“Omega 3 is vital to our health and well being, every cell in the body is dependent upon it for their function.”
Jackie McCusker, Nutritional Therapist at the University of Westminster’s Be Well London Clinic
Who Should Take Omega 3 Fish Oil
Omega 3 fish oil is a nutritional superstar. From before we’re born through to our golden years, this wonder supplement has a key role to play at every stage of our lives.
And while other supplements fall in and out of fashion faster than you can say “activated charcoal”, Omega 3 is here to stay. First discovered in the late 1920s, the essential fatty acid really entered the public consciousness in the 1970s when researchers discovered that Greenland Inuits, who consumed vast amounts of oily fish, didn’t have the levels of cardiovascular disease we suffered from in the West.
These days Omega 3 is one of the best-researched supplements on the planet. In fact, over 5,000 scientific studies on PubMed, the world’s largest database of biomedical research, have Omega 3 in their title.
With benefits that range from the cosmetic (who doesn’t want younger-looking skin?) to the therapeutic (from calming raging hormones to managing the symptoms of depression), it’s tempting to think we should all be taking Omega 3 by the tablespoon. But is that really the case?
So who needs Omega 3 fish oil in their lives and is there anyone who really shouldn’t be taking it? Read our guide to find out.
“Perhaps the single most important dietary recommendation to improve our health and prevent chronic disease is to increase our dietary intake of Omega 3 fatty acids, which are found primarily in oily fish.”Dr Loren Cordain PhD, professor emeritus at the Department of Health and Exercise Science at Colorado State University
Should I take Omega 3 supplements?
If you’re already eating the kind of diet a nutritional therapist would be proud of you may think that taking a fish oil supplement really isn’t for you. Surely it’s best just to get your Omega 3 by eating the fish itself, rather than taking it as a supplement?
Well, yes and no. While it is true that supplements can’t undo the effects of a poor diet, very few of us are able to eat the recommended amount of oily fish we need for good general health.
Both the NHS and the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) say we should all aim for two 140g portions of fish a week, one white (like cod) and one oily (like mackerel). This would give you a weekly Omega 3 intake of around 3,150mg. Unfortunately most of us fail to get even that modest amount, with only 27% of UK adults eating oily fish regularly according to the SACN.
And if you were hoping to see some therapeutic benefits from eating oily fish, perhaps for a health condition such as acne, depression, heart disease or arthritis, you’d need to eat much more than this. A new European Food Standards Authority-approved health claim suggests taking 3,000mg for the maintenance of normal blood pressure. In a Korean study on acne, positive benefits on spots and lesions were seen by eating 2,000mg of Omega 3 per day. And Arthritis.org recommends 2,700mg per day for healthy joints.
To get anywhere near those sorts of levels would mean eating far more than the current recommended amounts of oily fish. From mackerel to salmon, oily fish contains low levels of pollutants that build up in the body over time. For this reason healthy adults shouldn’t eat more than four portions per week, while women who are pregnant or breastfeeding shouldn’t eat more than two.
Taking a pure, safe fish oil supplement like our clinical strength Lion Heart ensures you’re getting all the health benefits of Omega 3, without the risk of pollutants such as PCBs or heavy metals like mercury.
Bare Biology uses International Fish Oil Standards to check the quality of all of our fish oils. IFOS have even stricter standards than those set by the government and they don’t just look at purity levels, they check the amount of EPA and DHA (the beneficial long-chain fatty acids in Omega 3) and the freshness of the oil. You can find their reports, by batch, on their website. We also publish all our own test results on our website, so you know you’re getting all the benefits of a high quality fish oil without any nasties.
Should I give Omega 3 fish oil supplements to my kids?
These days we don’t see fish as a particularly child-friendly food unless it’s covered in breadcrumbs. But we really should because Omega 3 is particularly vital for your child’s rapidly growing brain and nervous system.
The human brain increases in mass by 3.5 times by the age of five. To do this it needs copious amounts of the Omega 3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). DHA is the major building block of the brain used to build its 100 billion cells and neurons. Low levels of Omega 3 fatty acids are seen in children with behavioural disorders such as ADHD and it’s vital for everything, from their reading ability to their powers of concentration. But that’s not all. The second essential fatty acid in Omega 3, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), is anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective and can help signalling between brain cells. And taking Omega 3 can boost everything from their immune systems to their skin health.
Children should be getting at least 140g of Omega 3 per week. But according to the latest National Diet and Nutrition Survey, average intakes are just 18g per week for kids, only an eighth of the recommended 140g.
Can I take Omega 3 while pregnant?
Unlike cod liver oil supplements which aren’t recommended for pregnancy due to their levels of Vitamin A, it’s safe to take an Omega 3 fish oil when pregnant. And it’s not just safe, it’s a really good idea...
DHA is essential for the proper growth and development of your tiny embryo’s eyes and brain and it can make it less likely that your baby will develop allergies or asthma in the future. Pregnant women with higher levels of Omega 3 were found to have fewer babies suffering from eczema in the first year of life.
And all of this Omega 3 has to come from you. Your body prioritises your own Omega 3 to give to your growing bump, meaning your own levels can become seriously depleted, something that’s been implicated in the development of postnatal depression. That’s why it’s a good idea to keep taking an Omega 3 fish oil supplement after giving birth, even if you’re not breastfeeding.
Who should take Omega 3 fish oil supplements?
There’s good evidence to suggest that we’d all benefit from a diet rich in fish oil, because we need Omega 3 just to function on a fairly basic level. However there are certain groups that need even higher doses of EPA and DHA.
As Jackie McCusker, registered nutritional therapist at the University of Westminster’s Be Well London clinic, explains, “anyone with deficiency symptoms, or who has tested deficient, anyone with a chronic inflammatory condition, anxiety or depression, stress, cognitive decline, diabetes, a history of coronary heart disease, children that have been diagnosed with ADHD, pregnant women, breastfeeding women… In all these cases and many more their requirements for Omega 3 significantly increase.”
There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to your health.
You should take Omega 3 if your diet’s not as good as it should be
Most modern diets contain high levels of Omega 6 which is in virtually all processed foods from crisps to granola, and the vegetable oils we cook with at home. This sheer volume of Omega 6 is crowding the Omega 3 out of our diets and that’s a problem. An excess of Omega 6 fats can lead to inflammation in the body, something seen as the cause of many chronic diseases.
Even if you have a healthy diet you may still be eating too much Omega 6 without realising it. Locally sourced, organic rapeseed oil seems like a healthy choice, but it’s chock-full of Omega 6. Fresh meat from your butcher will contain Omega 6, unless it’s from grass fed animals, as cows and chickens are frequently fed corn and soy which are high in Omega 6 and low in Omega 3s. Even those healthy nut butters and vegetable crisps are high in Omega 6 fats.
Around 150 years ago the ratio of Omega 3 to 6 in our diets was 1:1 but now it’s closer to 1:15 and as high as 1:25 in the US. If you know your diet’s not as good as it should be you’ll need even more Omega 3 to try to redress the balance. And it’s also a good idea to try to reduce the amount of Omega 6 you’re eating at the same time.
As Dr Loren Cordain PhD, professor emeritus at the Department of Health and Exercise Science at Colorado State University, says, “Omega 3 restores the balance of fatty acids that our genus (homo) evolved with over millions of years of evolutionary experience. In doing so, this reduces the risks of common Western diseases that afflict us all.”
You should take Omega 3 if you already show signs of an Omega 3 deficiency
From irritability and anxiety, to poor sleep and a lack of concentration, there’s a long list of signs you could be Omega 3 deficient. According to Kamilla Schaffner, who runs My London Nutritionist, poor emotional health is a primary sign you are low on essential fatty acids (EFAs).
“Most people don’t treat their diet as a priority but it can dictate the way you feel,” she explains. “Grey matter is fat, so if you’re not getting enough Omega 3 it affects your central nervous system. We need EFAs for the neurons in our brains to fire impulses. Mental illnesses such as depression can occur when this process does not work correctly.”
There are some physical symptoms to look out for too.
Dry, itchy or bumpy skin
Dry brittle hair and dandruff
Brittle, fraying nails
If you’re still not sure, Schaffner explains that the best way to find out is to consult a fully qualified nutritional practitioner, who can refer you for a blood test to measure the EFAs in your red blood cells.
You should take Omega 3 if you’re elderly
It’s not just children who benefit from the brain-boosting properties of Omega 3. Fernando Gōmez-Pinilla, professor of neurosurgery at the University of California in Los Angeles, wrote an extensive report in Nature Reviews Neuroscience after analysing all studies relating to this subject. He concluded diets high in DHA are good for the brain and can help slow the rate of cognitive decline in the elderly as well as improve mood.
And that’s not all. In 2008 the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published three studies that showed low concentrations of EPA and DHA in elderly people resulted in an increased risk of death from all causes.
You should take Omega 3 for certain health conditions
Omega 3 fatty acids can help prevent and treat a wide variety of diseases and disorders, although you’ll probably need to take a clinical strength dose for up to three months before you feel the benefit.
Omega 3 can help regulate hormones and eye pressure, maintain healthy joints and blood vessels, support a healthy immune system, help protect against cancer, promote brain development during pregnancy and early life, reduce inflammation, alleviate depression and anxiety, slow skin ageing, help manage weight, prevent asthma, help with migraines…the list goes on.
It’s all down to the Omega 3 fatty acid EPA, known for its anti-inflammatory properties. Inflammation is the basis for many chronic disease, such as autoimmune conditions, heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
You should take Omega 3 if you’re an athlete
It’s not just people with health problems or deficiencies that need to take a supplement. There is much research into the positive effects Omega 3 can have on athletes. One study by the Centre for Human Nutrition, Division of Geriatrics and Nutritional Sciences at Washington University School of Medicine, found that taking an Omega 3 supplement led to a 50% increase in the up-regulation of mTOR, which is the genetic signalling pathway that stimulates lean muscle growth.
According to Dr Marc Bubbs, a naturopathic doctor, strength coach and author in Canada, if you’re an athlete or just training intensely, fish oil supplements can be a “game changer”.
Who shouldn’t take Omega 3?
Although fish oils are generally safe for everyone to take, if you’re on medication you should always consult your doctor before taking any supplement that’s not prescribed for you. And there’s also a range of people who should exercise some extra caution before taking Omega 3.
People on blood-thinning medication
If you’re taking warfarin, aspirin, plavix or other medications with blood-thinning properties, you should consult your GP first as Omega 3s may be contraindicated.
Professor Lesley Braun, a senior research fellow at the department of medicine at Monash University in Melbourne, said, “Omega 3’s anti-inflammatory effect notionally has the potential to influence blood-clotting mechanisms, making blood less likely to clot. This would have implications for gastric bleeding, risk of haemorrhagic stroke etc. However, this potential effect is thought not to be significant in daily life.
“In practice, the potential benefits of Omega 3 EFAs outweigh possible bleeding risks for the vast majority of people, when used as clinically indicated,” says Professor Braun. “As with all people taking warfarin, INR [a measure of how long it takes for blood to clot] should continue to be monitored and medication dosage adjusted if there’s a significant change. Additionally, people with bleeding disorders or listed for neurosurgery need special supervision.”
People with certain food allergies
Clearly you shouldn’t take a fish oil supplement if you are allergic to fish. But what if you’re allergic to shellfish? It all depends on the severity of your allergy. Fish oil does not contain the proteins from the flesh of shellfish, but there is a remote possibility that it may have traces of tiny molecules of the proteins, according to the Food Allergy Initiative.
You should also be cautious if you have a severe nut allergy. Rare incidences of skin rashes have been reported among people taking supplements who had other food allergies.
People with diabetes
In some diseases such as diabetes, Omega 3 supplementation needs to be used with caution as it may increase fasting blood sugar levels. Talk to your doctor if you are taking medications to lower your blood sugar.
So, should we all take Omega 3 fish oil?
Omega 3 really is a life source to us humans. Each one of the trillions of cells in our bodies has a membrane, which protects the cell and helps it function. Omega 3 essential fatty acids (EFAs) are a vital part of this structure.
“The membrane of every cell is made up of lipids (phospholipids and cholesterol), proteins and carbohydrate groups,” explains Jackie McCusker, nutritional therapist at the University of Westminster’s Be Well London clinic. “Omega 3 EFAs represent about 20% of the phospholipids and are therefore an integral component of the cell membrane.”
When you realise how ‘essential’ these fatty acids are for our body to function on a basic level it seems incredible that we don’t all eat oily fish at every meal. Although of course, that would expose us to worrying levels of toxins. And that’s where a safe, pure supplement like Lion Heart from Bare Biology comes in.
But remember there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to your health. If you’re on blood-thinning medication, have diabetes or suffer from a food allergy, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor before taking an Omega 3 supplement.