Omega-3: The Ultimate Supplement Guide

Written by Tom Von Deck
Reviewed by Lamia A Kader, MD
featured image for blog post on ultimate guide to the best omega 3 supplement

There are very few nutrients that scientists have studied more than Omega-3 essential fatty acids. Even the generations before these modern studies took cod liver oil (a rich source of Omega-3) for the numerous health benefits it provides. In this ultimate guide to the best Omega-3 supplement, we summarize the scientific literature and answer all the questions about Omega-3 that people are asking the most. 

Table of Contents

What is Omega-3?

The term Omega-3 refers to a group of essential fatty acids. The word “essential” means your body needs them but cannot make them endogenously, so they have to be taken from food or supplements.1

Omega-3 comes in 11 forms, with 3 of them considered as the most important forms. They are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).2

ALA – which is found in plant foods like flax, nuts, and soy – is far less bioavailable than the other two. This means your body will absorb and use a smaller percentage of it by weight.

The percentage of ALA your body will absorb may vary a lot, depending on factors such as:

  • Being a young woman of reproductive age 3
  • Being pregnant
  • Being a young and healthy man4
  • Whether you consume large amounts of omega-6 fatty acids5

The unused ALA will be stored and/or used for energy like other fats.

DPA: The “Newest” Omega-3 Fatty Acid

There is a fourth omega-3 compound that scientists have recently begun studying recently, and that is docosapentaenoic acid (DPA).

Babies typically get equal portions of DPA and DHA – and a smaller portion of EPA – from human breast milk. From fish oils and seafood – the primary sources of DHA and EPA – you will get DPA, too, but far less of it than the others. However, your body absorbs and uses DPA more efficiently than others. DPA can convert to EPA and DHA in the body.6

How Do Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids Work?

While there is a lot of overlap between DHA, EPA, DPA, and ALA, they all have different functions as well.

  • Your skin, brain, and eye cells have a lot of DHA.7
  • EPA may play a bigger role in fighting inflammation than the others because your body uses it to produce anti-inflammatory molecules called eicosanoids. It is also widely recognized for its role in heart health.8
  • DPA is recognized for its anti-inflammatory, brain, and heart benefits, but the knowledge base is young.

Omega-3 is involved in so many body functions that you won’t begin to get a clear picture of their numerous jobs until you get to the “What are the Benefits” section below.

Why Does Your Brain Need Omega-3?

DHA is found in large numbers in the brain. DPA and EPA are also present, albeit in smaller amounts than DHA. All of them play a role in brain health. DHA helps keep your brain cell membranes more fluid and elastic and ensures they can signal to other brain cells properly.9 10

According to studies, deficiency in omega-3’s DHA form in developing brains can cause:11

  • Problems generating new brain cells
  • Learning disabilities
  • Vision problems
  • Neurotransmitter metabolism issues

What are the Best Omega-3 Food Sources?

List of Plant-Based ALA-Rich Foods

The top plant sources of ALA are:12

  • Flaxseed oil – one tablespoon can give you 6,700mg to 7,300mg of ALA
  • Chia seeds – an ounce of dried chia seeds provides 5,100mg of ALA
  • Walnuts – an ounce of walnuts can give you 2,600mg of ALA.

Honorable mentions go to hemp seeds, hemp hearts, walnut oil, canola oil, and soybean oil. Be mindful that canola and soybean oils are also high in omega-6 fatty acids. They decrease your body’s absorption of omega-3 because these two groups compete with each other. Safflower and sunflower oils are also high in omega-6.

Plant-Based DHA-Rich & EPA-Rich Foods

If you do a quick internet search on plants that deliver the DHA and EPA forms of omega-3, you may find websites that tout seaweed as a good source. If you look a little closer, you’ll find that 10g of nori seaweed will yield only 10mg to 20mg of omega-3. Wakame seaweed will yield the same amount. You will need to eat hundreds of grams of seaweed to meet daily omega-3 requirements. On the bright side, seaweed has far more omega-3 than omega-6.13

If you’re a vegetarian looking for direct sources of DHA and/or EPA, your best bet is to go with algae-based (algal) oil. Most algal oil supplements provide DHA and very little EPA. However, some do deliver a lot of both. The human body absorbs the DHA in algal oil fairly easily.14

List of Non-Plant DHA-Rich & EPA-Rich Foods

The foods highest in DHA and EPA are seafood like fatty fish and shellfish.

The top non-plant food sources of DHA and EPA are:15

  • Salmon 
  • Sardines
  • Herring
  • Mackerel
  • Anchovy
  • Cod liver oil
  • Tuna
  • Oysters

100g (3.5oz) of salmon gives you 2,260mg of total omega-3. Herring and anchovy supply a similar amount. Compare that to 1,480mg from sardines. 100g of oysters will yield 435mg of omega-3, roughly a full day’s worth for the average person. Cod liver oil provides almost 2,700mg per tablespoon (14.8mL).

featured image for article on triglyceride fish oil vs ethyl ester

What are the Benefits of Omega-3?

Here are 20 of the biggest health benefits of taking the best Omega-3 supplement

1. Omega-3 Relieves Depression Symptoms

A Norwegian study of nearly 22,000 participants in their 40’s and 70’s found that daily cod liver users had a lower incidence of depressive symptoms compared to non-users, with long-term users benefiting the most.16

Further research suggests that high dose omega-3, particularly EPA or a combination of EPA and DHA, can significantly improve symptoms of major depressive disorder, especially when used with antidepressants.17

Also, another study singled out EPA as a mood improver and anti-inflammatory agent in cases of major depressive disorder. They noted that supplements need to have at least 60% EPA of total omega-3 to be effective against depression.18 

This is one of the reasons why our Intelligent Labs Ultra Pure Omega-3 contains EPA/DHA in the 60/40 ratio.

2. Omega-3 Lowers Anxiety

In a 2011 study, medical students who took over 2,000mg of EPA and 348mg of DHA daily reported 20% less anxiety than those on a placebo, especially those with higher omega-3 to omega-6 blood ratios.19

Likewise, a 2018 study found that omega-3 supplements, particularly in doses of 2,000mg or higher, effectively reduced anxiety in both diagnosed and undiagnosed individuals. The most significant benefits were seen in people with anxiety.20

3. Omega-3 Reduces Severity of ADHD Symptoms

A 2017 review of 16 studies on children and young adults with ADHD showed that omega-3 and omega-6 helped improve impulsivity, hyperactivity, attention, reading, visual learning, and various memory functions. These supplements were effective both as standalone treatments and in conjunction with conventional medications.21

4. Omega-3 Lowers Inflammation

Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly EPA, are recognized for combating chronic inflammation. A 2017 study found that omega-3s can transform into cannabinoids with anti-inflammatory effects in the body. 22

Omega-3 may also benefit patients with certain cancers, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, and meningitis, although researchers advocate for further studies to understand its anti-inflammatory actions. 23

Additionally, omega-3 is suggested to slow Parkinson’s disease progression by protecting dopamine-producing neurons, potentially easing symptoms like movement and speech difficulties.

The anti-inflammatory properties of EPA may also alleviate depression symptoms and even slow the aging process.24

5. Protects the Brain & Slows Cognitive Decline

High omega-3 blood levels may shield the brain from cognitive decline and promote cognitive health in older adults. Even ALA, an omega-3 from plant sources, may improve brain health in the elderly.

While low omega-3 levels are common in Alzheimer’s patients, a 2016 review found limited benefits from omega-3 supplementation in those already diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. However, some improvements in daily tasks were noted with long-term supplementation. 25

That said, current studies have not exhausted all possible EPA/DHA dosage combinations. More research is necessary to conclusively determine omega-3’s effects on Alzheimer’s.

6. May Help With PTSD

omega 3 review

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is another condition that may benefit from omega-3 fatty acids. PTSD can wreak havoc on a person’s life, and symptoms include paranoia, insomnia, anxiety, heightened irritability, and even aggression.

Omega-3 is important for brain health and repair, and studies show that these fatty acids may not only help prevent PTSD but may even help reverse trauma-induced changes.

7. Omega-3 Promotes Learning, Memory & Cerebral Blood Flow

Several studies have demonstrated these omega-3 benefits:

A 2017 study linked higher omega-3 levels, specifically EPA and DHA, to increased cerebral blood flow, enhanced memory, and learning.26

In 2018, a small study found that omega-3 users with mild cognitive impairment had improved cerebral blood flow compared to a placebo group.27

Also, adults aged 50-75 who consumed 2,200mg of omega-3 daily for 26 weeks showed better object-location memory than those on a placebo.28

Young adults aged 18-25 improved their working memory by 23% after six months of taking fish oil capsules.29

Lastly, a 2015 study with 485 participants around 70 years old found that those taking 900mg of DHA daily for 24 weeks made fewer mistakes on a memory test, indicating a more significant improvement in memory. 30

8. Omega-3 Slows Skin Aging

Omega-3’s EPA and DHA forms are considered essential anti-aging skin nutrients.

Multiple studies show that both oral and topical use helps keep skin healthy and wrinkle-free. They provide anti-inflammatory benefits and act as antioxidants. They also improve moisture levels, elasticity, firmness, and other measures of skin health.

One study gave credit to 2,200mg daily oral doses of ALA from flaxseed oil for improved skin health as well.31

9. Helps Prevent Hair Loss

Omega-3 is beneficial for scalp hydration, increasing hair density, and reducing hair brittleness and loss. A 2015 study with 120 women showed that after six months of taking omega-3, omega-6, and antioxidants, participants had less hair loss, higher hair density, and thicker hair compared to those taking a placebo.32

In 2018, scientists found that DHA fatty acids, derived from fermented mackerel oil, promoted hair growth in mice, comparable to the effects of minoxidil, a well-known hair growth drug.33

10. Soothes Stiff & Painful Joints in Arthritis Patients

Arthritis Today Magazine highlights numerous studies indicating that omega-3 can alleviate inflammation-related symptoms such as pain, soreness, and stiffness.34

A 2013 study found that rheumatoid arthritis patients taking high doses of fish oil with standard treatments reached remission twice as often and had better overall outcomes than those on standard treatment alone. While omega-3 reduces joint pain, its effect on joint tissue damage is minimal. But it may generate chemicals that help prevent damage from immune responses.35

11. Promotes Fat Loss

Omega-3 fatty acids aid in reducing fat storage by boosting adiponectin hormone levels in the blood, which is inversely related to body fat levels. Adiponectin helps decrease insulin resistance, lower blood sugar and triglycerides, and promote fatty acid breakdown.36

While our genetic code is fixed, omega-3 can modify gene expression. This includes activating genes that reduce fat synthesis and enhance fat burning, thereby supporting fat loss and improved fat metabolism. 

12. Boosts Athletic Performance

DHA supplementation has been found to enhance reaction times and associated skills in elite female soccer players. In a test involving 24 players, the group consuming 3.5g of high-DHA fish oil daily showed significant performance improvements over the olive oil group. 37

The study also referenced existing research on DHA’s capacity to reduce exercise-induced fatigue and diminish muscle oxidative stress.

13. Omega-3 Quickens Sports Recovery

Omega-3 fatty acids may enhance athletic performance by increasing endurance and reducing the amount of energy required for exercise. Its anti-inflammatory properties can also alleviate muscle soreness, including DOMS (delayed-onset muscle soreness), and reduce swelling. 38

Also, rugby players on a 5-week omega-3 regimen, with 551mg of both DHA and EPA taken twice daily, reported moderate improvements in muscle soreness, jump performance, and fatigue.39

can omega 3 fish oil help with arthritis

14. Omega-3 May Improve Blood Sugar Levels & Insulin Resistance

Studies show that omega-3 may have a beneficial effect on blood sugar and insulin sensitivity. Factors that may affect blood sugar include the ratio of omega-3’s DHA and EPA forms, medical conditions, dosages, duration of use, ethnicity, and hormones created in the body by omega-3 use.40

15. Omega-3 Supports Fetal Development During Pregnancy

The American Pregnancy Association emphasizes the importance of DHA and EPA during pregnancy. These fatty acids may help with the baby’s visual and cognitive development and potentially reduce allergy risk in infants.41

Increased EPA and DHA intake is also associated with reduced chances of preterm labor, preeclampsia, and may contribute to higher birth weight. On the other hand, omega-3 deficiency in mothers could increase the risk of postpartum depression (41).

The children of mothers who took 2,500mg of omega-3 supplements daily during pregnancy scored higher on IQ tests at age four.42

However, caution is advised due to mercury content in some omega-3 sources, and it’s essential to consult a doctor to determine safe dosages and sources of omega-3 during pregnancy. 43 This information is not a replacement for professional medical advice.

16. Lowers Blood Pressure

The omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, may lower blood pressure as effectively as making lifestyle changes such as increasing exercise, reducing salt intake, or decreasing alcohol consumption.44

17. Promotes Muscle Growth

Researchers at the Washington School of Medicine found that a prescription omega-3 supplement, more concentrated than fish oil, enhanced muscle-building in participants aged between 25 and 45.45

18. Promotes Heart Health

Omega-3 fatty acids are helpful for individuals with high blood pressure, a risk factor for heart attacks. They help reduce inflammation that can damage blood vessels, thereby lowering the risk of blood clotting and heart disease.46

Omega-3 also lowers “bad” cholesterol and slows plaque growth in your arteries. 47

19. Relieves Dry Eye and Macular Degeneration

70% of patients with dry eyes reported that daily supplementation of 750mg omega-3 (450mg EPA and 300mg DHA) alleviated symptoms within 90 days.48

Also, omega-3 may help prevent the onset of age-related macular degeneration and slow its progression in those already affected.

20. Supports Male and Female Fertility

Research indicates that omega-3 fatty acids may aid in managing fertility issues in both men and women.

For instance, in women, omega-3 can regulate hormones and reduce inflammation associated with PCOS and endometriosis. For men, it has been shown to improve symptoms of infertility, potentially enhancing sperm quality.  

How Much Omega-3 Do We Need Each Day?

The recommended daily intake of omega-3 varies among different health organizations.

  • The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests a minimum of 500mg combined DHA and EPA to prevent deficiency.
  • The American Heart Association advises 2,000-4,000mg for those aiming to lower triglycerides
  • The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend 250mg daily from seafood to decrease cardiovascular disease risk, equivalent to about half a pound of seafood per week.
  • The FDA caps the supplement recommendation at 2,000mg of DHA and EPA.

However, individual needs can differ greatly, and for specific health goals or conditions, higher doses may be necessary. Professional guidance should be sought for optimal dosages and to understand the proper ratios of EPA to DHA or omega-3 to omega-6 for particular health targets.49 50 

intelligent labs omega 3 supplement with softgels

How Much Omega-3 vs Omega-6 Do We Need Each Day?

Optimal omega-3 to omega-6 ratios vary by individual, but a lower ratio, like 4:1 of omega-6 to omega-3, is generally healthier.51

Western diets often have too much omega-6, which can reduce omega-3 absorption and promote inflammation.52

Balance is key, and for personalized advice on this ratio for health conditions, consult a healthcare provider.

Which is the Best Type of Omega-3? EPA vs DHA

It depends on what you want to accomplish. The DHA and EPA forms of omega-3 have a lot of overlapping benefits, and they also have their specialties. For the broadest range of benefits, take both.

From the benefits section, you may recall that effective dosages for depression were high and in the 2g+ range. The EPA/DHA ratios were always 60/40 or higher in successful trials. Other medical conditions require both EPA and DHA, or just one or the other.

A 60/40 EPA/DHA supplement is likely good for most purposes. That’s why Ultra Pure Omega-3 fish oil capsules by Intelligent Labs deliver both EPA and DHA at this ratio.

What Should I Look For in an Omega-3 Supplement?

Here are four things to look for in the best omega 3 supplement:

1. Free of Contaminants & Heavy Metals

Intelligent Labs fish oil is molecularly distilled to remove any contaminants, including heavy metals, dioxins, and PCBs for total purity.

Make sure the manufacturer uses third-party labs to test for contaminants on a regular basis. Third-party lab testing ensures purity and proper labeling.

2. Natural Triglyceride Form of Omega-3

Triglyceride-based (TG) omega-3 is the natural form, NOT ethyl esterThe ethyl ester (EE) form is semi-artificially created in a lab. Normally, manufacturers make EE omega-3 to concentrate the fish oil and remove impurities using enzymes. This form oxidizes and becomes rancid more quickly than natural omega-3.53

TG fish oil is a lot more expensive to produce while maintaining high concentrations of DHA and EPA, so companies that sell it will proudly display that on the package. Packages for EE supplements probably won’t mention that they are EE.

Your body absorbs and uses more DHA and EPA from TG supplements than from EE supplements, too. 54

3. Sourced from Certified Suppliers

Our omega-3 comes from a supplier certified by “Friends of the Sea.” We use wild mackerel, sardine, and anchovy from pristine Antarctic waters.

4. Tested by Third-Party Labs

Not only does the third-party lab audit us by testing for contaminants like mercury, but they also test the strength of our supplements. EPA and DHA levels are publicly available via certificates of analysis from the lab. This allows us to demonstrate the quality of our supplements to you, the consumer.

Can You Take Too Much Omega-3?

The FDA recommends no more than 2,000mg of omega-3s per day. But higher intakes are not necessarily harmful, with some indigenous Arctic populations reportedly consuming over 20,000mg daily.

High doses have also been used in scientific studies for specific health conditions and have been linked to recovery in brain injury cases.

While there have been concerns about high omega-3 intake exacerbating diabetes, the research is ongoing, and some studies show improvements in diabetic patients. The effects of omega-3 on diabetes and other conditions remain an area of active study, and recommendations can vary among health professionals.

Are There Any Omega-3 Side Effects or Interactions I Should Know About?

Omega-3 supplements are generally considered safe. But some people may experience stomach upset, diarrhea, or nausea if they take too much.

None of the above side effects are considered common.

That said, omega-3 does thin the blood and reduce clotting. It also could cause more nosebleeds for some people. If you plan on having surgery, ask your doctor whether you should lower your dose or stop supplementing.

Do Omega-3 Supplements Interact with Foods or Drugs?

Because omega-3 reduces blood clotting, it could interact with drugs, supplements, or foods that thin the blood and reduce clotting.

Also, omega-3 lowers blood pressure, so it could interact with drugs, supplements, or foods that also lower blood pressure.

Omega-3 may also reduce vitamin E. Contraceptive drugs could reduce omega-3’s ability to reduce your triglyceride levels. Orlistat, a weight loss drug, could reduce the absorption of omega-3. 55

When Is The Best Time To Take My Omega-3 Supplement?

There’s no specific “best” time of day to take your omega-3 supplement. But we do suggest that you take it with a fat-containing meal rather than on an empty stomach.

Omega-3 supplements are more easily tolerated with food than on an empty stomach. The fat in food stimulates enzyme activity, which promotes a more thorough breakdown of the omega-3 triglycerides for easier absorption in the gut.

Final words

The volume of medical research on omega-3 is extensive. Scientists are continually conducting studies due to the complexity of determining specific omega-3 dosages needed for various conditions.

While this article provides helpful information, it is not a substitute for professional medical advice, which should be based on lab tests and diagnostics. Lastly, omega-3 supplements are not intended to treat, cure, or prevent any particular disease.


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