One of the most popular supplements currently is Omega 3, but what is Omega 3? An omega 3 is an essential fatty acid which is a type of fat that must be obtained from the diet. Another essential fatty acid is omega 6, but does not receive the attention of its counterpart. So why does everyone talk about Omega 3 and not Omega 6?
We get plenty of Omega 6 in our diets, but we are deficient in Omega 3. The optimal ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 is approximately 1:1, which is what our ancestors from their diets. The typical diet today gives us a ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 anywhere from 10:1 to 25:1. This out of balance ratio can lead to health issues including but not limited to our cardiovascular (heart and circulation) system (1,2,3,4). But what are the best sources of Omega 3’s from our diet or through supplements?
The best way to get Omega 3s in our diet is from fish, marine algae and seeds. I would like to talk about one source of vegetarian/vegan Omega 3 in particular, which is the chia seed. Chia is one of the highest plant sources of Omega 3 and has been consumed for centuries. There are two types of chia seeds, black and white, and both are almost identical in their nutritional content. Chia is very high in a certain type of Omega 3 called alpha linolenic acid (ALA).
Alpha linolenic acid is one of the three important elements of Omega 3s, the other two are docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Alpha linolenic acid from chia seed has been shown to convert to both DHA and EPA to give the body what it needs (5,6,7,8). There are many different benefits of Omega 3, but two of the major benefits are for cardiovascular and brain health.
Omega 3 and ALA have been shown to be beneficial for cardiovascular health and stroke related issues. Heart disease and stroke were two of the world’s leading causes of death in 2015 and have been the leading causes of death for the last 15 years worldwide. The recommended intake of ALA is 1.5-3g per day (9,10,11,12).
Omega 3s are essential for development and proper functioning of the brain (13) and omega 3s may be beneficial for mood related issues (14) as well as issues with learning (15). Alpha linolenic acid appears to have neuroprotective properties (16) as well as the alpha linolenic acid from chia is shown to be able to provide adequate levels of DHA for the adult brain (8).
If you choose to supplement with an Omega 3 supplement and are looking for a vegetarian/vegan option, consider trying chia seed oil either by itself or in combination with another plant source of Omega 3, such as algae.
- Simopoulos AP. The importance of the ratio of Omega-6/Omega-3 essential fatty acids
Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy. Volume 56, Issue 8, October 2002, Pages 365-379
- Simopoulos AP. Evolutionary aspects of diet, the Omega-6/Omega-3 ratio and genetic variation: nutritional implications for chronic diseases. Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy. Volume 60, Issue 9, November 2006, Pages 502-507
- Simopoulos AP. Omega-3 fatty acids in health and disease and in growth and development.
Am J Clin Nutr September Vol. 54 no. 3 438-463
- Simopoulos AP. The Importance of the Omega-6/Omega-3 Fatty Acid Ratio in Cardiovascular Disease and Other Chronic Diseases. Experimental Biology and Medicine. Vol 233, Issue 6, 2008
- Nieman DC1, et al. Chia seed supplementation and disease risk factors in overweight women: a metabolomics investigation. J Altern Complement Med. 2012 Jul;18(7):700-8
- Jin F, et al. Supplementation of milled chia seeds increases plasma ALA and EPA in postmenopausal women. Plant Foods Hum Nutr. 2012 Jun;67(2):105-10
- Valenzuela R, et al. Modification of Docosahexaenoic Acid Composition of Milk from Nursing Women Who Received Alpha Linolenic Acid from Chia Oil during Gestation and Nursing. Nutrients. 2015 Aug 4;7(8):6405-24
- Domenichiello AF1, Kitson AP1, Bazinet RP2. Is docosahexaenoic acid synthesis from α-linolenic acid sufficient to supply the adult brain? Prog Lipid Res. 2015 Jul;59:54-66
- Nestel P, et al. Indications for Omega-3 Long Chain Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid in the Prevention and Treatment of Cardiovascular Disease. Heart Lung Circ. 2015 Aug;24(8):769-79. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25936871
- Hadjighassem M, et al. Oral consumption of α-linolenic acid increases serum BDNF levels in healthy adult humans. Nutr J. 2015 Feb 26;14:20. doi: 10.1186/s12937-015-0012-5.
- Etherton PM, Harris WS, Appel LJ. Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Cardiovascular Disease
New Recommendations From the American Heart Association. Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology. February 2003, Volume 23, Issue 2
- World Health Organization. The top 10 cases of death. Fact Sheet. Updated Jan 2017. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs310/en/
- Innis SM
- Sinclair AJ, Begg D, Mathai M and Weisinger RS. Omega 3 Fatty Acids and the Brain: Review of Studies in Depression
- Stevens LJ, Zentall SS, Abate ML, Kuczek T and Burges JR. Omega-3 fatty acids in boys with behavior, learning, and health problems. Physiology & Behavior
- Blondeau N1, et al. Alpha-linolenic acid: an omega-3 fatty acid with neuroprotective properties-ready for use in the stroke clinic? Biomed Res Int. 2015;2015:519830.Epub 2015 Feb 19. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25789320