There are no more important nutrients for fighting diseases caused by inflammation than the omega-3 supplements. And while the best known nutritional aids are the omega-3 fish oil supplements, even vegans can find easy ways to enhance their intake of essential fatty acids.
The Problem with Getting Omega-3's From Food
Many foods are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Certain plant oils, especially flaxseed oil, walnut oil, and grapeseed oil, contain high percentages of omega-3 fats. Certain fish, especially kipped herring, salmon, mackerel, sardines, and albacore ("white") tuna, are also rich in omega-3's.
The problem with getting your omega-3 essential fatty acids from food, however, is what comes along with them.
The plant oils that are good sources of omega-3 essential fatty acids are also good sources of omega-6 essential fatty acids.
Your body needs both kinds of fats, but most of get 10 to 30 times more omega-6 than omega-3, and it's the ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 that determines whether their net effect on the body is harmful or healing.
If you're trying to get a healthier ratio of omega-3 to omega-6, it doesn't help to consume omega-6 with your omega-3.
The fish that are richest in omega-3 essential fatty acids are all cold-water fish. Fish that live in warmer waters don't need as much "antifreeze" so they don't make as much omega-3.
You can get all the omega-3 essential fatty acids you need from a single 3-1/2 oz (100 gram) serving of kippered herring (which many people find to be an acquired taste), Atlantic wild salmon, or sardines.
But when you get your omega-3 essential fatty acids from fish, you get everything else in the fish along with them.
Fish is a great source of protein, but it can also be a bad source of bacterial contamination or heavy metals. Fortunately, there is a better way.
Supplements for Your Omega-3 Needs
"PCBs and dioxin are especially hazardous to pregnant women."Fish Oil Safetly
Fish oil capsules, sometimes referred to as fish oil "pills," are the easiest and least expensive way to get omega-3's without omega-6's and without contamination. But to avoid the possibility of contamination, you will need to buy molecularly distilled fish oils that are specially treated to remove any possibility of heavy metal or PCB contamination.
You also want to avoid fish oil pills that contain ethyl esters. Sometimes manufacturers try to boost the DHA and EPA content of their products by adding chemically treated fish oil ethyl esters.
Your body has to work a lot harder to absorb fish oil ethyl esters. Only about a third of this "added value" actually gets into your body, and the ethyl esters themselves are subject to degradation into a kind of anti-antioxidant. They literally destroy vitamins C and E.
When you take fish oil, make sure you get a high-quality fish oil that contains at least 600 mg of DHA plus EPA (the two ingredients added together) in each capsule. And if you are a vegan or a vegetarian, consider omega-3 supplements made from microalgae, the ocean plants that make the DHA and EPA that winds up in the fish!
Do Omega-3 Supplements Work?
If you feel better when you take omega-3 supplements, you know they have worked. Skin that is clearer and joints that ache less often, feeling happy rather than depressed and enjoying better mental focus are all important changes that can be related to taking omega-3 supplements. But you can also measure your progress objectively.
The laboratory measure that shows the effects of taking omega-3 supplements is your bloodstream triglyceride level. Taking fish oil lowers triglycerides.
Lowering triglycerides lowers the product of a particularly "sticky" kind of cholesterol that usually is not measured in routine lab testing, but which can definitely cause problems for your health.
There is just one area for caution in interpreting lab results when you take omega-3 supplements.
Most people don't know-and some doctors don't know-that blood tests usually don't measure LDL ("bad") cholesterol. They estimate LDL cholesterol with a formula that makes LDL go up when triglycerides go down. (Read more about Does fish oil lower cholesterol?)
Don't let your doctor put you on a statin drug for cholesterol just because you have improved your triglycerides! Speak with your doctor about the right test to measure cholesterol when you take fish oil or other omega-3 supplements.