The unsaturated essential fatty acids known as Omega-3s confer a number of health benefits. However, obtaining the recommended amount of Omega-3s just through foods can be difficult. Taking an Omega-3 supplement can cover gaps in your diet. But, what makes a good Omega-3 supplement and which one should you take?
Learn all you need to know about supplementing with Omega-3s in these 10 tips from VitaMedica’s founder and medical director, Dr. David H. Rahm.
Flax Seed Oil for Great Skin
The first step to selecting the best Omega-3 supplement for your health goals is to sort out the different benefits each has to offer. Flax seed oil, for example, is the richest source of the Omega-3 fatty acid ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). This special type of fat is a key component in the fatty membranes of skin cells. Because skin cells have a rapid turnover rate, having the right nutrients like ALA on hand is a wise choice if you’re looking to improve your skin’s health and appearance. Supplementing with flax seed oil also keeps skins cells hydrated and moisturized in the face of age-related dryness and flaking.
Fish Oil for Healthy Aging
The ALA in flax seed oil is just one of three major types of Omega-3s. Fish oil is richer in the two other primary Omega-3s: EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid). While ALA promotes supple-looking skin, EPA and DHA work more with internal body systems. DHA is an important nutrient to maintain nerve health and cognitive function, as well as eye health. By strengthening the retina, DHA helps prevent age-related macular degeneration. In contrast, EPA provides anti-inflammatory and cardiovascular benefits. Fish oil has also been implicated in studies on prostate and breast cancer, potentially related to its anti-inflammatory properties. In addition, both EPA and DHA support skin health and protect against skin cancer by increasing the skin’s natural resistance to damaging UV light.
Choose Omega-3 Only Supplements
At first glance, an Omega-3-6-9 supplement may seem to offer even more benefits than a standalone Omega-3 product. However, a 3-6-9 formula generally delivers far less Omega-3 fats than a single-ingredient fish oil or flax seed oil supplement. Moreover, supplementing with Omega-6 and Omega-9 does not add up in terms of expense or health. The typical American diet is already too high in Omega-6s from vegetable oils in fried and processed foods, causing an imbalance to Omega-3s that promotes inflammation. And Omega-9s can be easily obtained by replacing your existing salad dressing (likely high in Omega-6s) with a homemade recipe of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) and balsamic vinegar.
Good Manufacturing Protects the Delicate Oil
The hallmark of high-quality nutriment oils like flax seed or fish oil is how well they are manufactured. Processes like cold-pressing and molecular distillation extract the oil without damaging it from exposure to light, high temperatures, oxygen or reactive metals. Using carob-coated softgels and opaque or dark packaging further protects the delicate oils from degradation during the products’ shelf-life. This ensures a premium quality product with exceptional taste. VitaMedica’s Organic Flax Seed Oil uses an exclusive Omegaflo® cold-press process and carob-coated softgels packed in blue PETE bottles. VitaMedica’s Super EPA/DHA Fish Oil is molecularly distilled to ensure no fishy smell or aftertaste, and conforms to world-wide quality and purity standards for environmental contaminants established by European, Norwegian, Canadian and U.S. governments.
Seek Quality Formulations
Once you’ve identified the type of Omega-3s that will best serve your health goals, you may be unsure how to distinguish a quality formulation among the dozens of brands on the market. The best Omega-3 supplements will start with the best quality ingredients. This means organically grown, non-GMO flax seeds, and fish oil derived from small, deep-water fish. Not all fish are an excellent source of Omega-3s, and if larger fish are used the risk of contamination from PCBs and dioxins is increased as these toxins become more concentrated higher up in the food chain. Also look for formulations that include vitamin E (often listed as tocopherols on product labels) as this powerful antioxidant helps protect the oils from oxidation and rancidity. VitaMedica’s Organic Flax Seed Oil and Super EPA/DHA Fish Oil supplements both contain natural vitamin E.
Look for Concentrated Formulas
While the price of one fish oil supplement may be half that of another, if double the number of capsules need to be taken to obtain the same amount of Omega-3s, then both supplements cost the same. Ideally, you’ll want to take the least number of capsules per gram (1,000 mg) of Omega-3s. The most common fish oil supplements contain 180 mg of EPA and 120 mg of DHA for a total of 300 mg of Omega-3s per softgel. That means that in order to obtain the 1.1 or 1.6 grams daily as recommended by the government and most health agencies, you’ll need to take at least 4 softgels a day. Instead, look for concentrated formulas like VitaMedica’s Super EPA/DHA Fish Oil which provides 1,000 mg of EPA and 500 mg of DHA, for a total of 1,500 mg of Omega-3s in just two softgels.
Cod Liver Oil Is Not a Good Source of Omega-3s
Like other fish oils, cod liver oil contains Omega-3s. However, the Omega-3 content can vary significantly and is often lower than a traditional fish oil supplement. For example, Nordic Naturals’ Arctic Cod Liver Oil provides just 75 mg EPA and 105 mg DHA per softgel. While the liquid forms tend to be higher in Omega-3s, many people find this form unpalatable, even if flavored. Cod liver oil is known for its modest vitamin D and high vitamin A content. Postmenopausal women should watch their vitamin A intake as osteoporotic hip fractures are associated with higher vitamin A intake.
Skip the Krill Oil
Krill, like other crustaceans and wild salmon, have a naturally occurring red pigment called astaxanthin. Astaxanthin is a type of carotenoid, a fat-soluble compound that works as an antioxidant to protect against oxidative damage. While krill oil is a good source of astaxanthins plus vitamins A and D, it does not provide appreciable amounts of either EPA or DHA. Due to the lower Omega-3 content and higher cost, taking a krill oil supplement is one of the most expensive ways to obtain Omega-3s.
Flax & Fish Oil Are Complementary
Flax seed oil is the best source of the essential fatty acid ALA. From ALA, our bodies can make both EPA and DHA, but this conversion process is not very efficient. If you want to obtain the widely-recognized health benefits of all three major forms of Omega-3s, it makes sense to augment your diet with both flax seed oil and fish oil supplements. One softgel of each daily is sufficient to meet most individuals’ needs for supporting great-looking skin and healthy aging.
Get Ground Flax Seed for Fiber
Flax seeds are small, flat oval-shaped seeds that are very hard. In order to obtain just a gram of Omega-3 oils, you would need to consume a large quantity of these seeds either whole or ground. The primary reason for taking ground flax seed is not to obtain Omega-3s but to increase your fiber intake and reduce cholesterol. Ground flax seed is much more palatable than psyllium fiber (e.g. Metamucil). Plus, flax seeds contain lignans, a phytoestrogen which has shown promise in vitro for halting breast cancer cell development.
David H. Rahm, M.D. is the founder and medical director of The Wellness Center, a medical clinic located in Long Beach, CA. Dr. Rahm is also president and medical director of VitaMedica. Dr. Rahm is one of a select group of conventional medical doctors who have education and expertise in functional medicine and nutritional science. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Rahm has published articles in the plastic surgery literature and educated physicians about the importance of good peri-operative nutrition.