profile. The reason that many supplement companies use anchovies and sardines in their omega-3 supplements is that both contain a high amount of EPA and DHA. Pollock, mackerel, and herring also rank highly in this regard. Wild-caught salmon is expensive but is worth the investment if you want to increase the amount of omega-3s in your diet.
On the other end of the spectrum, bass, tilapia, cod, and most shellfish have comparatively low levels of EPA and DHA. Usually – although it’s not always the case – farmed fish have less omega-3 fatty acids than wild-caught varieties, even though they’re called the same thing. Another consideration is that the best kind of wild fish – at least from an environmental standpoint – are those that carry the Marine Stewardship Council’s Blue Fish Label. The MSC is also a great resource for fish quality, traceability, and sustainability.
Can I Get Omega-3s from Plant Foods?
In his bestselling book Born to Run, Chris McDougall highlighted the chia seeds that the Tarahumara tribe in Mexico uses to fuel their long jaunts through harsh terrain. These little white or black seeds went mainstream and contain omega-3s, magnesium, selenium, and other micronutrients. For those who don’t eat fish, walnuts and flax seeds can also be go-to sources of plant-based omega-3s.
Yet the trouble with trying to get all your omega-3s from nuts or seeds is that the form they’re in – ALA – is not highly bioavailable. While ALA does have some benefits, it is less potent than fish-derived omega 3s has to convert it into other forms. According to a pair of studies published in the British Journal of Nutrition, your body can only convert around 15 percent of ALA to EPA or DHA, meaning that the majority of non-marine omega-3s are unusable. If you don’t eat fish, you might well benefit from omega-3 supplementation — introducing an omega-3 supplement can start to get your omega-6 to omega-3 ratio back into a healthy range.
What Are the Most Potent Forms of Omega-3?
Most omega-3 supplements come in the highly processed synthetic ethyl ester (EE) form from farm-raised fish, which is cheaper and more prone to oxidation. In contrast, higher grade options come in the naturally occurring triglyceride (TG) form sourced from wild-caught fish, which is minimally processed and 12 to 15 percent more readily absorbed in your body. One of the reasons that the fatty acid profiles are different in these two sourcing scenarios is that while wild-caught fish subsist on a natural diet in the ocean, farmed ones are often fed with lab-created products and, like factory-farmed meat, bulked up with corn and other grains to increase their size.
When shopping for an omega-3 supplement, it’s also worth noting that just because a product claims to contain a certain amount, it doesn’t mean that’s what is actually in the bottle. A study published in the Journal of Food Composition and Analysis found that out of 48 bestselling fish oil products tested, 52 percent of them contained less DHA and EPA than was stated on the package. To make sure you don’t get swindled, choose a supplement from a company with a track record of providing high-quality supplements, like Momentous Omega-3, and preferably one that conducts third-party testing. This will not only give you peace of mind that you’re getting what you think you should be but will also safeguard your health, as such testing also assesses quality levels and looks for heavy metals and other toxins that have no business being in your supplements.
How Much Omega-3 Should I Take and When?
Government guidelines suggest taking between 1 and 3 grams of EPA and DHA daily with a 1:1. This is the equivalent of a two-capsule serving of Momentous Omega-3, which contains 1,500 mg total and also includes the enzyme lipase to aid digestion. If you exercise, allow at least two hours after the end of your session to take an omega-3 supplement so that it doesn’t blunt the acute inflammation that spurs muscle repair and other exercise-induced adaptations. On days when you don’t train, you can take your usual dose anytime.
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 Kelly B Jouris, Jennifer L McDaniel, and Edward P Weiss, “The Effect of Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplementation on the Inflammatory Response to Eccentric Strength Exercise,” Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, September 1, 2011, available online at https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24150614/.
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 Evan JH Lewis et al, “21 Days of Mammalian Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplementation Improves Aspects of Neuromuscular Function and Performance in Male Athletes Compared to Olive Oil Placebo,” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, June 18, 2015, available online at https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26085822/.
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 Gerard Bannenberg et al, “Ingredient Label Claim Compliance and Oxidative Quality of EPA/DHA Omega-3 Retail Products in the U.S.,” Journal of Food Composition and Analysis, May 2020, available online at https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0889157519305137.