You go to the doctor and he tells you to take an omega 3 supplement. Sounds simple enough, right? Then you stand in the vitamin aisle facing a wall of unfamiliar oils, capsules and seeds and suddenly you wish there were more specific instructions. Do you take a fish oil or go with the plant source, flax or her newly popular cousin, chia? Is one better than the other?
It seems like every week the headline is saying a different thing about this subject. What remains are the facts.
Let's take a look at fish oils first. Loaded with essential fats and omega 3, they have been used to support everything from healthy cholesterol levels to joint pain to hair, skin and nails. They also have naturally occurring long chain fatty acids, DHA and EPA. Don't be frightened. While this may sound like government code its really just an easier way of referring to the tongue twisters, docosahexaenoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid.
DHA is important for brain health. It helps with focus, concentration and memory. EPA supports mood and inflammation control in the body. They are both important and every fish oil will have varying ratios of these two substances, usually listed in milligrams on the label.
Certain products are formulated to be higher one or the other, for people who want to target specific issues. For example you will often find the DHA in the brain section of vitamin stores and EPA with the joint or mood products.
There are two other things to keep in mind when considering a fish oil. The first is the quality of the product and reputability brand. Because are oceans are no longer as clean as they once were this is more important in fish oils than other supplements. Look for products that are caught from clean waters, molecularly distilled and third party tested.
The last thing you should be aware of is that fish oils are a slight blood thinner. While this is an added benefit to some, anyone already taking blood thinning medication or about to have surgery should consult a doctor before adding fish oils to their dietNext we have plant based omega threes, such as flax and chia.
Whether in oil or seed form, these are very good vegetarian sources of Omega 3. Chia, the new kid on the block, has gained popularity recently because it also provides protein, antioxidants, a wide range of amino acids and is juice and smoothie friendly.
Many people prefer plant omega's, either for dietary reasons or because they feel it is a cleaner, safe source than ocean based products. Unfortunately, these short chain plant omegas don't provide naturally occurring DHA and EPA. While your body is able to convert them into these substances, it is not nearly at the level found in fish oils.
What they do provide, at least in the case of flax, are lignans, or the husks of the flax seed. Lignans contain phyto estrogen properties to help balance hormones and may be a good choice for women, especially those facing menopause. They also have fiber, which can help maintain healthy blood sugar.
Because many people use their flax oil to make salad dressing and prefer to forgo the lignans, always make sure to check the label. A product should state clearly if it is filtered or high lignan. (This also explains the twelve different colored flax products by the same company.)
There you have the fast facts on omega 3. Hopefully this will help make your decision less confusing the next time the doctor leaves you to wander alone on the vitamin aisle.