Omega-3’s – there is a difference

January 24, 2009

One of the major components of a plan to use supplements to enhance your health is to supplement your diet with Essential Fatty Acids (mostly of the omega-3 variety) as a daily regimen. It’s hard to imagine that you hadn’t heard about the benefits of omega-3’s as their general ‘goodness’ is common knowledge, so I won’t go so much into the science of why it’s a good idea to do so.

With this post, though, I’d like to highlight some of the differences between the types of omega-3’s that are available to you. Many people swear by flaxseed (and the oils derived from them) as their primary source for omega-3 supplementation. While one can’t argue with the benefits of flaxseed oil, I’m still a strong proponent of fish oils for more practical reasons.

Flax is a GREAT source of omega-3’s however if the intent is to better enable your body to manage inflammation, it has its limitations. This is primarily because the alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) from flax must be converted to EPA and subsequently DHA – which are the most potent macronutrients your body can use to create the beneficial eicosanoids that it, in turn, your body uses to manage inflammation in all its multiplicities. The thing is, you have to get LOTS of ALA (8g or more daily) in order to get the benefits. ALA-to-EPA conversion is roughly between 12%-20 % (higher for women, as a rule). Just using one source as a reference: you can see one way to describe the metabolic pathway between ALA, EPA and DHA.

So, I’m big on consuming fish oil as the source of omega-3 – primarily because they are powerful sources of EPA and DHA and, metabolically, you’ve got a much shorter and more efficient path to the end you want to achieve (more optimal inflammatory response – among other things). It’s also important to note the source of the fish oil and the methods used to make it available to consumers:

Because the source of EPA/DHA may be contaminated (PCBs, mercury, etc.) any fish oil you use should go through the purification processes needed to reduce contaminant levels to safe ranges. One very simple test you can use is to sacrifice a capsule or two of your fish oil by emptying its contents in a small container and leaving in the freezer overnight. It should still be liquid in the morning (you have to look at it immediately as it will thaw quickly as it is removed from the freezer). If it is not liquid, I would run, not walk, away from it. However, that’s not the ultimate test. The ultimate test is done at the International Fish Oil Standard Institute in Guelph, Ontario. They do the honest-to-goodness super-duper tests and publish their findings here: I only go for the 5-star rated ones. I personally get my omega-3’s from Life Extension Foundation (disclosure: I am also an ‘affiliate’ of Life Extension).

One final mention that is worthy of note is that there are krill-oil baskrilled   supplements available as well. Krill look like little shrimp and are keystone species on which essentially all other larger species depend. What’s interesting about this source is that it’s further down the food chain (i.e. less exposure to environmental toxins) and the form that the EPA and DHA takes in krill it’s said be more bio-available (i.e. better able to be converted to usable nutrients by the body). Perhaps after I’ve looked into krill oil a bit more, I’ll write a more detailed post on it. Who knows, I might just change my tune.


3 Responses to “Omega-3’s – there is a difference”

  1. Thought you would be interested in this short omega-3 video:


  2. rudy Says:

    Many sources (one of which is my personal physician that also operates an independent Wellness Center truly based on HEALTH care, not SICK care) suggest that men should NOT take flaxseed oil. The evidence is inconclusive, but many studies suggest the high phytoestrogenic (plant estrogen) properties may be harmful to men, so until more definitive results are known, I’m sticking with fish oil. Here’s a report from the Mayo clinic


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