We may have heard a lot about the importance of omega-3 unsaturated fatty acids and their good relationship with cardiovascular health, cholesterol control, the reduction of dry eyes, inflammatory diseases, depression, cancer or Alzheimer’s.
What are the blessed Omega fatty acids and what the hell are they for?
All this, and much more, is true. These compounds, especially omega-3 eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), along with alpha linolenic acid (ALA), has a very large weight in the fluidity of the cell membrane throughout the years of life, which is the same as saying that they prevent cell aging. The diseases described above have much to do with cellular aging.
Therefore, they are essential for our life. We have also repeatedly heard that we should take them from sources such as oily fish and shellfish, especially salmon, sardines and other fish. The reason is that our body cannot synthesize them, just like omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids.
But, unlike the latter, which are more abundant in our diet, especially omega-9 called oleic acid, omega-3 are usually present in different proportions depending on the food source in question.
Thus, in the case of animal fontsespecially the aforementioned fish, EPA and DHA fatty acids abound, which our body assimilates and immediately to the metabolism.
Instead, in the case of the vegetable sourceslike walnuts, flax or hemp oil, the abundant fatty acid is ALA, which the body must then convert into DHA and EPA, a process that is very inefficient, since only about 5% on average of ALA from food becomes EPA and DHA.
Omnivores and vegans, different problem
The WHO and the EFS recommend a minimum of 250 mg of EPA+DHA per day, but according to the Spanish Heart Foundation, 82% of the population does not comply with this requirement.
In the case of omnivorous people The problem is the insufficient consumption of oily fish, especially due to the culinary deculturation that we are suffering, since with prescribed doses of oily fish (tuna, salmon, sardines, etc.) distributed throughout the week, they would have more than enough.
For them the problem is more related to heavy metals, and especially mercury, which accumulates in oily fish, since in pregnant women and those under 10 years of age it is recommended to abstain and in the rest of the population moderate consumption.
As for the vegan people, the problem is the low efficiency of the conversion of ALA into EPA and DHA, as we have mentioned. Thus, if with five walnuts we have the theoretical daily dose of omega-3, for the process to be efficient we should multiply the intake by 20, that is, 100 walnuts a day, a very caloric and indigestible ration.
For these different reasons, it may be recommended for vegans, minors and pregnant women the consumption of omega-3 supplements to complete the diet. In adults who want to have a high intake of omega-3 for specific reasons -little access to oily fish, sports, medical, dietary recommendations, etc.- it is also interesting as long as the relationship between omega 3 and 6 is respected.
Buy a supplement of animal origin
It is not as simple as it seems, since there is a wide variety of preparations on the market and some of them are unrefined fish oil and without removing heavy metals. This means mercury, so taking them can be even more harmful than not taking them.
The quality of the supplement will be measured by what the bottle label indicates. If it does not give us any indication of the acids it contains and the chemical form in which they are, the recommendation is to distrust this supplement. If there is mention, we must distinguish between the ethyl ester form and the triglyceride form.
The clinical optometrist and science communicator Ramón Garcíagives a series of interesting tips on his blog Take care of your eyesight. García explains that “in general, most Omega-3 supplements of medium quality have always previously gone through a purification and concentration process in order to eliminate fish contaminants such as heavy metals.”
After this process, the omega-3s remain in the chemical form of ethyl ester, which must be reflected – we must look for it – on the label of the supplement bottle. However, this ester format, being synthetic, is less well absorbed and, therefore, is less efficient.
“Basically, when it comes to metabolizing the same amount of omega 3 in this format, it will have a lesser effect in the short term, so you would have to take more capsules than if you consume the same amount in triglyceride format,” explains García.
He himself adds that the solution is “to carry out a new process and convert this clean and concentrated omega 3 from ethyl ester to a triglyceride format so that we can metabolize it better and it is healthier.” Something that, on the other hand, increase the price of the supplement.
On the other hand, the optometrist recommends make the sum of EPA and DHA shown on the label: “There are many cheap brands that offer 1000 mg omega 3 capsules. but it turns out that if you add the amount of DHA+EPA fatty acids, these only represent 25% of the total amount.”
“This means that you would have to take 3 pills more than one that brings a 75% concentration of good fatty acids.” “Also,” he continues, “everything that isn’t DHA and EPA are useless fats that will complicate absorption and even make you fat.” I’m sure some supplements even include filler rapeseed oil.
Buy a vegan supplement
If we are vegan people, we should know that algae are one of the few direct non-animal sources of DHA and EPAand that different species are industrially cultivated to obtain these acids in the form of supplements.
The great advantage, both for vegans and omnivores, is that these supplements are not in danger of presenting heavy metals and, therefore, they have much simpler purification processes, which translates into a lower price.
In addition, they allow to offer higher concentrations of omega-3 per capsule, and the fatty acids they contain are the same as those of animal sources, so their efficiency is high. A) Yes, a study reflects that the content of DHA in the oil extracted from microalgae is three to five times higher than in the case of fish oil. And of course, with less cholesterol.
This makes them the best recommendation for all audiencesalthough, in the case of vegans, they should ensure that the capsule is made with cellulose extract and not with gelatin, which is of animal origin.
Having said all this, it should be remembered that supplementation, whatever it may be, can never replace a complete and healthy diet and physical exercise, far from the abuses of alcoholism and smoking.
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