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What are Omega-3 Fatty Acids?

Omega-3s exist within the larger umbrella of dietary fats.

A lot of people tend to think of ‘fat’ in a negative context, but these types of fats are necessary and very healthy. We all need them in our diets, yet they tend to be lacking in most people's diets.  There are three omega-3 fatty acids that have beneficial roles in your body: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). ALA is the least important of the three, our bodies use it for energy and as a building block for EPA and DHA.  Next is EPA which is important for overall health, reducing inflammation, and improving cardiovascular health.  The most important is DHA which has the inflammatory and cardiovascular benefits of EPA, but also promotes healthy cognitive and visual function.

In terms of sources, ALA is found in plant-based foods like avocados, walnuts, olive oil and tofu whereas EPA and DHA come from marine-based sources like salmon, sardines and algae.

Why Do I Need Omega-3 Fatty Acids?

Omega-3s are critical to human health. ALA, EPA and DHA are incorporated into cell membranes and are necessary for effective cell function, normal growth and proper development.

DHA consumption during healthy pregnancies is crucial to brain development.  Studies have shown developmental benefits in infants whose mothers consumed adequate amounts of DHA during pregnancy.  A 2004 study from Harvard Medical School showed better outcomes on visual recognition memory and verbal intelligence than those children whose mothers did not consume DHA during pregnancy.

DHA is also crucial in promoting ocular or visual health.  There are very high levels of DHA present in the retina and it is believed to help promote healthy cellular function.  DHA is also believed to have preventative qualities in eye health, particularly macular degeneration.

Omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA are also very good for supporting cardiovascular health.  They help to regulate heartbeat, reduce blood pressure, decrease blood clots, and reduce inflammation.  They even help increase HDL (good cholesterol) and reduce triglycerides.

There are cognitive benefits of omega-3 consumption as well.  Brain tissue is mostly fat and is rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Low intake of omega-3 fatty acids is linked to depressed mood, hostility, and impulsive behavior.  Low consumption has also been linked to poor performance on cognitive and memory tests, and more rapid cognitive decline with aging.  Studies show that increased omega-3 consumption helps against depression, anxiety, Alzheimer's, dementia, and improves memory and other cognitive functions.

As stated above, omega-3s like DHA and EPA reduce inflammation.  That's good for cardiovascular health, but it's also good for symptoms related to osteoarthritis and joint pain.  It's also believed that inflammatory bowel disease  may also be relieved with adequate omega-3 supplementation.

Supplementing with Omega-3s: A Heart-healthy Choice

If you don’t get enough ALA, EPA and DHA through your diet, then turning to supplements can be a great choice. There are different types of omega-3 supplements and they include Fish Oil, Algal Oil, and Krill Oil.

I tend to recommend fish oil to all of my patients who need an omega-3 supplement.  Fish is a natural and potent source of the omega-3s EPA and DHA.  I spend a lot of time researching the best supplements for omega-3 fatty acids.  Unfortunately not all fish oil supplements are created equal.  That's why it's critical to make sure you are getting a supplement with excellent purity, freshness, potency, nutrients, bioavailability, sustainability, and a reasonable price.

Purity and quality are paramount when selecting fish oil supplements. Xymogen, the manufacturers of Omega MonoPure 1300 EC, offers the strongest and most healthy fish oil I have found to date. As with all of our supplement companies, they research all their products and have third party laboratories test all their ingredients . Xymogen chose an Alaskan fish oil for Omega MonoPure 1300 EC that is IFOS (international fish oil standards) five-star certified. IFOS is the only third-party testing and certification program for omega-3 fish oil products.

Source and Processing

The omega-3 concentrate used in Omega MonoPure 1300 EC is exclusively sourced from US-caught fish, namely certified sustainable wild Alaskan walleye pollock and Pacific whiting obtained from the cold, clear waters off Alaska. Freshly caught fish are processed within hours to make quick-frozen fish fillets. The result is exceptionally fresh raw fish oil. To achieve the level of quality found in Omega MonoPure 1300 EC, a series of critical steps are undertaken. If you want more literature let us know or check out my supplement of the week.

As with all the supplement companies Carolina Integrative Medicine recommends, Xymogen is held to the highest of standards. These are professional grade supplements. When looking for a fish oil I do not recommend purchasing one of the cheap knock-off brands because your body may not be able to absorb the nutrients or worse yet if not processed correctly these could be harmful.

Algal Oil

When using omega-3 supplements, my preferred choice for myself and my patients is fish oil made from wild-caught cold water fish like Xymogen's Omega MonoPure 1300 EC.  However if you are looking for a non-fish based supplement, we also carry an algal oil.  The highest quality and highest potency product I found was Algae Omega from Nordic Naturals.  It is sustainably derived from microalgae, the original source of marine omega-3 fatty acids and is one of the only algal oils on the market with significant levels of both DHA and EPA.  This is a great option for vegetarians and vegans who can't consume fish products.

Supplementing Omega-3s for Kids

So now you should know how important omega-3 fatty acids are for children's cognitive development.  We carry supplements that are lower doses and come in fun shapes and flavors for kids. Check out our blog from last month on Omega-3 Supplementation for Children to learn more.
If you have questions about omega-3 supplementation, give us a call or leave a comment below.  Or better yet, come schedule an appointment to help find out what the best option is for you!

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