What’s all the Fuss about Omega-3s?

At Motivation, we encourage all our weight loss clients to take a daily supplement of omega-3s (yes, even if they think they already consume plenty of fish). I started taking a high dose of Omega-3 over three years ago, and I most certainly feel the benefits. Research tells us that Omega-3s lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of stroke and heart disease and may help lower triglycerides. But it’s not just our heart health that is affected; research also suggests that Omega-3 could play an important in our body’s ability to burn fat and could even help boost our mood, making us less likely to eat due to low mood.

Types of Essential Fats

Essential Fats Omega-3 and 6 are known as ‘essential’ because our bodies can’t make them – so we need to get them from our diet (or supplement our diet). Unfortunately, often due to busy lifestyles, the typical Irish diet is low in healthy fats. Traditionally many of our parents and grandparents took Cod Liver Oil, particularly in winter, but now that isn’t as commonplace.

Most of our diets will supply adequate Omega-6 (in fact, some of us have too much), but we often fall short on Omega-3, which has important anti-inflammatory benefits and helps maintain cardiovascular health. In fact, a recent IPSOS/MRBI survey found that 89% of Irish people do not consume sufficient oily fish, which is  the best known source of Omega-3 fatty acids in the diet.

While some countries are notorious for consuming a high proportion of healthy fats, such as in Japan and the traditional Mediterranean diet, unfortunately the typical Irish diet falls short. Good dietary sources include tuna, halibut, mackerel, salmon, trout, sardines, and flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, green leafy vegetables such as kale and brussels sprouts. But, due to the fact that levels are so low in Ireland, Omega-3 – often known as EPAs and DHAs – need to be supplemented with a high quality fish oil (visit any of our nationwide clinics to pick up our top quality Omega-3).

So What are the General Health Benefits of Omega 3s?

Chronic inflammation has been linked to heart disease, cancer and autoimmune illnesses. We know that strong evidence exists that links omega-3s with a reduction in the harmful inflammation leading to these diseases. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that taking Omega-3 for six weeks helped decrese the levels of several markers of inflammation in the blood. Essential fatty acids are thought to be particularly helpful in the treatment of other conditions caused by inflammation like asthma, rhumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease.

Several studies have found that Omega-3 consumption is connected with a decreased risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease. A study published in the Americal Journal of Preventative Medicine found that a higher intake of fish high in Omega-3 is associated with more grey matter in the brain (the type of tissue involved in memory, sensory perception and decision making). Researchers have also found that people who don’t get enough Omega-3 are more likely to suffer from low mood, while serious deficiency has been linked to conditions such as ADD and depression.

Even our children can benefit as regular Omega-3 can improve mood, memory, cognititive ability, concentration and may even lead to better sleep – particularly important for teenagers during stressful exam periods.

And How About  The Weight Link?

Some research studies suggest that Omega-3s may help to reduce hunger and appetite. Also, a number of studies which have reported increases in metabolic rates with an intake of Omega-3 have also simultaneously observed an increase in muscle mass. Muscle burns more calories than fat, thus an increase in muscle mass may explain the higher metabolic rates observed in these studies. In fact, according to a study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition in 2010, gains in lean muscle mass were seen after just six weeks of supplementation with fish oils.

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a study in 2007 examining the effects of fish oil and exercise on the breakdown of body fat. Overweight subjects with high cholesterol were given 6 grams of tuna daily for 12 weeks. On top of this they also walked for 45 minutes every day. After 12 weeks, both exercise and fish oil were independently shown to reduce body fat mass. Fish oils also help to decrease blood sugar levels, according to the National Institute of Health.When blood sugar levels are high, the body produces insulin which prevents fat loss. By reducing blood sugar levels, fish oils help to prevent a surge of insulin in the body, further aiding fat loss.

So How Much Omega 3s Should I Take?

There is no set standard for how much Omega-3 you should take each day. Various mainstream health organisations have released their own expert opinions, but they vary considerably. Most recommend a minimum of 250-500 mg combined EPA and DHA each day for healthy adults. However, at Motivation we recommend 2,000 mg per day. On the upper limit, experts advise no more than 3,000 mg per day.

Blog Post by Maebh Coyle