Deciphering the Research: Do Omega-3 Supplements Work?
The health and wellness community has for years touted the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids – ranging from cardiovascular health, cholesterol reduction, anti-inflammatory properties to improving brain function. These benefits undoubtedly created consumer demand, and the food and supplements industries responded by marketing omega-3 in everything from gummy vitamins to eggs and yogurt, and even in food and supplements for our four-legged friends.
More Options, More Confusion
While growth in the category has certainly created more awareness and options for consumers, it has also created confusion. While the American Heart Association (AHA) advised people 15 years ago that fish oil could help prevent further heart disease, a more recent AHA study suggests fish oil supplements may help prevent death after a heart attack – but lack evidence of cardiovascular benefit for the general population. Meanwhile, a Harvard-led study of more than 25,000 people age 50 and older who took daily supplements containing omega-3 fatty acids provides evidence that the omega 3 fatty acids found in fish like salmon, sardines or tuna can have a beneficial effect on heart health and lower heart attack risk. So, one inconclusive, one positive – and these are just two recent studies focused on heart disease.
A Google search on “omega-3 research” will generate news results including research on the fatty acids’ impact on everything from weight loss to brain function and premature births. Some suggest their efficacy, while others are not as encouraging – and then there are the nuances and questions raised within the scientific community based on the diversity (or uniformity) of the populations surveyed, type of omega-3 fatty acids used in the study, and multiple other factors. So, does this mean you won’t benefit from an omega-3 supplement?
What the Studies Don’t Always Control: Dosage
While addressing the nuances and questions raised by such diverse studies would merit multiple additional studies and research, there is one specific factor that reflects significant variability across these studies – the type and dosage of omega-3 supplement taken by study participants.
Different Dosage Needed to Realize Different Benefits
There are reasons why each study focuses on a different health benefit. One explanation is that each desired health benefit – whether it’s cardiovascular health, decreased inflammation, or improved brain function – requires a different daily dose of omega-3. GOED – the global organization for EPA & DHA omega-3s – offers the following intake recommendations for three key benefits:
Several studies have failed to reach a definitive outcome or conclusion based on insufficient statistical significance. Because many of the studies were limited to a particular duration or to observe a small population, they oftentimes failed to generate results of statistical significance. One potential contributing factor may be the lack of clarity or consistency to the dose and quality of omega-3 taken by study participants.
Different Sources to Obtain Those Doses
As such, the leads of several studies ultimately suggested that consumers interested in attaining benefit from Omega-3 supplements consider consuming Omega-3 directly from natural food sources. Sounds like a wise solution, no? According to GOED, seafood is the primary source of EPA and DHA in the diet. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend two servings of fatty fish per week to deliver the recommended amount of omega-3s your body needs to support cardiovascular health. For pregnant or lactating women, that recommended dosage about doubles. And for general health, we’re looking at more than 1g (vs. mg) of Omega-3 EPA+DHA per day. That’s a lot of salmon and other natural sources – daily.
To Achieve a High Dose, Supplements are More Efficient
Which brings us back to the benefit of supplements: because it will be challenging (to say the least) for most people to consume sufficient cold-water, fatty fish (or other high omega-3 food sources) to reach the minimum recommended daily dosage, supplements continue to play a positive role. 2 soft gels daily of a high quality supplement like Oceanblue Omega-3 2100 will deliver 2,100mg of omega-3 fatty acids (1,350mg EPA/ 600mg DHA/ 150mg DPA), sourced from wild-caught anchovies and sardines with zero to low mercury exposure off the Peruvian coast. In case you’re running the calculations, that’s more than 4 times GOED’s daily recommendation to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, and the equivalent of consuming nearly 4oz. of salmon daily.
How to Pick the Right Omega-3 Supplement: A Checklist
If your research (including but not limited to this article, of course) leads you to the decision that an omega-3 supplement is right for your goals and needs, the next natural question is how to pick the right one – in a category filled with options? Based on research, we suggest you look evaluate these key factors:
- Determine what daily dose you need:
- Refer to GOED’s intake recommendations as a starting point. If your focus is general health, overall wellness and maximum prevention, aim for 1 gram per day.
- Evaluate the dose delivered per soft gel:
- Evaluate a supplement that delivers that dose as efficiently as possible. For instance, will the supplements you’re considering deliver the dosage you’ve targeted in 1 large daily soft gel, 2 smaller soft gels, or will it require 3 or more? The higher quality the Omega-3 and the stronger its concentration, the fewer capsules you’ll need to swallow daily.
- Research the source of your Omega-3 oil (type of fish and geography):
- The type of fish your Omega-3 supplement is sourced from – as well as the geography (or farm) from which it is sourced from – should be clearly labeled on your supplement, to afford you the opportunity to research potential contamination levels in those waters, sustainability practices, and other practices. Ocean Blue sources the anchovies for its Ocean Blue Omega-3 2100 product (and others) from the coast of Peru, where very cold waters are known to possess no to extremely low contaminants. Peru’s anchovies in particular have very high Omega-3 content, thanks to a strong current that delivers nutrients directly into their feeding zone. The fishery employs conservative measures to protect the bio-source, and to ensure the sustainability of this natural resource. Your research should ideally lead you to responsible manufacturers and suppliers.
- Stay the course:
- Once you’ve selected the right omega-3 supplement for your dosage requirement, the reality is that it will only benefit you if you take it consistently. If it requires 4 daily capsules to achieve that dose, you should take those 4 capsules at the same times daily – and not just for 4-6 weeks (we’re talking long-term here). For this reason, we recommend selecting a high-quality and high-potency omega-3 supplement like Oceanblue Omega-3 2100. Taking 1 to 2 capsules a day for 6 years will be a far easier and more sustainable habit to form than taking 4 or 6 daily.
The amount of differing research and perspectives around the benefits of Omega-3 supplements is bound to create confusion. We’ll summarize the points we’ve covered in this post to provide some context:
- Inconclusive Research: While some recent studies have netted out at inconclusive findings on whether Omega-3 supplements are effective at improving particular health outcomes (i.e., protecting from cardiovascular disease), there are multiple factors that may have influenced lack of statistical significance in findings. These include insufficient duration, a small participating population, and lack of clarity into whether the dosage taken by participants was sufficient to attain desired benefit.
- The Importance of Dosage: The most important factor in selecting the right Omega-3 supplement (or natural food source) is dosage – what the recommended daily dosage is for specific conditions or health benefits (see GOED intake recommendations).
- Natural Foods vs. Supplements: A Matter of Efficiency: While you can certainly achieve your daily dosage through natural food sources (I.e., fish), this is not an efficient solution for the majority of the population given accessibility. This is where a high quality supplement like Oceanblue Omega-3 2100 comes into play – delivering a high, concentrated dose efficiently (in 1 or 2 soft gels).
- A Checklist to Pick the Right Omega-3 Supplement: We recommend you evaluate these key factors.
- Decide on what daily dose is necessary for your needs
- Evaluate the dose delivered per soft gel
- Consider the source of your Omega-3 oil (type of fish and geography)
- Stay the course: We recommend selecting a high-quality and high-potency omega-3 supplement like Ocean Blue Omega-3 2100 – because taking 1 to 2 capsules a day for 6 years will be a more sustainable habit to form than taking 4 or 6 daily.
Click here to shop for Oceanblue’s 2100 Omega-3 (or our range of omega-3 products).