Over Supplementation of Omega-3 via Fish Oils
I've been so busy this last week. Work, training and study have been full on. Making sure I'm eating properly. Quantity, quality and variety have been the most important to keep me fully functioning. With my training program in a strength phase for the next three weeks (already in my third week), I've thrown in some extra supplements like fish oil to help me along. Interestingly, I've heard a lot of people talking about fish oil lately.
I was in the gym the other day, and I overheard someone talking to another guy about fish oil dosages. And funnily enough the day before that I was talking with a friend about a recommendation they heard about, which was to take something like 4 capsules with every meal per day. On a standard diet written for weight loss or even a general fitness diet, we see a client eating six or seven meals a day. So that works out to be at least 24 capsules a day! Looking at, say for example Poliquins Uber Omega 3 which contains 600mg of EPA and DHA per capsule, that works out to 28.8 grams when following this recommendation. My question is, what are our safe limits of omega 3 in our diet.
There are two essential fatty acids that we need to develop and maintain our bodies. An essential fatty acid being something that our bodies can not synthesise and must be obtained from diet and supplementation. Linoleic acid and linolenic acid, or as they are more commonly known, omega-6 and omega-3.
Linoleic Acid is a precursor and the starting material for Arachidonic Acid, which is an important factor for muscular and skeletal development but also increases inflammation in the body.
Linolenic Acid is the starting material for Eicosapentaenoic Acid, EPA and Docosahexaenoic Acid, DHA which are both well known for their anti inflammatory properties, their ability to aid in glucose metabolism, improvement in cognitive function and effect on depression in some individuals.
With all these benefits and recent increase in medical research of Omega-3, it's quite difficult to find studies pointing to the negative properties of over consumption. Although we see anti-inflammatory properties with an increased omega-3 intake, it is important to remember that as Omega-3 is a polyunsaturated fat, it is more susceptible to oxidative damage and lipid peroxidation.
"Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), the highly polyunsaturated omega-3 PUFA... is extremely susceptible to peroxidative attack and 8 times more prone to peroxidation than linoleic acid (LA)... DHA is 320 times more susceptible to peroxidation than the monounsaturated oleic acid (OA)."
In saying this, yes. When we heat and cook our food, we expose those fats to oxidative damage as well. But the whole point of supplementing with fish oils and Omega-3 is to reduce inflammation. If we are ingesting surplus amounts of a lipid that is 320 times more likely to oxidise than a saturated fat, is this not defeating the purpose? High levels of oxidation can lead to premature cell apoptosis (programmed cell death), which can lead to increased risk for varying diseases and increased signs of ageing (not detrimental to our health, but certainly a yard stick used to estimate health of a client). Oxidated Omega-3 can also increase LDL-P, which is something that I will be covering in a future article.
Excess omega-3 can have a blood thinning effect and as a result, causing reduced blood pressure, increased bleeding and in a worst case scenario, higher risk of hemorrhagic stroke. Interestingly though, a study that looks at the diet of the Inuit found that a diet that is very high in Omega-3 from whole foods did not increase risk of these issues. Perhaps its the ratio of the DHA and EPA we need to be looking at, to find optimum Omega-3 function.
Taking that into account, I'd like to look at Wild Salmon for an example of this. According to nutritiondata.self.com wild salmon contains a whopping 2198mg of Omega-3 per 85g serving. If we were to eat this six times a day, based on a general weight loss diet we'll be consuming 13.2g of omega-3 in a day. Which still is far less than our initial figure of 28.8g and is closer to an Inuit diet that is estimated to have about 5.7g of EPA, based on a caloric intake of 3000kcal per day*. Now of course eating these proportions of salmon is out of the ordinary, but something we should also consider is the quality of the other foods that we consume here in Australia.
We are a very lucky country in that unlike America, our wheat, corn and soy industries are not subsidised by the government, creating alternative feed sources for livestock. Most cattle here in Australia is grass fed for majority its life. Cattle is moved to a feed lot before slaughter for up to 90 days where they are fed some forms of grain and natural sources of food. This is done to create more consistency within product. This time in the feed lot, will change the properties of the fat content in the beef but it will still be far superior to other countries beef products. We see similar situations when it comes to most products over here, generally speaking we have better produce. Most of the information we receive about quality of meats and concepts about produce, come from America. Its hard to really apply all of the considerations they use, over here, because of those differences.
My main point that I'd like to conclude with is the idea that, if we remove the foods that produce the most inflammation. Consume foods that already have a higher fat content, and include a good variation of sources. Start a supplement protocol that isn't over doing it, yet getting the balance back and eventually weening down. Eating a properly executed diet, you should not need such a large dose of pills. As with all of my points about supplements. Use what is needed.
*This link was not in the original post. I made a slight mistake with posting a draft that had inaccurate information on it, from an inaccurate source . The original figure that I had quoted was,
"an average 10.5 grams a day of omega-3 fatty acids"
I do apologise for any concern this may have raised.