15 Important Omega 3 And Fish Oil FAQs You Need To Know
After reading this article you will be able to call yourself an expert on the topic of omega 3 and fish oil.
Omega 3 fatty acids are vital to our health. It has been touted as an important nutrient by doctors and health authorities alike.
Still, apart from knowing its importance for our health, people get scant information regarding omega 3. This leaves them with lots of unanswered questions.
In this article, I have tried to answer the maximum number of questions that people have about omega 3 and fish oil supplements.
You will find questions ranging from what is omega 3, how much should you take, side effects of omega 3 and fish oil to the best time to take omega 3 supplements, the best way to take it, how to choose a good supplement brand of fish oil and, what are the good supplement brands.
1. What is omega 3?
Omega 3 is short for Omega 3 Fatty Acids.
Omega 3 is a family of essential polyunsaturated fatty acids which contain a chain of carbon atoms linked by chemical bonds. They have two ends, one end has a methyl group and the other end has a carboxyl group. The term Omega refers to the methyl end.
Polyunsaturated means that it contains more than one double bond. The first double bond appears at the third carbon position from the methyl end hence the name omega 3.
Omega 3s are vital for the body because it has many important metabolic functions in the body like maintaining the integrity of the cell membrane and regulating the body’s immunity system. They also help in the exchange of nutrients and the elimination of waste within a cell. They are called essential because your body cannot produce omega 3 by itself. It has to be provided through outside sources.
2. Types of Omega 3
Omega 3 is a family of 11 different types of fatty acids.
The three main types of omega 3 fatty acids are
ALA (Alpha-Linolenic Acid) – It’s a chain of 18 carbons, with 3 double bonds. They are mainly found in plant sources. Our body cannot use ALA directly and has to convert the ALA to EPA and DHA to use it.
This conversion process is very inefficient. 1-10% of ALA converts to EPA and 0.5-5% converts to DHA.
Natural Sources of ALA – Brussels sprouts, Seaweed, Chia seed, Flaxseed, Hemp seed, Walnuts, Spinach, Broccoli
EPA (Eicosapentaenoic Acid) – It is 20 carbon long, with 5 double bonds. The main function of EPA is to form eicosanoids – the signaling molecules. Eicosanoids have important physiological functions like reducing inflammation.
DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid) – It has a chain of 22 carbons, with 6 double bonds. It is an important structural component of the retina and skin. It is vital for the development and proper functioning of the brain.
Natural Sources Of EPA And DHA – Free-range Eggs, Fatty Fish like sardines, salmon, mackerel, shrimps, etc.
Other types of omega 3
8 other types of omega 3 fatty acids are discovered so far. But these are not considered essential.
- Hexadecatrienoic acid (HTA)
- Eicosatetraenoic acid (ETA)
- Eicosatrienoic acid (ETE)
- Stearidonic acid (SDA)
- Heneicosapentaenoic acid (HPA)
- Docosapentaenoic acid (DPA)
- Tetracosapentaenoic acid
- Tetracosahexaenoic acid
3. Why Omega 3 is good for you? / What does omega 3 do for your body?
Omega 3 is not just good but crucial for your health. Omega 3 falls under the category of essential fatty acids. Essential fatty acids cannot be made by the body and have to come from food.
Omega 3 has a myriad of health benefits. It is important for reduction of inflammation, to improve bone density, for a good quality sleep, to improve brain function and many more.
For a detailed answer to this question, check out
4. Is omega 3 good for the heart?
The studies conducted using sea-food as the source of omega 3 showed a positive correlation between eating fish and a reduction in the risk of heart diseases.
Inflammation can damage blood vessels which can lead to heart diseases. Since omega 3 reduces inflammation throughout the body it can aid in preventing the cause of heart disease by protecting your blood vessels.
Also, omega 3s have shown to reduce the triglycerides level – high levels are associated with increased risk of heart diseases.
Eating 100 to 200 gms of fatty fish, twice a week, has shown significant benefits in preventing heart diseases.
However, these positive results were only from the omega 3 coming from natural sources like seafood.
The picture is quite blurred when it comes to supplementary omega 3 being beneficial against heart diseases.
Unlike what the supplement companies have you believed, the omega 3 supplements have shown no particular benefits in improving your heart health.
5. What are the symptoms of a lack of Omega 3?
A lack of omega 3 can lead to the following symptoms –
- Dry, rough or dull skin
- Soft or brittle nails
- Brittle or lackluster hair
- Difficulty in sleeping
- Excessive thirst
- Suffer anxiety, depression or mood swings
- Difficulty in paying attention
- Poor wound healing
- Increased susceptibility to infections
6. How long does it take for omega 3 to work?
The duration before seeing any positive effects of omega 3 in your body, depends on a lot of factors. Such as, whether omega 3 is coming from a dietary source or a supplementary source, age, target organ and, quality of the oil. Proper omega 3 dosages can start showing results anywhere from 1 to 3 months.
7. How much omega 3 should I take?
There is no set guideline for how much omega 3 you should take daily.
According to WHO (World Health Organization), an adult should take between 250 mg to 2 gm of combined EPA+DHA.
NIH (National Institutes of Health), recommends an intake of omega 3 (ALA) for an adult male should be 1.6 gm and female 1.1 gm.
EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) dietary recommendation of EPA+DHA for an adult European is between 250 to 500 mg/day.
Based on the above guidelines of these organizations, a general consensus of 500 to 1000 mg/day of EPA+DHA and 1.1 to 1.6 gm of ALA can be made.
I personally aim for 1000 mg of combined EPA+DHA.
8. How much omega 3 can be harmful?
A dosage up to 2 to 3 gm for omega 3 supplements are considered safe by health authorities. EFSA considers 5 gm of omega 3 supplements to be safe.
But a dose higher than 5 gm of omega 3 supplements have not shown to have any benefits and it increases the risk of side effects.
9. What are the side effects of fish oil supplements?/ What happens when you eat too much omega 3?
There are no major side-effects of omega 3 supplements. But remember, an excess of anything is bad. High doses of fish oil supplements may show some mild side-effects.
Can raise Blood Sugar – A study conducted on diabetic patients found that high doses (8gm/day) of fish oil taken for 8 weeks can increase fasting blood sugar by 22% and after-meal glucose by 35%. The study concluded that diabetics should avoid taking very high doses of fish oil.
Decreases Blood Pressure – A meta-analysis of 31 studies concludes that fish oil can significantly lower the blood pressure. It is certainly beneficial for those with high blood pressure.
However, people with low blood pressure should take care of not taking high doses (5-6gm/day) of fish oil supplements.
Vitamin A Toxicity – Omega 3 supplement Cod Liver Oil is very high in Vitamin A. Taking a tablespoon of Cod Liver Oil can give you more than 13000 IU – a very high dose – of vitamin A.
RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance) of Vitamin A is 5000 IU. Toxicity due to the overdose of Vitamin A is well documented.
10. What is the best time to take omega 3 or fish oil?
No particular research or study is conducted on the timing of omega 3 or fish oil. But to avoid a common side effect – the fishy aftertaste – take it around your bedtime.
Do not take fish oil on an empty stomach as it can cause gastric distress and indigestion. Also, omega 3 has shown to improve your sleep quality.
Therefore, having fish oil with your dinner is the best time.
11. What is the best way to take fish oil?
For the maximum absorption of omega 3 (EPA and DHA) from fish oil supplements, you should know what is the best way to take fish oil.
Always take fish oil with a meal containing healthy fats. The fat content in the meal will stimulate the bile and pancreatic lipase enzymes (fat digesting enzymes) which breaks down the dietary fat in the digestive system. These fat digesting enzymes will enhance the absorption of the omega 3 fatty acids present in fish oil.
Studies have shown that the absorption of omega 3 fatty acids increases by 300% when taking fish oil with a high-fat meal (44gm) compared to a low-fat meal (8gm).
12. Is there anything you shouldn’t take it with?
There are no harm or side effects of taking fish oil with any food or drinks. But few things affect the proper absorption of fish oil.
Avoid taking fish oil with alcohol or wine – Having fish oil with alcohol or wine won’t cause any ill effect but it will certainly hinder the absorption of nutrients from fish oil.
When alcohol comes in your body, eliminating alcohol becomes your body’s top priority. Rest of the nutrients – including carb, protein, and fat – have to take a back seat till the alcohol remains in your system.
Avoid taking fish oil with tea or coffee – Caffeine content of tea and coffee speeds up the digestive process by increasing the peristaltic movement of the digestive tract. Peristaltic movement refers to the forward contraction force which pushes the food through the digestive tract.
Due to this, the omega 3 fatty acids won’t be able to stay longer in the digestive tract, reducing its absorption rate.
13. How to read the omega 3 supplement label?
When an Omega 3 supplement claims to contain 1000 mg fish oil that doesn’t mean you are getting 1000mg of EPA+DHA.
Most supplements contain 300 mg of EPA+DHA (180 EPA and 120 DHA). So, to get 1000 mg of EPA+DHA you would have to take 3-4 capsules.
Look for brands that contain a higher concentration of EPA and DHA.
1. Serving size – Serving size means the number of capsules necessary to get the listed dose of EPA and DHA.
2. Total Omega 3 – Amount of total omega-3 should be highest in each serving.
3. Add EPA and DHA values – Good quality supplements should contain a higher concentration of EPA+DHA.
4. Look for antioxidants – Check for vitamin E. Look for the word tocopherol – an active form of vitamin E.
14. Things to look for, before purchasing a fish oil supplement
Apart from reading the label, keep the following checklist in mind when looking for a good quality fish oil.
Amount of omega 3 – Many fish oil supplements contain an insignificant amount of EPA and DHA. Make sure the supplement you choose contains a good amount of EPA and DHA.
The front label of a supplement may boast to contain 1000 mg fish oil. However, the back of the label will disclose that in this 1000mg only 300 mg of (EPA+DHA) is present.
An informed person will never fall for this marketing tactic.
Authenticity and Purity – Look for a brand with a “third party test stamp” on them. The independent third party test will ensure the purity of the fish oil like mercury free, heavy metal free, quality of the fish used for the manufacturing, extraction process.
It will also ensure that the product actually contains what it says on its label.
Antioxidant content – Check whether the product contains antioxidants like vitamin E or not. Antioxidants help in maintaining the purity and freshness of the fish oil.
Look for the word alpha-tocopherol – the active form of vitamin E – on the label.
Freshness – The omega 3s in the fish oil is prone to turn rancid and can become less effective or even harmful for health. Stale fish oil will have a foul smell to it. Always check the manufacturing date and smell the product for any kind of foul smell.
15. Which omega 3 supplements are the best?
A good quality fish oil is best for most people to keep a healthy level of omega 3 fatty acids in the body.
However, most 1000 mg fish oil supplements contain no more than 300 mg of EPA and DHA. The rest 70% are other types of fat.
To get a 1000 mg of EPA and DHA you will have to consume a large amount of other fats and vitamin A.
So, look for a supplement brand that provides you a concentrated omega 3 – 90% EPA and DHA in one capsule.
In order to ensure the quality of fish oil, look for a “third party quality check” stamp on the product.
Look for brands containing omega 3 in the form of free fatty acids, phospholipids, or triglycerides.
Bottom line: The best way to get the required omega 3 quantity is through natural sources. Natural sources have shown many beneficial and protective effects.
But if you are not able to get the omega 3 fatty acids through food, since eating fish daily is not possible, then add a good quality fish oil supplement to your diet to get the required quantity of omega 3.