Essential fatty acid supplements – your choices explained
Essential fatty acid (‘EFA’) supplements are becoming more popular with interest about more weird and wonderful supplements like krill oil growing. EFA supplements are sometimes necessary for basic health due to the way that our food is produced, and the types of diets we choose, however this is generally a lifestyle choice. Today we generally get far too much omega 6 and far too little omega 3 (also called O3) in our diets. This is bad for a number of reasons but it mainly boils down to the fact that they are used by the body to make ecosinoids, which play a major roll in controlling inflammation in the body. It’s a bit of an over simplification but O6 fats end up as pro inflammatory messengers and O3 as anti inflammatory messengers and as such control to a certian extent the net level of inflammation.
Quite simply the more raw material the more the messenger produced and the louder the message tends to be. Inflammation in the body is useful but extended periods of inflammation is more often than not deleterious to health and is implicated in cardiovascular disease, diabetes and many other health conditions we see more and more of today.
By ‘balancing’ the intake of these fats (reducing the 6:3 ratio) you can really help ‘balance’ the inflammatory reaction, whole foods are best. It is worth noting that the health benefits of changing fat intake are most often seen with research focusing on WHOLE FOODS, but that given (we all know whole food is king) what are your dietary and supplemental choices here?
Fish oils are great sources of O3 fats especially the long chain fatty acids our bodies use. Vegetable sources have to be processed by the body – in fish oils the hard work has been done for you.
Upsides: good source of EPA and DHA (which veg sources don’t have)
Downsides: people with seafood (fish) allergies should not take them. Large doses may impose a stress on the body as there is a lot more fat floating around that can be easily oxidised which may have to be ‘managed’ by the body.
Doses commonly seen 1000mg to 9000mg (but sometimes as high as 30,000mg/20-30g per day)
(NB: Cod liver oil is different! This should NEVER be taken in these quantities!)
Krill oil is one of the newer oils on the market and is rapidly growing in popularity, it contains O3 in a form that is readily absorbed and stable but it also contains an antioxidant (AO) molecule called Astaxanthin which mops up free radicals, however more research needs to be carried out to better understand how this works in the body, high AO levels from supplements may interfere with internal AO status by changing the way our internally produced AO’s are produced or used!
Doses commonly seem are 500mg to 1000mg per day
Upsides: Good fats readily absorbed, great AO profile
Possible downsides: we don’t know too much about how this high AO profile effect the body, it’s also expensive.
Flax is a great vegetable source of O3 fats and no easily available in the shops in both bottled oil forms and capsules for easy transport.
Flax powder and seeds (cracked)
a good source of both EFA’s as well as lignans (go to the wikipedia page for more info) and fibres. Of course it is the whole seed so the fat content is lower but it is useful
Upsides: good source of ligands and fibre, can be added to foods easily
Possible downsides: some people may not react well to fibre content, fats need conversion in the body which some people have problems doing effectivly.
Doeses: one half to two tablespoons a day
This oil is a relatively good source of the O3 fats we’re after but comes further down the list due to it’s lower content and ss you can from this example the distinctions between food and supplement can become blurred .
Other foods that will help correct EFA balance
You can help correct the balance of fats in your body by eating thinks containing a 6:3 ratio of lower that about 5-6:1, this includes a lot of foods and especially… grass fed beef and bison (and similar game), salmon, trout, herring, walnuts, lima beans, kelp and green vegetables, seed oils of the kiwi, cranberry, chia and camelina.
The supplements above help satisfy a need in a convenient and effective manner but if you’re pregnant, breastfeeding or have bleeding issues or are on blood thinning medications you should consult your doctor before taking them. Please be aware as well many of these foods and supplements above can cause problems for those with food hypersensitivities.