Like my depleting bank account, omega 3 is something I've always preferred to ignore. I know I don't eat enough fish to get my dose of it, but I also never thought it would be worth the price or the trouble of adding yet another supplement to my daily routine (I currently take magnesium for stress, digestive enzymes for IBS, and B vitamins for healthy hair...and these are just the ones I take regularly).
But then something changed. Call it divine intervention if you will. Let me set the scene for you - it was a cold, late, rainy December morning at my flat in Paris, and I found myself extremely exhausted yet again. As someone who values the importance of getting a full 8 hours of catching z's, I knew my fatigue couldn't be coming from a lack of sleep. And yet, despite my "healthy" lifestyle and sleep schedule, I started feeling like a hollow, sluggish version of myself.
I was tired of feeling tired and decided to nip this problem in the bud. The more I thought about it, I realized that the same thing happened to me last winter, and the winter before that, as well as every winter I've spent away from my native Californian sun. Growing up with constant sunny days and almost no rain or actual cold weather, it makes sense that my body isn't exactly prepared for the gloomy European winter where you can go months without a full day of sun. There's a name for this problem - seasonal affective disorder (SAD) - and it affects millions of people each year. Thankfully, the remedy is essentially in the form of a simple vitamin D supplement.
So now that I identified my issue & discovered my solution, I began in my quest for a natural food source of vitamin D (I'm not a fan of synthetically produced supplements).
I quickly stumbled upon fish oil. The more I read about it, the more I came to the conclusion that this stuff sounds like the holy grail of supplements. Turns out, it not only boosts your daily intake of vitamin D, but also supplies you with an influx of skin-healthy antioxidants called polyphenols... oh, and something else that myself and 90% Americans happen to be extremely deficient in - the most essential fatty acid of all the essential fatty acids - omega 3. Sounds amazing, right?
I guess you must be assuming that the story's over and that's my happy ending; girl has problem, girl needs solution, girl finds solution that's way more nutritious, girl ends up better off than where she started. You're mistaken. This is just where a whole new problem begins.
So now that you're all caught up on my backstory on what led me to become an accidental expert in fish oil supplements, it's time to share what I've learned & how it can benefit you.
The benefits of Omega-3
Fun fact: the most popular natural supplement sold in the United States is fish oil. According to a national study in 2017, around 8% of the adult population (~19 million people) have used fish oil supplements at one point or another.
And that makes sense since Omega 3 is one of the most important nutrients for your mind & body.
Take a look at some of the roles of omega 3 to understand its benefit to you:
Boosts and stabilizes mood
Improves eye health
Regulates body temperature
Lowers blood pressure
Improves memory & cognitive functions
Lowers your body's inflammatory response to fight auto immune diseases like diabetes and psoriasis
Boosts concentration (especially for those with ADHD)
Reduces unhealthy belly & liver fat
Strengthens bones and joints
Promotes deeper sleep
Hydrates dry skin
Triggers MTOR muscle growth
A deficiency of Omega 3 can be linked with the following side effects: depression, anxiety, bone & joint issues, premature aging, acne, high blood pressure, permanent blindness, mental decline, memory problems, insomnia, & cancer, to name a few.
How do you know if you're deficient in Omega 3?
I hope you're all ears, like this dog, because I've got a quick & over-simplified questionnaire to help you determine.
Question #1: The only animal sources that are rich in essential omegas are fish. Do you eat at least 2 servings of fatty fish every week?
As recommended by the American Heart Association, this includes tuna, herring, salmon, anchovies, sardines, catfish, pollock, and mackerel.
Although even if you are eating enough fish, you may be putting yourself at risk at consuming too many dangerous heavy metals if you're consuming mostly larger fish. To be safe and more sustainable, be sure to consume more small fish like sardines and anchovies.
Question #2: Vegetarians and vegans - do you consume marine algae or 21 tablespoons of freshly-ground flax seeds a week?
I'm guessing you don't, considering marine algae isn't exactly something most of us incorporate into our everyday diets, and 21 tablespoons is an incredible amount of freshly-ground flax seeds. Despite flax being the highest plant-based source of omega 3, it isn't balanced enough for an everyday diet in terms of the omega 6 to 3 ratio, according to Harvard Health's studies.
With flax seed supplements, you'd need more than 6 capsules just to get the daily dose (360 ml) AND you'd be consuming too much omega 6 in the process.
Millions of people are taking fish oil to get their much-needed daily dose of omega 3, but before I was going to join the gang, I had questions...
Life is like the Matrix, only with a lot more options on what kinds of pills to take, and you need to do the research before you commit to your choice. #lifelessons
Some of my most pressing questions included: what kind of fish do they extract the oil from? Big fish can be full of heavy metals, so how can I be sure that what I'll be consuming is clean?
This is the part where I share my findings with you.
5 major problems with popular fish oil supplements
So, if you haven't gathered by now, what I've clearly been trying to tell you is that most of you could benefit from taking some kind of omega-3 supplement, ideally in the bio-available form of fish oil.
But there's a problem (isn't there always?). Many of the mainstream supplements can actively be making your health WORSE.
1. Dangerous amounts of metal
Some brands use big fish like tuna to source their fish oil. The bigger the fish, the longer they live in the ocean and are able to absorb more metals. To that, I say thank u, NEXT. The safest fish oil is extracted from small fish like anchovies, sardines, & krill.
2. Highly processed
Make sure to avoid cheap brands who rely on aggressive filtering as a quick and affordable way to process the toxic metals and contaminants out of their oils. This method might get the job done, but it also takes away the skin-nourishing polyphenols that are sensitive to heat!
3. Unhealthy omega 3 to 6/9 ratios
Not all fish are created equal! Nor are plants. Make sure your pills are balanced (3:1 omega 6 to omega 3 is ideal).
4. The wrong kinds of omega 3 I know what you're wondering - is there actually a wrong kind of omega 3? There are 3 different types of omega 3.
side note: wondering if that's why it's called omega 3? Hmm. Food for thought).
DHA & EPA are the types that pack most of the important benefits for our mind and body. Most fish oils contain way more EPA than DHA, but the optimal ratio is 3:2.
Turns out, over 70% of fish oil supplements aren't telling the truth about the levels of EPA or DHA on their labels! So it's important to buy a brand that actually backs up their claims with studies. (Don't worry, I'm getting to that part in a minute.)
Vegan omega 3 supplements are NOT sufficient in EPA or DHA. As I mentioned earlier, plant-based sources like hemp, flax, and chia seeds are rich in ALA omega 3 (the least useful kind). Our bodies can convert some ALA into EPA and DHA, but the conversion rate is incredibly low (somewhere between 1-10%). Only fish have been shown to have high levels of DHA and EPA. Vegans have been tested to have very low levels of EPA and DHA. What's more, one study found that low levels of DHA may be linked to ADHD in children.
If you're vegan or vegetarian, or simply hate fish, you'd greatly benefit from reading this article.
5, Your fish oil might be rancid
This is exceptionally important, so I don't know why I made it #5. I hope I still have your attention at this point.
A lot of these brands don't use fresh fish oil. Why's that bad? Well, the first reason is pretty obvious - the same reason fresh fruit has more nutrients than old fruit, rancid fish oil is a lot less effective than fresh fish oil. In other words, it'd be a pretty big waste of time to be taking them.
What's more important is that it can seriously worsen your health. Once fish oil becomes too oxidized, it increases your chances of getting atherosclerosis (aka a buildup of plaque in your arteries that causes organ damage and inflammation).
Also, most supplement manufacturers use vitamin E to coat the pills to protect the omega 3. The problem is that they don’t work to protect the oil once they enter your body, making them oxidized before your body is able to even absorb them effectively.
Free 3-step crash course: How to avoid rancid fish oil 101
Step 1: If it smells really fishy, it's most likely gone bad. Throw it out.
Step 2: If it doesn't smell and if the expiration date is still good, you're in the clear. To keep it fresh for as long as possible, store it in the fridge and use it within a month after opening.
Step 3: For future purchases, don't be a fool and buy a large-sized bottle. I know it makes sense financially, but fresh fish oil doesn't last long and it'll go rancid before you can finish it!
Congratulations! You've completed the crash course. Amazing. I hereby deem you worthy of the title "Expert on Evaluating the Freshness of Fish Oil." You can add that to your LinkedIn resume, Truth Ain't Peachy endorsed and all.
Taking an omega 3 fish oil that's sourced from small fish like sardines, anchovies, krill, or menhaden is not only more sustainable, but ensures that you're avoiding harmful toxins that are found in larger fish like tuna and swordfish.
And don't think that you're exempt just because you eat healthy. Personally, I avoid most heavily processed foods, I don't drink much (for the most part), I don't smoke (for the most part), I get enough sleep (for the most part)...and yet I completely overlooked my omega 3 consumption... Turns out, after getting my blood test back, I was deficient by a LANDSLIDE. This is probably why I've had such a difficult time with concentration.
To put this into perspective, the average omega-6:3 balance for people not taking an omega-3 supplements is 15:1 in Europe and 25:1 in the USA.
Us Americans are terribly unbalanced.
Here are 2 brands that I recommend:
Natural Force- I used to write for this B-corp and I can safely tell you that they're one of the best brands out there. Their omega 3 is sourced from small menhaden fish off the Atlantic coast. They're fully transparent too- you can find their third-party test results on their website. Check out the product here.
Innate Choice- I like this product because it's sustainably sourced, comes in liquid form (as opposed to pills), and the formula is as natural as it gets. Plus, it's available on Amazon if you prefer shopping with Prime. Discover out the product here.
My feedback after 2 months of taking omega 3
Now that I've been taking omega 3 for nearly two months, I can attest that things have changed. Since omega 3 is what increases cell membrane fluidity to keep your noggin sharp, my deficiency was hitting my concentration hard. Now I've been getting work done for longer amounts of time without feeling burned out.
The modern processed diet contains way more omega-6 than we should be consuming, and even though I eat pretty healthy, my diet isn't that consistent. Besides my breakfast, what I eat everyday varies, so I like having the security of knowing I'm always going to be getting enough of this essential fatty-acid.
Thanks for reading. I know it was a lot, so cheers to you for getting to the end.
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This is not a sponsored post. All thoughts are my own.