Omega-3 fatty acids are extremely beneficial to health. Fatty fish is almost the sole reliable source of omega-3 for the human diet. Hence, people who do not consume this in their regular diet, should consider starting on omega-3 supplement to make the most of its benefits.
Choosing the right omega-3 supplement can be tricky. This guide details everything one would have to know about omega-3 supplements.
Different Forms Of Omega-3
There are three main forms of omega-3 fatty acids. Knowing the different forms is important, since it has an impact on the way the body processes it.
- Fatty fish: Salmon, mackerel and other types of fish contain omega-3 in the form of free fatty acids, phospholipids, and triglycerides.
- Fish oil: In this form, omega-3 is mostly found in the form of triglycerides.
- Processed fish oil: Processed fish oils are purified or concentrated to ethyl esters, which are not found naturally.
- Reformed triglycerides: When ethyl esters are converted back into triglycerides, they are called “reformed” triglycerides.
Although all these forms are beneficial to health, studies indicate that ethyl esters are least efficient in terms of source of absorption of omega-3 fatty acids. In order of rank the efficiency in absorption of omega-3s is free fatty acids in food, triglycerides and then ethyl esters.
Processed Fish Oil
When fish oil is processed their fatty acid content gets converted to ethyl ester. Fish oil is processed for two reasons: purification and concentration. Purification of fish oils is usually done to remove toxic content like mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).
Concentrating fish oil is usually done to fortify the oil with EPA and DHA. Processed fish oils contain up to 50-90% pure EPA or DHA.
Processed fish oils are cheap and come in the form of capsules, which makes it a favorite among consumers.
However, as mentioned earlier in the article, processed fish oil is not absorbed as well as oils in the natural form as the fatty acid content is converted to ethyl esters which is least desirable in terms of absorption.
As a workaround, some companies reform the ethyl esters back to triglycerides so that it is well-absorbed. Reformed fish oil is very expensive and is not popular in the market.
Natural Fish Oil
For individuals who do not prefer fatty fish, natural fish oil is the next best option. It is sourced directly from the tissue of oily fish.
Natural fish oil has 30% omega-3 (EPA+DHA) and 70% of other fatty acids that aid in absorption.
Aside from these main constituents it also contains vitamins A and D and K2 (if fermented).
The best natural source of fish oil are salmon, sardines and cod liver. These oils are more prone to oxidation in their processed forms as compared to their natural versions.
Green-lipped Mussel Oil
Green-lipped mussel oil contains another rare omega-3 known as eicosatetraenoic acid (ETA) in addition to the regular EPA and DHA. ETA is shown to have better anti-inflammatory effects than other omega-3 fatty acids.
Green-lipped mussel oil contains omega-3s in the form of both triglycerides and free fatty acids. Also consuming green-lipped mussel oil is considered to be eco-friendly.
Krill oil is likely the best solution to all problems related to accessing and benefiting from omega-3s. Krill oil is sourced from the Antarctic krill and contains both triglycerides and phospholipids.
Fish oil from krill has many advantages. Studies have shown that absorption of omega-3s from phospholipids is as efficient as from triglycerides. Omega-3 fish oil from the krill fish is resistant to oxidation since it contains a natural antioxidant called astaxanthin.
Moreover krill are small fishes with a relatively short lifespan. Hence they do not accumulate contaminants like mercury and PCBs. For this reason fish oil derived from krill does not need purification.
Mammalian omega-3 oil is derived from seal blubber. Omega-3 is found in the form of triglycerides in mammalian oil. This oil also contains a third rare type of omega-3 fatty acid called docosapentaenoic acid (DPA) in addition to EPA and DHA. Aside from several other health benefits, DPA is known to have remarkably low levels of omega 6.
Alpha-linolenic acid or ALA is a plant-based source of omega-3. Some of the plant resources with high amounts of ALA are flax seeds, chia seeds, and hemp seeds. This may sound like an attractive option for vegans/vegetarians.
However, the conversion of ALA into EPA or DHA is highly limited and ALA by itself is not active in the human body. Moreover, plant oils have high levels of omega 6, which in turn increases omega-3 requirements.
Another non-animal, triglyceride source of omega-3 (EPA and DHA) is marine algae. Algal oil, some studies show, is even more concentrated with omega-3, especially DHA, than fish oil.
Aside from omega-3 algal oil also contains minerals like iodine. What makes algal oil a particularly favorable source of omega-3 is that it is eco-friendly, sustainable, and does not have toxic heavy metal contaminants. This makes it a good source of omega-3 fatty acids for vegetarians and vegans.