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After a multivitamin, the second most important supplement
for most people to take each day is Omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3, found in fish
oil, is made up of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) which seems to have heart
protective effects, and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) which seem to be of benefit
to the nervous system.
What is the preferred ratio of EPA / DHA?
More EPA than DHA for Cardiovascular Health
If your objective is supporting heart health, you will probably be
better off with a product that contains about twice as much EPA as DHA. This is
the ratio used in most studies that found a protective benefit of fish oil
against cardiovascular disease.
More DHA than EPA for Nervous System Health
On the other hand, DHA is more important than EPA fatty acid for
the eyes and brain, especially in children. If your concern is supporting
recovery from depression, bipolar disorder, lazy eye syndrome (amblyopia), or
macular degeneration… then you are better of using a product that contains more
DHA than EPA. This is not easy since most fish supplements contain more EPA
Another way to think of it is… EPA is for function and DHA is for structure.
How to buy Omega3 supplements
It is better to buy products that contain at least 600 mg of
total omega-3 essential fatty acids (EPA + DHA),
whether they contain more EPA or more DHA. When you buy a product that contains
at least 600 mg of essential fatty acids in a 1,000 mg capsule, there
simply is not a lot of room left for impurities.
Some low-quality products contain as little as 180 mg of omega-3
essential fatty acids per 1,000 mg capsule (that’s a total of only 180 of
EPA+DHA per 1000mg of supplement), making them three times as expensive (in
terms of available nutrients) and far more likely to trigger allergies or
stomach upset because of potential fillers.
For reference: Costco’s Kirkland brand Omega 3 Fish Oil comes as a 1200mg capsule and contains 410 mg EPA and 274mg DHA for a total of 684mg of Omega three per 1200mg total capsule size.
Their “cheaper” version they call “concentrate”, which actually has far LESS total omega-3’s. It is a 1000mg capsule that contains only 180mg EPA and 120mg DHA (total of only 300 mg omega-3) making the“higher priced” product the BETTER VALUE! As with anything, know what you’re paying for. Often the “cheaper” products actually cost more over time.
EPA and DHA are found in seafood, especially
mackerel, salmon, striped bass, rainbow trout, halibut, tuna, and sardines.
Supplements of fish oils that contain EPA and DHA are sold over the counter. Salmon oil naturally contains more DHA than EPA (often several times more) and products made only from algal oil will contain only DHA. DHA can be
found by itself, these supplements are usually from an algae source.
Note: Flaxseed oil contains ALA, which the body can convert into DHA (women more
efficiently than men). But each person seems to convert it at a different rate
so it’s hard to know for sure how much to take. Also, in one study, men with the highest
intake of ALA were about twice as likely as those with the lowest intakes to
develop advanced prostate cancer. And the risk was increased regardless of
whether the ALA came from vegetable or animal sources, according to findings
published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Vision and DHA
The rods and cones of the retina in the eyes are very rich in DHA. Hence, a deficiency in dietary fish oils will reduce the photoreceptor activity of retinal cells, and may reduce visual acuity. On the other hand, supplementation with fish oils (or flaxseed oil) could lead to visual improvement, enhanced color perception (as long as no cataract exist) and better macular health.
Since levels of DHA in the brain decline with age, it is likely that the levels of DHA also decline in the retina. Is it possible that daily intake of fish oils can improve vision in older individuals and has already been shown to aid in the treatment of macular degeneration?
Alternative Omega-3 sources
Two good plant-based sources of Omega-3 are walnuts and chia seeds (yes that’s right, the same seed used for the “Chia Pet”… yes you can eat chia seeds!)
What role does vitamin D play in eye or vision?
As of this writing very little research has been done on the direct connection of vitamin D and the eye. Vitamin D plays a critical role in almost everything the body does and chances are good that it is critical for the eye as well. It is a multitasker and supports a healthy immune system, strong bones, and mood maintenance and appears to protect against most cancers. While it’s called a “vitamin,” it’s actually a hormone the body makes from cholesterol.
One known effect of Vitamin D is inflammation. It calms and reduces inflammatory processes within the body. Inflammation has been linked to chronic red eyes, dry eye, blepharitis, and Age-related Macular Degeneration (ARMD). So there you go… there is at least one indirect link for the eye and this critical vitamin. It may help reduce chronic red eye, dry eye, non-infectious blepharitis and ARMD.
How much Vitamin D? Blood levels of Vitamin D should be at least 20-30 ng/ml preferably 35- 45 ng/ml but it is estimated that over 70% of US citizens fall well below these levels. It is difficult to obtain Vitamin D in the foods we eat (cod liver oil is a natural source, but too much cod liver oil can cause vitamin A overdose) . About the only “food” that naturally contains high levels of Vitamin D is Shiitake (pronounced she-taw-kee) mushrooms. So unless you get a lot of sunlight, about the only other way to boost levels is to take a vitmin D3 supplement (vitamin D is added to most milk but at low levels and some question absorption amounts). Look for supplements that provide vitamin D3 (choleciferol), the form better used by the body than the more common vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol). Recommended maintance dosages are between 1000 IU and 2000 IU daily.
Too much Vitamin D? That question is still being researched. For some individuals, symptoms such as hypercalcemia can start as low as 5000-6000 IU daily. Most researchers agree 1000-4000 IU daily is safe with a 2000 IU supplement being a good average daily intake. For specifice “treatment” or prevention efforts, higher daily dosages may be required.
Cedric Garland, DrPH, professor of family and preventive medicine at the UCSD Moores Cancer Center, stated as follows:
“We found that daily intakes of vitamin D by adults in the range of 4000-8000 IU are needed to maintain blood levels of vitamin D metabolites in the range needed to reduce by about half the risk of several diseases — breast cancer, colon cancer, multiple sclerosis, and type 1 diabetes.”
Naturopathic physicians often use short-term, high dosages of up to 20,000 IU daily for up to 6 weeks (sometimes longer) for therapeutic purposes, with no apparent adverse side effects. It would be advisable when using these higher dosages, to do so only under a doctor’s supervision.