Omega 3 Fatty Acids: Catch of the Day or is Something Fishy Going On?

What are omega 3 fatty acids?

Fish oil is extracted from the flesh of the fish.  It is the rich, marine diet of the species that provides us with the much talked about omega 3 fatty acids.  This is a type of polyunsaturated fatty acid that must be obtained through our diet, as our bodies cannot synthesise these specific fatty acids.  Eicosapentaenoic (EPA) and docosahexaenoic (DHA) acid in particular, have received much attention with regards to their health benefits.

What are the daily recommendations for omega 3 fatty acids?

The Australian Heart Foundation recommends 500 mg of EPA/DHA daily, or ensuring adequate intake of oily fish in the diet, such as sardines, mackerel, and herring.  Some of the known benefits include improved triglyceride plasma levels, as well as improved high density (‘good’) cholesterol levels, and reduced C-reactive protein levels, an important marker of inflammation with regards to cardiovascular disease risk (Cicero et al., 2016).

I’ve written a previous article introducing the concept of nutrigenomics, referring to the ability of particular molecules in our food to affect genetic expression.  Do omega 3s have the ability to affect our genes?

Fighting fat with healthy fat: Do omega 3 fatty acids affect genetic expression?

The popular Paleo diet basis its’ beliefs in this mantra.  Plenty of healthy fats, vegetables, nuts, seeds, fish and meat are the basis for this lifestyle choice.  It seems the increased servings of healthy fats may indeed help you to rid yourself of the unhealthy fat, via the influence of omega 3s on genetic expression.

A study by Furuhashi et al., (2016) gave 14 patients with high blood fats (dyslipidemia) omega 3 fatty acid ethyl esters at a dose of 4 grams per day, containing both EPA and DHA for a total of 4 weeks.

Researchers examined the expression of FABP4, a fatty acid binding protein, expressed and secreted by fat cells (adipocytes), which acts as a pro-inflammatory substance, called adipokines (similar to the cytokines discussed in previous articles).  High circulating levels of FABP4 are associated with obesity, insulin resistance, and atherosclerosis.

Results of this study found that treatment with omega 3 fatty acid ethyl esters significantly reduced serum triglyceride levels and serum FABP4 levels.  Specifically, gene expression and long term (24h hour) secretion of FABP4 serum levels were significantly reduced by treatment with EPA/DHA.

This works in a similar mechanism to atorvastatin, a cholesterol lowering drug that is currently available on the market (Furuhashi et al., 2016).  However, omega 3 supplementation comes without the side effects of lowered CoQ10 levels, reduced energy and lethargy—you won’t be left feeling like a limp fish out of water!

Fish oil supplementation: does it work in combination with other nutrients?

What about fish oil in conjunction with other vitamin and mineral compounds—are the effects enhanced, decreased, or is fish oil best taken on its own?  Does fish oil still have an effect on gene expression in combination with other factors?

If you’re like me and dislike swallowing capsules, you have probably invested in a good multi-vitamin and mineral complex to avoid supplement overload!

Show me the science!

A study by Cialella-Kam et al., (2016) investigated a mixed flavonoid fish oil supplement, containing: 1000 mg quercetin, 400 mg isoquercetin, 120 mg epigallocatechin (EGCG) from green tea extract, 400 mg omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid (220 mg eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and 180 mg docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)] from fish oil, 1000 mg vitamin C, 40 mg niacinamide, and 800 µg folic acid.

Researchers wanted to find out if this mixed supplement would reduce health complications associated with obesity, specifically, to reduce inflammatory and oxidative stress markers and alter the genomic profiles in 48 obese women participants.

It should be noted that chronic inflammation and increased oxidative stress levels are commonly elevated in middle-aged, overweight/obese adults and a defining characteristic of metabolic syndrome.

What are the results?

After 10 weeks of supplementation, in comparison to the placebo group, the treatment group had altered gene expression consistent with enhanced viral defense and reduced immune cell trafficking that is associated with the inflammatory response (Cialello-Kam et al., 2016).

What foods contain high levels of omega 3 fatty acids? 

If you aren’t keen to add more supplements to your daily regime, there are plenty of foods rich in omega 3s that are available:

  • Oily fish (E.g. organic salmon from Norway, mackerel, herring, sardines, anchovies)
    • I choose small, wild caught fish due to increased mercury levels in larger fish such as tuna and swordfish
  • Flax seeds (and oil)
  • Chia seeds (and oil)
  • Walnuts (and oil)
  • Hemp seeds (Have a great omega 3 to omega 6 ratio)
  • Oysters
  • Soybeans (Organic and Non-GMO)
  • Spinach
  • Purslane (A leafy green, it’s actually a weed, but great to stir fry!)
  • Sea vegetables
  • Eggs (Organic, providing chickens are fed a diet rich in omega 3 fatty acids)
  • Cod liver oil
  • Algae (This form is not absorbed as optimally as animal sources)

Amanda Harasym

Naturopath, Nutritionist, Herbalist



Cialdella-Kam L, Nieman D, Knab A, Shanely R, Meaney M, Jin F, Sha W, Ghosh S. A mixed flavonoid-fish oil supplement induces immune-enhancing and anti-inflammatory transcriptomic changes in adult obese and overweight women-a randomized control trial. Nutrients. 2016; May; 8(5): 277. Doi: 10.3390/nu8050277.

Cicero A, Rosticci M, Morbini M, Cagnati M, Grandi E, Parini A, Borghi C. Lipid-lowering and anti-inflammatory effects of omega 3 ethyl esters and krill oil: a randomized, cross-over, clinical trial. Arch Med Sci. 2016; Jun 1; 12(3): 507-512. Doi: 10.5114/aoms.2016.59923.

Furuhashi M, Hiramitsu S, Mita T, Omori A, Fuseya T, Ishimura S, Watanabe Y, Hosina K, Matsumoto M, Tanaka M, Moniwa N, Yoshida H, Ishii J, Miura T. Reduction of circulating FABP4 level by treatment with omega 3 fatty acid ethyl esters. Lipids Health Dis. 2016; 15:5. Doi: 10.1186/s12944-016-0177-8.


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