Saturday, December 22, 2012

Omega 3 - a Brief Account

Working in a pharmacy means that we are constantly on the watch for hyperbolic claims. Some claims are just too good to be true and they usually are, just, too good to be true!

The Importance of Omega-3

While it is always marketed as being 'essential' to heart health, such claim is never validated by research. In essence, it decreases the risk of heart attack as described by the American Heart Association. Omega-3 is used by the body in a myriad of metabolic processes so they are essential in ensuring good hormonal balance and proper inflammatory response. Also, it helps in regulating the clotting factors of the blood and hence helps to prevent occurrence of strokes.

Taking omega-3 also favourably impacts cholesterol metabolism as healthy inflammatory response ensues. It also assists in lowering hypertension but marginally.

Now, everyone knows that a lot of pesky companies are advertising fish oil as almost possessing the virtue of a panacea. Well, this grumpy old phytotherapist thinks otherwise. While it is true that Omega-3 along with Omega-6, are classified as Essential Fatty Acids (which means that you should be taking this everyday), it is by no mean a 'cure-all'. Fish oil is the largest source of omega-3 and naturally, a vast number of companies would like to take advantage of that by marketing their products as 'better' than others.

Omega-3 is generally divided into two forms: EPA and DHA. Both have similar physiological properties but they do have their differences. There is a third form, which consists of shorter omega-3 chain, ALA which is derived from plant such as flaxseed.

In my humble opinion, fishes, though are good source of Omega-3, are mostly overrated. Most fish oils are extracted from small fishes which claim to have little or no toxins in their body but with such pollution as well as radiation leaks, can this really be proved? Some claim that Salmon oil is the best source but who knows that farmed salmons (which constitutes almost 90% of the salmon fishes we eat today) are the most contaminated fish in the world? Such predicament arises because of inferior farming technique and unethical  practices.

To fish or not to fish?

Fish tail
It is also a known fact that fish oil companies sold two types of fish oil viz. Ethyl Esters and Natural Triglycerides. Either type has their supporters but research shown persistently that Natural triglycerides prevails in bio-availability tests. To add insult to injury, Ethyl Esters (EE) fish oils are chemically-processed so as to alter the chain of the fatty acid. Molecularly distilling these oils would then allow for selective concentration of EPA and DHA (the components of omega-3). However, EEs are technically not oil as the fish oils have undergone processing with alcohol to break up the chain.

The best bet is to go for natural triglycerides fish oil. It should smell fishy but not as rancid oil. Now, before I say which brand is the best (in my opinion), let me enlist the few quintessential points for choosing a good fish oil.

Henri's Quintessential Fish Oil Checklist

  • It must be free from toxin so a combination from few small fishes would be preferable.
  • Opt for pharmaceutical grade fish oil but try to stay away from Ethyl Esters.
  • Find purified fish oil, especially those which are molecularly distilled and filtered.
  • Watch out for fish oil which has too much of fish fats. Opt for those who has 40% or lower fish fats which means that you will have 60% or more of Omega-3 content.
  • Inquire about the content of Arachidonic Acid (AA) before purchasing. While it is true that we do not have concrete proof that AA will kick-off more inflammation, it is better to avoid it simply because it is involved in the biochemical pathway of inflammation, just to be safe.
"Take it this way, taking CoQ10 orally has always been debatable as the absorption of the co-enzyme into the bloodstream has never been established concretely. However, taking CoQ10 orally does have a significant impact on reducing heart attacks."

Adverse effect

Omega-3 might cause haemorrhagic stroke if taken in excessive quantity (not more than 3000mg or 3g per day). Consumption of high level of EPA is not recommended in children as they need more of DHA for their normal brain and eyes growth. Also taking too much of Omega-3 during the third trimester might increase the risk of bleeding while delivering. I would recommend to keep it down to 1,000mg per day.


Omega-3 is a crucial component which we dearly need in maintaining good health. We can source omega-3 from myriad sources such as Flaxseed oil, Fish oil, and some nut oils. When using animal source oil, be sure to analyse according to the checklist I have furnish you with. I personally recommend taking plant based oil because of ethical issues as well as toxin contamination. However, if you opt for plant based omega-3 supplementation (such as flaxseed), make sure that they are fresh and not rancid. Be sure to always refrigerate them as the oils oxidises readily upon exposure to air.

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