After all, in an industry filled with colossal claims and very little—and in some instances, no—clinical evidence to support them, the abundance of evidence supporting omega 3 supplementation offers a refreshing change of pace. This includes reducing the risk of heart disease, promoting healthy cholesterol levels, reducing blood pressure, as well as treating the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and depression.
On top of this, taking over-the-counter omega 3 supplements may help keep your skin healthy by allowing it retain moisture, reduce inflammation, and more. And there’s also some research showing that omega 3 might actually slow a key biological process linked to aging.
But before you get too excited, let’s take a look at what this research actually shows, how it compares with supplements manufacturer’s claims, and how you can evaluate these claims to make better purchasing decisions.
The Basics of Omega 3s
Overall, there are 2 main types of omega fatty acids; 3 and 6 (we’ll come back around to this in a moment). While both are considered essential fats (e.g. they’re required by the human body but need to be obtained from external sources, such as food), and both are “important components of cell membranes and are precursors to many other substances in the body such as those involved with regulating blood pressure and inflammatory responses,” omega-3 is different because “concentrations are highest in the brain and nervous system. The fatty acids are necessary for optimal functioning of the neurons, protect cells, decrease cell death and improve nerve transmission.”
And among omega 3 fatty acids, there are three primary types:
Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) & Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA)
Although these are technically 2 different types of fatty acids, they’re often found together in coldwater fish such as mackerel, herring, tuna, halibut, salmon, cod liver, whale blubber, or seal blubber.
As we mentioned above, some of the most common benefits of the EPA found in omega 3s are preventing and reversing heart disease, treating depression, reducing the symptoms of menopause, and more. In addition, DHA is listed as possibly effective for improving vision of those suffering from age-related macular degeneration, unclogging arteries, reducing high cholesterol, and more.
Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA)
In contrast to EPA and DHA, ALAs are most commonly found in certain types of nuts and oils, especially flaxseed, canola, and soybean oils, in addition to red meat and dairy products. Based on existing clinical research, ALAs seem to work primarily on the cardiovascular system to reduce the risk of heart disease and hardening of the arteries, and decrease high blood pressure.
In short, omega 3s (and their EPA, DHA, and ALA subparts) are important components of cell membranes that can 1) impact how well receptors in these membranes function and 2) work as precursors that affect the function of other parts of the body (e.g. regulating blood pressure). As it turns out though, omega 3s may be more revolutionary than we ever thought possible.
The Forefront of Omega 3s
As we mentioned in the beginning of this article, in addition to the better-known benefits of omega 3s, a recent study conducted at Ohio State University found that:
“ … most overweight but healthy middle-aged and older adults who took omega-3 supplements for four months altered a ratio of their fatty acid consumption in a way that helped preserve tiny segments of DNA in their white blood cells.
These segments, called telomeres, are known to shorten over time in many types of cells as a consequence of aging. In the study, lengthening of telomeres in immune system cells was more prevalent in people who substantially improved the ratio of omega-3s to other fatty acids in their diet.
Omega-3 supplementation also reduced oxidative stress, caused by excessive free radicals in the blood, by about 15 percent compared to effects seen in the placebo group.”
But what does this mean for you?
What Are Telomeres? What Is Their Role in Aging?
Learn.Genetics explains it this way:
“At the ends of the chromosomes are stretches of DNA called telomeres, which protect our genetic data, make it possible for cells to divide, and hold some secrets to how we age and get cancer.
Telomeres have been compared with the plastic tips on shoelaces, because they keep chromosome ends from fraying and sticking to each other, which would destroy or scramble an organism's genetic information.
Yet, each time a cell divides, the telomeres get shorter. When they get too short, the cell can no longer divide; it becomes inactive or "senescent" or it dies. This shortening process is associated with aging, cancer, and a higher risk of death. So telomeres also have been compared with a bomb fuse.”
In layman’s terms, this means that since omega 3 supplementation can potentially prevent telomeres from shortening each time a cell divides, it could possibly address a whole host of diseases—and perhaps even help us live longer.
However, it’s important to remember that, although this research appears promising, there currently isn’t enough clinical evidence showing this is the case. In other words, when manufacturers claim that their omega 3 supplements can provide anti-aging benefits, they’re only referencing EPA and DHA’s effects on the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and not actually reversing the biological aging process.
Before you run out and purchase an omega 3 supplement, there are several important considerations you need to keep in mind, which is what we’ll discuss next.
What to Look for in an Omega 3 Supplement
Fish Oil vs. Omega 3 Supplements
First, remember that nearly all omega 3 supplements contain different formulations, some of which may be more potent than others.
For example, Viva Labs Krill Oil is basically a more concentrated version of traditional fish oil, which contains omega 3 fatty acids. On the other hand, supplements such as Omega XL and Omax3 Ultra Pure are capsules containing nearly 100% omega 3, which may provide better results without the “fishy” aftertaste of oils.
It’s All About Balance
Next, how much omega 3 you should take each day largely depends on the condition you’re looking to treat, so you’ll definitely want to speak with your physician before spending your hard-earned money on a supplement. However, most professionals recommend ingesting about 1,500mg of DHA per day, which “will also net you an adequate amount of EPA.”
Also, remember that our modern diets are typically very high in omega 6 fatty acids, which often have the exact opposite effect of omega 3s and can actually reduce their potential benefits. As such, in order to maximize the health benefits of omega 3 supplements, you’ll probably want to limit your intake of foods cooked with vegetable oil.
Quality Is Key
Like all other nutritional supplements, omega 3 products are not regulated by the FDA, which is something we discussed in detail in our Nutritional Supplements Buyer’s Guide. Because of this, quality can vary widely between products, so it’s generally best to stick with well-known brands that you’ve researched thoroughly (HighYa is a great place to start!).
Also, because fish-derived omega 3s can potentially be contaminated with toxins such as mercury and PCBs, you might want to research a supplement through an independent testing company such as ConsumerLab and Labdoor before purchasing.
Keep Your Expectations Realistic
Even if you purchase a high-quality omega 3 supplement, it’s important that you keep your expectations in line. In other words, if you think that your joint pain will immediately disappear, you’ll be competing in national memory challenges, or your skin will look 20 years younger, you’re bound to be disappointed.
Instead, regular omega 3 supplementation could potentially provide a noticeable boost in these areas (as well as many others), but only in the rarest instances will the results be considered revolutionary.
Find Out What Other Consumers Are Saying
Last (but certainly not least), find out what other consumers are saying about any omega 3 supplements you’re thinking about purchasing.
Here on HighYa, most dissatisfied customers appear to have been displeased not with the quality of their omega 3 supplements, but with poor customer service and unwanted autoship enrollment. As such, you may want to consider purchasing your omega 3 supplement locally in order to avoid these types of concerns, as well as to make the return process easier if you’re not happy.
Don't try out the trial month. I did it only to find out they charged my account $129. Customer service never, and I mean NEVER answers. The oil is the same that you can get from GNC or any other store. –Rocio
I was offered a 30 day money back trial for $12.95. They didn't say or glossed over that they would send a 3 month supply (for $120) since after 21 days that was non-cancelable. –Allison Reams
I have ordered twice from Viva Labs now and each time my order has been delayed over a week, without any notification. When I complained I had no apologies or efforts to rectify. They are one of the worst companies I have ever dealt with. I will never use them or recommend to anybody. I can't testify to the tablets efficacy, but even if they were the best on the market, I would buy elsewhere. –Grant
Tell Us About Your Experience With Omega 3
What’s your experience with omega 3 supplements? Were you pleased with the results, or was it just a dud? Did you purchase your supplement locally, or did you order one online? Do you have any tips for other customers who are looking to purchase an omega 3 supplement?
Whatever it is, let’s start a conversation by leaving a comment below!