Many of us need to take a tablet at some stage in our hectic lives. Maybe it is to shake off the occasional headache or cold. Perhaps it has been prescribed by a doctor to provide important support for a long-term health condition. Nevertheless, alongside these medications, there is a growing number of people taking supplements on a daily basis.
Supplements are available without a prescription and, as the name suggests, they are intended to plug gaps in our diet to ensure we get sufficient essential nutrients onboard. Of course, this also means it is possible to get all of the nutrients we need by eating a variety of healthy foods.
Fish oil is probably the cornerstone of the supplements sector, with global sales expected to top $4 billion by 2022. The reason for this incredible value is our intrinsic need for omega-3s. These fats are essential to human health. Our bodies cannot function without them. And there’s really only one way to get omega-3s – we have to eat them. Indeed, while the human body can make most of the types of fats it needs from other fats or raw materials, it cannot manufacture omega-3s.
THE MANY BENEFITS OF OMEGA-3S
There are three main types of omega-3: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and all three are most easily found in food.
There is an abundance of natural sources of these essential fats available to us. ALA is naturally occurring in certain plants, nuts and seeds, while the richest sources of EPA and DHA are fish and marine algae, which is where fish get them from in the food chain.
It has been proven that EPA and DHA can reduce inflammation and help lower the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer and arthritis. They are also important for human brain functionality and maintenance, physical growth and development, eye health, andcan help combat depression and anxiety.
ALA, meanwhile, does not do a great deal until our bodies actually transform it into EPA and DHA, although we are nowhere near as good at doing this as oily fish such as mackerel, herring, sardines, anchovies and salmon. That is why these fish have the highest EPA and DHA content, and also the reason why health authorities around the world recommend the regular consumption of them. White fish species do contain some omega-3s but at much lower levels than oily fish.
NO SUBSTITUTE FOR FISH
Though there is no recommended standard dose of omega-3 fats for human wellbeing, many health organisations promote a daily dose of between 250 and 500 milligrams of EPA and DHA for healthy adults, and higher levels of 1,000 to 2,000mg are advocated for the prevention of memory loss, depression and heart problems. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), for instance, approves the claim that 3,000mg of EPA and DHA a day lowers high blood pressure.
With a 150g serving of farmed salmon fillet typically containing around 500mg of EPA and DHA, what this advice equates to for most of us, is that to ensure our bodies are getting their required levels of omega-3s, we should include fish and seafood in our diet a minimum of two to three times a week.
Crucially, while the supplements that are high in EPA and DHA can contribute to human health in the ways we have already highlighted (those with low EPA and DHA are not worth purchasing), it is also believed that the benefits provided by seafood consumption extend well beyond the provision of these omega-3 fats.
It is highly probable that we need the full suite of fats, minerals, vitamins, and so on, that are provided by fish, much in the same way that we get a wealth of vital nutrients from eating fruits and vegetables, for example. And of course, let’s not forget that in addition to being super healthy, fish is a great deal tastier and far more satisfying than swallowing a tablet.