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Omega 3s are essential fatty acids used in a variety of functions in the body including energy production, brain health, eye health, and sperm health. The energy produced with omega 3s not only supports our overall energy levels but has many functions in the heart, blood vessels, immune system and endocrine system.
Omega 3s are unsaturated fats and are part of the “essential fatty acids” family that we must get from our diet or supplements as we cannot produce them in the body. There are three main types of omega 3 fatty acids – alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
In the body, omega 3 is used for energy production, brain health, eye health, and sperm health. The energy produced with omega 3s not only supports overall energy levels but has many functions in the heart, blood vessels, immune system and endocrine system (the vast network of hormone-producing glands in the body).
The recommended intake of omega 3 essential fatty acids varies with age and is higher during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Generally, children need 40-125mg a day (depending on their age and gender), men need 160mg a day, and women need 90mg a day.
While omega 3, 6 and 9 sound similar, there are a few key differences. Omega 3 and 6 are essential fatty acids, whereas omega 9 is not as our body can make omega 9 from omega 3 and omega 6.
While ALA is mainly found in plants, DHA and EPA are mostly found in animal foods and algae so it is important to be aware of DHA and EPA intake if you don’t eat seafood. Algal oil supplements are an alternative to fish oil supplements if you follow a vegetarian diet, but please consult with your healthcare practitioner before taking any supplements.
Research is still emerging on what an omega 3 deficiency looks like as we usually look at omega 3 and it’s impact on disease and inflammation.
The current research suggests potential signs of an omega 3 deficiency include:
Currently, only 10% of Australian women of childbearing age meet the recommended intake for DHA. This is concerning as low DHA increases the risk of preterm birth (before 37 weeks). In the third trimester, your little one is building up their DHA levels so it’s important you have enough as well! It is currently recommended to supplement with omega 3 if you’re not getting enough in your diet from 12 weeks gestation until birth.
DHA is important for the central nervous system (particularly brain and eye) development. Children accumulate most of their DHA in the last trimester and in the first 6-10 months of life through breast milk or formula. Adequate DHA in early childhood has been associated with increased vocabulary, coordination and improved behaviour.
Omega 3 supplements may also reduce asthma, improve sleep and improve brain function in older children. A small 8-week study on 8-10 year old boys found supplementing with DHA increased activation of the prefrontal cortex, responsible for attention, impulse control, and planning.
Research has found children and adults with ADHD often have lower levels of omega 3, which correlates with behavioural and learning problems, anxiety, temper tantrums, and sleep difficulties. Supplementing with omega 3 can reduce symptoms of ADHD.
The research is very mixed when it comes to omega 3 and weight loss. Some research suggests a diet high in omega 3 reduces hunger and appetite which can lead to weight loss. Other research has found omega 3 increases metabolism and enhances the effects of exercise. However, these results haven’t been consistent and are often found in conjunction with a calorie-deficit diet.
You should take an omega 3 supplement if you have been advised by your healthcare practitioner to do so. Some supplements come with other nutrients such as vitamin D, CoQ10, and vitamin E so it’s important to get the right one for you.
It is also crucial to consider how much omega 3 you’re getting in your diet before taking a supplement, as your body can only absorb so much!
If you’ve been recommended or prescribed an omega 3 supplement, you can take it at any time of day unless directed otherwise.
If you’re taking an omega 3 supplement, you may experience some side effects such as bad breath, bad smelling sweat, headaches, heartburn, nausea and diarrhea.
Talk to your healthcare practitioner if you’re experiencing any of these side effects, as you may be able to reduce them by changing the time of day you’re taking the supplement and if you’re having it with or without food.
If you’re interested in taking any supplements, please discuss this with your practitioner to ensure you’re taking the correct dose and form for you. This article is not intended to be medical advice and is purely for education purposes.