More than just a happenstance addition to one’s diet and exercise regimen to keep their body in optimal shape and function, supplements also act to provide our body with nutrients and essential substances it otherwise couldn’t synthesize, derive, or create on its own.
It is important to note that these substances are not just “good to have” within our body. The preceding adjective “essential” is as literal as it can get.
Take vitamin C for example. While there is vitamin C available in our food, our body does not have the needed tools to extract Vitamin C from food efficiently.
We need to eat a whole lot of oranges just to make sure we keep our vitamin C levels at optimum levels so in turn it can help boost our immune system.
And now, with the advent of medical and pharmaceutical technology and with it, the industry’s increased microscopic focus on biochemistry, scientists have already discovered more than a handful of substances that our body simply couldn’t live without, like antioxidants, essential amino acids, and many others.
One of those substances is omega-3 fatty acid, or simply omega-3.
Omega-3 and your body
Omega-3 belongs to a category of fats called “polyunsaturated fatty acids”. These substances come in three forms: ALA, EPA, and DHA. You may have heard them from various infomercials ranging from canned goods to children’s milk.
Despite what you may think of those advertisements, these substances are not mere figments of the imagination. They are actual substances that act as a precursor, or building block, that enables our body to produce eicosanoids.
Living up to their rather esoteric-sounding name, eicosanoids serve many important roles and functions in our body.
A quick review of biochemistry will tell you that these fat derivatives act in a number of ways: they maintain our immune system by regulating inflammation, serve to monitor our pain perception, regulate and control allergic reactions, and even keep our platelets in balance to ensure we don’t bleed too heavily.
Many drugs that we use in our day-to-day lives, like aspirin, certain pain medications, and even anti-types of allergic drugs all take advantage of the functions of eicosanoids inside our bodies.
Needless to say, eicosanoids are very important substances that our body definitely needs in order to maintain its daily functions. Keeping them in optimal levels in our body will prove very beneficial for our overall health. Good thing our body has the machinery to produce eicosanoids.
What our body doesn’t have are its raw materials – omega-3. As has already been mentioned, omega-3 is derived exogenously. This means we have to eat certain foods in order to acquire these substances.
According to the United States National Academy of Medicine, the level of what is considered adequate intake for omega-3 and all its three types is 4g daily. You might think this sounds like small value, you might want to think again.
Fish oil: an abundant source of omega-3
A lot of foods available in your local grocery store are said to be high in omega-3. Ocean-caught fish, in particular, serve as an excellent source. These include tuna, salmon, mackerel, sardines, among others.
However, according to a study published by the American Heart Association, it has been found that while these seafood products are good sources of omega-3, they still don’t meet the daily requirements.
Take tuna, for example. According to the study, a typical serving of tuna contains roughly 0.21g of omega-3.
This means we need to eat roughly four pounds of tuna a day just so we meet adequate levels – and tuna isn’t exactly cheap. Not to mention is the level of mercury found in saltwater fish.
In fact, some studies show that eating too much saltwater fish can lead to mercury poisoning. According to the United States Food and Drug Administration, it is advised that people, especially children and pregnant women, eat a maximum of 12 ounces of saltwater fish a week.
That’s barely a single serving of tuna a day!
This is why such substances are better derived from supplements which are available on the market.
Supplements have been created so that the needed nutrients are extracted from the raw source without the other harmful substances that it may carry along with it.
And when it comes to supplements with omega-3, the current most popular source is fish oil.
Fish oil contains two types of omega-3, EPA and DHA, and has been in the market for a long time now, dating as far back as the early 1900s and has been advertised aggressively by various pharmaceutical companies since its discovery.
While production of fish oil as a supplement has dropped in the past few years, it is still relatively ubiquitous and anyone can buy the product for cheap at any health store, grocery store, or supermarket.
What makes fish oil relatively inexpensive for consumers is the vast availability of its source. Our oceans are teeming with saltwater fish that prove to be a great source of fish oil, and thus there is a steady supply to keep producing this product.
Fish oil is also a great source of omega-3 overall. According to various independent studies on the product, it has been found that fish oil contains about 30% EPA and DHA, leading to a high level of bioavailability of the product.
Simply put, you won’t need to take as much fish oil to reach the minimum daily requirement.
The many health benefits of fish oil and omega-3s
But apart from its value, its availability, and other factors, perhaps the most important aspect is what kind of health benefits fish oil brings to the table.
Research from the US National Institutes of Health has revealed that taking fish oil one gram a day – which is the recommended daily allowance provided for by the American Heart Association – when used in conjunction with a good, balanced diet and proper exercise, brings significant benefits.
According to a study done by the Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago, it has been found that people who took fish oil at the recommended daily intake had an 11% lower chance of developing a fatal heart attack compared to those who did not.
Over the years, there have been plenty of research and studies done on the benefits of fish oil, and to list them all here wouldn’t be practical. It has been verified to help in the prevention of high blood pressure and heart disease.
The omega-3 acids found in fish oil has also been found to fight inflammation in the body. Fish oil’s anti-inflammatory properties make it very useful for all kinds of people. For example, those with arthritis benefit from fish oil because it helps with morning stiffness and general aches and pains.
Strength athletes in all sports can benefit from the omega-3 in fish oil because it helps to ease the muscle soreness they get after an intense workout and helps lessen the chance of injuries.
It has also been shown to boost protein synthesis and preserve muscle mass, which is extremely important for bodybuilders and powerlifters. When taken in conjunction with a proper diet and exercise plan, fish oil has even been shown to improve fat loss!
However, it must be clarified that fish oil is no wonder drug. It doesn’t prevent diseases such as prostate cancer, psoriasis, and abnormal heart rhythms, despite being marketed as such. But it’s not meant to be.
At the end of the day, fish oil is just a supplement. And as you can tell from the name, supplements are there to supplement a good diet and healthy lifestyle, not to act as some miracle cure.
Fish oil, despite its great benefits, also has its downsides. For one, the mercury we were all trying to avoid is still there. According to studies, fish oil still contains about 10% of the mercury a single serving of fish would’ve provided.
It is important to note that while mercury in fish oil has been greatly diminished, it is still there. It has also been found that fish oil causes indigestion, called “fishy burps”, which is mainly caused by how fish oil capsules are manufactured.
In addition, fish oil prone to spoilage. A study by the Norwegian Scientific Community for Food Safety found that that there is danger in taking spoiled fish oil, and often there is no certain way to find out its shelf life.
Then again, eating any other food spoiled is bad, too. Always make sure to check the label for the manufacturing and expiration dates before you buy any fish oil supplement.
Fish oil or krill oil?
While fish oil has been deemed safe for ingestion, there are still doubts surrounding its long-term safety, which is why a new substance, krill oil, has been introduced in the market.
Instead of deriving its omega-3 source from saltwater fish, krill oil is derived from Antarctic krill, which are deep-water sea creatures.
In terms of availability, the Antarctic is still teeming with krill, and as such, supply won’t be too much of a problem. This is reflected in the average price of krill oil in the market, which is similar to the price range for fish oil.
Krill oil, just like fish oil, contains omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. In fact, they contain more.
According to the University of Oslo in Norway, krill oil contains about 4% more DHA and EPA per capsule compared to fish oil, which leads to better bioavailability.
It has also been found that krill oil’s omega-3 is attached to choline phospholipids in contrast to triglycerides in fish oil, which has been proposed to provide a better delivery system.
However, according to a study published by the American Heart Association, there is no significant difference in terms of both products’ capacity to increase people’s EPA and DHA levels, so their potency to prevent heart diseases and fatal heart attacks are roughly the same.
One key advantage of krill oil over fish oil, however, is the presence of astaxanthin. Krill oil contains about a milligram of astaxanthin and this substance helps in protecting our body’s cells from ultra-violet light damage.
Studies have also found that astaxanthin has anti-cancer and anti-neurodegeneration potential, which makes it protective against certain kinds of cell damage that would’ve otherwise lead to disease. More research on this property however, especially in terms of human trials, is still lacking.
So while krill oil does have some added perks, it does appear that, at least in terms of what is already proven, that both fish oil and krill oil have the same advantages and disadvantages. It is now up to the consumer to decide which is his preference.