Monday, February 18, 2019

Fish, Flax & Krill: What You Need to Know about Omega-3

While fats have been given a bad reputation for decades, most will agree there’s at least one type of fat we all need–omega 3 fatty acids.

The health benefits we receive from omega-3 come from EPA and DHA. EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) is essential for heart health, and may play a role in cholesterol and triglyceride levels. DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) helps to improve memory and cognition.

There are different opinions what is the best type of omega-3, either animal or plant source. We’ll take a look at three common sources of omega-3, and the pros and cons to each one.

Flax and Chia seed (oil)

Flax seed, also known as linseed, gained popularity in the 1980s and 90s. People were hearing about mercury toxicity in fish (oil) which gave the green light to pursue flaxseed oil as a healthier source of omega-3.

Flaxseed contains ALA (alpha linoleic acid). The body breaks down ALA into EPA and DHA. The downside is if the body cannot convert ALA into EPA and DHA the health benefits are null and void. We're learning now that the body may only utilize between 1-8% of EPA and DHA from flax.

There’s really no omega-3 benefit from flax, however there may be some benefit from the flax lignans. A lignan is a phytoestrogen found in the hull of the flax seed that can help with menstrual and menopausal symptoms.

Recently chia seeds have been touted as a rich source of omega-3, EPA and DHA, but it’s more expensive than flax seed and we run into the exact same problem with very little ALA converting into EPA and DHA.

Krill oil

Krill are small crustaceans (shellfish) that have a similar resemblance to shrimp. The name krill is a Norwegian word meaning “small fry of fish.” Krill is a food source for salmon, which gives the fish it’s pinkish hue.

Krill oil has been promoted as a better source of omega-3 than fish oil. At first glance that may appear to be true because omega-3 (EPA and DHA) from krill oil uses a phospholipid carrier rather than a triglyceride carrier. You tend to get more EPA and DHA from the phospholipid carrier than a triglyceride carrier.

There is a new study that found 40% of krill oil on the market is spiked with fish oil, possibly inferior fish oil, so you don’t know if you’re really getting 100% krill oil in a product. Also if you are allergic to shellfish then you may be allergic to krill oil.

Fish oil

Fish oil is the most common way of getting your omega-3, and is the broadest in quality standards ranging from very poor quality to excellent quality. You will get more EPA and DHA from a quality fish oil product than krill oil, and definitely more than a plant source like flax.

Poor quality fish oils get their fish from just about anywhere, including mercury-containing waters. Companies will use solvents such as hexane as well as high heating treatments to extract the omega-3 from the fish, and also may contain a harmful chemical called BPA. Poor quality fish oil has a tendency to go rancid faster.

Good quality fish oils come from cold water fish from waters that do not contain mercury. That alone is an improvement from poor quality fish oil. Usually companies with higher standards will not use solvents, rather more natural extraction methods, but some may still use high heating methods. If the label on the bottle states the fish oil comes from cold water fish, or better yet uses the term “pharmaceutical grade” or something along those lines it may be a good quality.

One of the best fish oils is a bio-identical omega-3 extracted from salmon. Instead of solvents to extract the omega-3, water and enzymes are used for a much more natural process. Plus it uses a phospholipid carrier for increased absorption.

In Summary

If you’re looking for a good omega-3 supplement, pharmaceutical grade fish oil or bio-identical omega-3 from salmon extract are both great choices. The salmon extract tips the scale for me because it may absorb better and there is no chance of it going rancid.

by John Connor, CNC

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