You can’t open a magazine or newspaper without reading about them. Yet Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids (or Omega-3s, for short) remain one of the top American nutrient deficiencies! And your clients are likely confused about what they do or don’t need – and where to find a high-quality source.
The body needs all sorts of different fats to function properly. Even saturated fats play a critical role for survival. Like a miraculous chemistry set, the body can typically convert most types of fat into whatever type it is missing. Omega-3s, however, are an exception (as are a few of the Omega-6 fats). Help your clients to understand that this is why we call them “essential”: the body cannot make its own supply. Omega-3s must be consumed. Or we suffer.
Omega-3 fats are in the headlines so much today because we’ve discovered just how powerful they are at controlling inflammation. Deficiency of Omega-3s can lead to low energy, depression, weakness, vision and learning problems, dry skin, poor hair and nail growth, impaired digestion, increased risk of auto-immune conditions, cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, weak bones, impaired liver and kidney function, poor glandular performance, poor reproductive performance, and greater likelihood of becoming overweight. Quite a list, huh?
The good news is that Omega-3s are easy to get – in either food or a supplement. The most common source in the American diet is fish. If your clients enjoy a portion of fish every day, they likely have no worries about Omega-3 insufficiency. It’s uncommon, for example, in much of Asia. Fish (especially fattier varieties like salmon, mackerel, halibut, sardines, anchovies) has an abundance of EPA and DHA, types of Omega-3 which reduce inflammation throughout the body, especially for your heart, arteries, and brain (including depression). Flaxseed has an abundance of ALA, a type of Omega-3 which has been shown to reduce triglycerides and improve blood sugar control. ALA is also found in walnuts. But your clients will need to eat at least a large handful every day. Given the typical American diet (and the inflammation most of your clients suffer from due to stress, toxins, etc.) many of them need an Omega-3 supplement.
So many choices!
I get a lot of questions about what Omega-3 supplement or food works best. Here’s an important concept to understand. In a healthy body, we convert only small amounts of excess ALA to EPA and then DHA. And unfortunately many unwell clients will make this conversion even less efficiently! As a result, I do recommend fish oil over flax oil (or algae oil is a fish-free alternative to fish oil but is usually quite expensive). While all polyunsaturated fats are vulnerable to oxidation (and can cause inflammation vs. prevent it,) flax oil is particularly vulnerable to oxidation from heat, light, and air. I think it’s best to get your ALA Omega-3s from flax by eating freshly ground flaxseed. Fish oil is loaded with EPA and DHA and, in my opinion, is the safer and healthier supplement choice.
Where did cavemen buy their fish oil? Yes, I’ve actually had a client ask me this question! And it’s important to be able to explain to them why supplements can be critical. If Omega-3s are so important, how did early humans manage to thrive on a limited diet? Especially inland without fish and with minimal, seasonal food choices? They certainly didn’t zip down to the Vitamin Shoppe to take advantage of a sale! The answer is grass. Fish aren’t high in Omega-3s because of anything endemic in fish; it’s because fish eat seaweeds. And they are efficient at translating that greenery into Omega-3s in their flesh. Early man definitely got Omega-3s from the animal proteins they hunted – and small amounts from wild-crafted plant protein as well. Similarly, meat and eggs today from grass-fed, pastured or wild animals that are allowed to forage for natural foods also contain Omega-3s. Today, we have widespread, “factory farming” practices in the US, and our government subsidizes corn. Thus, almost all animals raised for meat are never allowed on pasture and are fed corn feed soaked in high-fructose corn syrup and other chemical growth-promoters. The impact? No Omega-3s in the meat.
Early man also didn’t struggle with the imbalance of fats the typical American consumes today. Thanks to economic subsidy of corn and soybeans, most of the oil we eat is Omega-6 oils (e.g. corn, soybean, safflower, sunflower, etc). And unfortunately most of these Omega-6s are not gently pressed but rather chemically-extracted (and damaged in the process). This is almost certainly what your clients are eating in convenience, processed snack, drive-thru, and restaurant foods. Thus Americans consume a lot of Omega-6s! Early man likely consumed Omega-3s and Omega-6s in a better balance, often speculated to be near a 1:1 ratio. Today, our average ratio is closer to 30:1. The impact? The Omega-6s promote excessive inflammatory, and we suffer from Omega-3 deficiencies.
If your clients aren’t getting a consistent daily dose via food, you might encourage them to start taking an Omega-3 fish oil supplement. This is especially true if they suffer from inflammation (e.g. achy joints/arthritis, dry or flaky skin, and mild depression). Keep in mind that EPA has been shown to be a better systemic anti-inflammatory than DHA. On the other hand, DHA is most effective for neurological issues and inflammation (e.g. ADD/ADHA, dementia, depression). This is important to consider in recommending what kind of fish oil a specific client should take. Different formulas have different ratios of EPA and DHA.
Fish oils are available in capsules and liquids (and gummies for kids). For an otherwise healthy adult, research shows tremendous benefit from 1000mg Omega-3 fats. Note I didn’t say 1000mg fish oil. This is a key concept for your clients to understand. Be careful when they think they’ve found “a bargain”. Many low-end manufacturers dilute their fish oil, so 1000mg fish oil might not get them much actual Omega-3 at all. They might have to take 6 or 8 capsules to get a good dose. Have them bring their supplements to you, so you can teach them how to read the label (or copy and email it to you if you work remotely). Show them how to add up the EPA, the DHA, and other actual Omega-3s; those are the active, anti-inflammatory ingredients you want. Sometimes the seemingly more expensive brands are actually a better deal because they are more concentrated. An effective daily dose is a smaller number of capsules.
Also check to be sure the Omega-3 supplements you recommend are purity-certified by a 3rd party and preferably molecularly distilled. Cheap fish oil capsules will often taste and smell fishy. And your clients risk getting a dangerous dose of contaminants like PCBs and heavy metals, especially mercury. Far worse than not getting enough Omega-3s is getting toxic in the process of getting them. It is also important to ensure that the fish oil (liquid or capsules) includes antioxidant protection (e.g. mixed tocopherols) and that your client consume plenty of antioxidants from fresh fruits and vegetables to help counter oxidative stress from metabolism (especially Vitamin E, as found plentifully in nuts (e.g. almonds) and seeds (e.g. sunflower)).
I love a bargain too, but I encourage my clients to save their thrifty mindset for other shopping needs. Supplements are generally not where your clients want to choose the cheapest thing they can find. From among widely available brands in stores, I recommend both Nordic Naturals and Carlsons. For my personal clients, I recommend Metagenics, Pure Encapsulations, or Xymogen due to their high quality standards and high Omega-3 content per gram of marine oil (a good financial deal).