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Which Nutritional Oil is right for me?

Khalid Ghanima

Posted on September 10 2018

Which Nutritional Oil is right for me?

Which Omega 3 is right for me?

 

Often it is difficult to choose which supplement is best for you. This blog is to give you a little insight into essential fatty acids, to help you decide which form is best for you.

Some of this may be influenced by personal choice – vegetarians will be looking only at the benefits of hemp seed oil and flaxseed oil in the context of this blog. Whereas, some of you may have memories of taking a spoonful of cod liver oil, that has left you with a preference for choosing a capsule over a liquid supplement. So, as always, my role is to provide you with the information to help you make an informed decision, based on your needs.

To start with a brief background, Omega 3 (a.k.a. alpha linolenic acid) and Omega 6 (a.k.a. linoleic acid) are essential fatty acids that we cannot form within the body. Two things are apparent from this statement:

  1. These nutrients are essential for our health and,

  2. We must get these nutrients from either food or supplements.

The primary benefit of omega essential fatty acids is to reduce the inflammatory cascade in our bodies, providing an anti-inflammatory action. For optimal health, we need to be mindful of the ratio of Omega 6 foods to Omega 3 foods. Western diets average around 15 serves of Omega 6 foods to 1 serve of Omega 3. Generally, although we need Omega 6, in excess it can promote inflammation, so balance is key. We should be aiming for 4 serves of Omega 6 to one serve of Omega 3 to promote good health and reduce our risk for developing cardiovascular disease, cancer and other inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.

This is why supplementation is often a good way to shift the balance in the right direction…. So which supplement is best for you? This table gives a snapshot comparison of the purported benefits of fish oil, flaxseed oil and hemp seed oil:

 

Fish oil

Flaxseed oil

Hemp seed oil

Reported Benefits:

Heart health

Depression/improve mood

 

Cognitive impairment

 

 

PMS

Cholesterol

Weight loss

 

Artery health

 

Blood pressure

 

Healthy gut bacteria

 

Arthritis

Eczema

 

Asthma

 

Skin, hair and nail health

Therapeutic constituents

 

EPA & DHA

Alpha-linolenic Acid (ALA)

Lignans

Antioxidants

Linoleic acid (LA), ALA & GLA

 

Considerations

  • Total EPA/DHA

  • Independent testing

  • Stability

  • Independent testing

  • Stability

  • Cold-pressed

  • Independent testing

  • Stability

  • Cold-pressed

 

FISH OIL

What is the best food source for increasing my intake of Omega 3 from fish oils?

Deep-sea cold water fish (e.g. salmon, mackerel, halibut and herring).

What are the benefits of taking fish oil?

  • Reduce inflammation – the eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) constituents in fish oil provide an inhibitory effect on one of the major inflammatory pathways in the body. This leads to reduced inflammation in the body. Fish oil has been used in conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, atopic dermatitis and eczema.

  • Supports cardiovascular health – studies have shown that fish oil can reduce blood pressure, reduce resting heart rate, lower the risk of atherosclerosis (formation of blood clots in blood vessels). Fish oil has been used in conditions such as hypertension (high blood pressure),

  • Supports brain health – since fatty acids form a major component of the brain, fish oil supports brain function and health, and exerts a positive effect on mood and behaviour. Fish oil has been used in conditions such as Alzheimer’s dementia, Autism spectrum disorder, Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, impaired cognitive function, depression and anxiety.

  • Fish oil is also used in psoriasis, multiple sclerosis, osteoporosis, dysmenorrhoea (painful periods) and weight reduction.

 

Considerations for choosing a high quality fish oil:

There has been a lot of noise recently about the effectiveness of fish oil and, for me, the two main factors amount to the stability of the fish oil and the level of therapeutic constituents in the product.

By stability, what I mean is that it is easy for oils to become rancid if they are either not stored correctly, or if they are not formulated to account for stability. For example, fish oils should generally be refrigerated and stored in brown glass to maintain its structure. As soon as an oil becomes rancid, it becomes counter-intuitive to consume it, as it will actually cause oxidative stress, rather than act against it. To further avoid this happening you may wish to consider buying smaller sized packs which are going to be used quicker.

Therapeutic constituent means the part of the supplement, vitamin, food or drug that provides health benefits. In the case of fish oils, these are EPA and DHA, each of which has different benefits. So, when choosing a supplement, look for one with high levels of EPA and DHA. If you are taking fish oil for a particular condition, speak to your naturopath or nutritionist to make sure you are getting the right dosage for you. The dosage you should be looking at is the total EPA and DHA, not the total Omega 3 – the total Omega 3 content includes triglycerides which do not provide the therapeutic effects of this supplement.

When looking at supplements, look for a manufacturer who follows Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP). Fish oils made to this standard contain lower levels of contaminants such as mercury and lead. Often these manufacturers get their supplement independently tested, which gives a higher level of quality assurance.

FLAXSEED OIL

Whole flaxseeds, milled flaxseed and flaxseed oil are all sources of flaxseed. However, the best sources are either freshly milled flaxseed or flaxseed oil.

Vegetarian sources of omega 3, such as flaxseed oil, follow a different pathway to fish oils and it is harder for the body to convert flaxseed oil into the therapeutic EPA and DHA constituents. Only 10-15% of flaxseed oil is converted into EPA and DHA. However, flaxseed oil is one of the better vegetarian sources of omega 3, containing higher levels than walnuts or soybean oil. My take would be to eat a wide variety of omega 3 sources, including flaxseed oil, and to eat a wholefoods vegetarian diet, which will in itself reduce inflammation in the body.

Flaxseed also has high concentrations of plant lignans, with more than 100 times that of most other plant foods.

What are the benefits of taking flaxseed oil?

As a source of Omega 3, flaxseed has the many of the health benefits mentioned above, albeit to a lesser effect. However, unlike fish oil, flaxseed also boosts the therapeutic effect of plant lignans.

Research has found lignans to reduce the forms of oestrogen associated with PMS, endometrial and breast cancer.

Flaxseed has been shown to reduce cholesterol, inflammation and the formation of blood clots due to platelet aggregation. It supports brain function, protecting against degenerative diseases and used in conditions such as ADHD, anxiety and bi-polar disorder.

It is also used for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), constipation, anxiety, exercise performance, osteoarthritis, weight loss and diabetes.

 

Considerations for choosing high quality flaxseed oil

With any oil based supplement, stability needs to be considered when choosing high quality flaxseed oil, as rancidity promotes oxidation and inflammation. Therefore, refrigeration, pack size, colour and manufacturing processes are just as important for this supplement.

You should also look for cold-pressed oil, which is where the flaxseed oil is obtained by pressing the seeds with a steel press. This enables the oil to contain its nutritional properties, flavour and aroma.

HEMP SEED OIL

First to address the differences between hemp seed oil and cannabidiol oil (CBD oil). Cannabidiol oil is made from the flowers, leaves and stalks of hemp and not the seeds, like hemp oil.

Hemp seed oil is unique because it contains the right ratio of Omega 3 and Omega 6 (3:1), which is unusual for a food. It also contains Omega 9 (Oleic acid).

What are the benefits of taking hemp seed oil?

Like fish oil and flaxseed oil, hemp seed oil is beneficial for cardiovascular health and reducing inflammation in the body. However, from the make-up of hemp seed oil, it is speculated that its effects would lower blood pressure, cholesterol and inflammation, and that it may ease arthritis, help treat ADHD, asthma, improve immunity, mood, organ function, metabolism, cardiovascular health, post-exercise recovery and carpal tunnel syndrome.

Evening primrose oil, borage and blackcurrant seed oil are all natural sources of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) and hemp seed oil also contains a small amount of this essential fatty acid. GLA is important in reducing the linoleic acid (Omega 6) inflammatory pathways in the body. Recent research has identified that some people who have eczema or psoriasis cannot convert linoleic acid to gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) due to a deficiency of delta-6-desaturase, an enzyme responsible for the conversion of linoleic acid to gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). These people in particular should consume sources of GLA, such as evening primrose, borage, blackcurrant seed and hemp seed oil.

Considerations for choosing high quality hemp seed oil

With any oil based supplement, stability needs to be considered when choosing high quality hemp seed oil, as rancidity promotes oxidation and inflammation. Therefore, refrigeration, pack size, colour and manufacturing processes are just as important for this supplement.

You should also look for cold-pressed oil, which as mentioned above, enables the oil to contain its nutritional properties, flavour and aroma.

FINAL NOTE

The intention of this article is to highlight some of the main benefits of fish oil, flaxseed oil and hemp seed oil and you should consult a health professional if you have any specific health concerns.