It's hard to get enough of this vital nutrient, found in oily fish and algae, in our diet. For brain health, clearer skin and better sleep, these are the omega-3 supplements experts recommend
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From magnesium to vitamin D, chances are you already take a selection of supplements daily, but one you definitely shouldn’t miss out on is omega 3, which helps with everything from brain health to reducing inflammation, supporting immunity and moisturising the skin.
“We don’t naturally produce omega 3s, which means it’s crucial that we serve our bodies these vital fatty acids through a balanced diet or supplements,” says Jennifer Rock, dermal facialist and founder of skincare brand Skingredients.
Many of us aren’t getting enough omega 3 though and deficiency makes itself known in many ways, including dry hair, skin and nails, brain fog, low mood, difficulty concentrating, joint stiffness and fatigue. “Studies have shown that between 70 per cent and 98 per cent of people require an increased omega 3 intake through their diet,” says registered nutritional therapist Aliza Marogy, who works with supplement brand Inessa.
What are the best omega-3 foods for vegetarians and vegans?
There are actually 11 omega-3 fatty acids and the most important are EPA and DHA found in oily fish and algae. Sardines, mackerel, salmon and trout are good sources from food, while vegans can have their fill through flaxseed oil, chia seeds and walnuts. However, if you're plant-based, you'd need to eat quite a lot of these foods every day to get enough omega 3s, says nutritionist Lily Soutter, because the body first has to convert it from ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) to EPA and DHA.
There’s not actually a recommended daily amount of omega 3, but the NHS advises one to two portions of oily fish per week, or a 500mg supplement per day. Why are we talking about it now though? “It’s particularly important that we get enough omega 3 when we're under stress and post-pandemic more people are experiencing low mood or anxiety – two conditions that respond well to omega 3 intake,” says Aliza.
What are the benefits of omega 3?
It helps reduce inflammation
“Omega 3 helps to reduce inflammation in the body which means that many inflammatory concerns, such as issues with our joints and heart, may be improved,” says Shabir Daya, pharmacist and founder of online pharmacy Victoria Health.
According to registered nutritionist Charlotte Faure Green, the anti-inflammatory properties can help with everything from heart health, sleep troubles, pain prevention, bone preservation and even cancer prevention, all of which are affected by inflammation. “Omega 3s have been shown to decrease some of the substances released during an inflammatory response that can lead to chronic health conditions,” she says.
Prolonged stress, as many of us have experienced over the last year, can lead to inflammation too, so now is the perfect time to embrace those omega 3s.
It soothes the skin
Keeping on the subject of inflammation, omega 3s can calm down inflammatory skin concerns such as eczema, acne and psoriasis, according to Shabir. “They’re also good for protecting the skin from general ageing since inflammation in the body is the most widely accepted theory of ageing of the body, including skin,” he adds.
It supports immunity
these days, we're all more aware of our immunity, and omega 3s have been shown to be beneficial, says Charlotte. "The fats in omega 3 are an important part of our cell membrane, making up the outer layer that surrounds each cell. This influences what comes in and out and acts as an important signaller to immune response."
It moisturises the skin
For soft skin, omega 3s are essential in your supplement routine. “Studies have shown that omega 3 plays a role in the production of sebum which keeps your skin moisturised and hydrated, creating a barrier to keep potential irritants out,” says Charlotte.
Shabir agrees on their barrier-boosting power, adding: “Omega 3s are required for the manufacture of ceramides in the skin, which are responsible for preventing the skin from losing water.” In fact, a 2015 study showed that fish oil supplementation increased hydration, decreased transepidermal waterless and alleviated itching caused by dry skin.
It can provide sun protection
Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better! According to Charlotte, research has emerged into the sun-protecting powers of omega-3 against UV rays. “They might mitigate damage (therefore ageing!) and reduce sunburn,” she says. “Don’t bin your sunscreen though, it’s still very much needed and more research is required.”
It can soothe anxiety
“Omega 3 fish oils contain a fatty acid called DHA, which is required for nerve function within the body including in the brain,” says Shabir. “The essential fatty acids in omega 3 fish oils are known to interact with chemicals in the brain responsible for mood, so may enhance mood as well as improve cognitive function.”
It can support brain function
On the topic of brain function, omega 3s are the building blocks of a baby’s growing brain when you’re pregnant, making them a vital nutrient for expecting mums, says Charlotte. Children need omega 3s too to help with brain development and Charlotte suggests kids have the same intake as adults per week.
It keeps hair healthy
By curbing inflammation in the body and the scalp, omega 3s prevent hair thinning and hair loss, along with supporting hair growth.
Why vegans need omega 3 supplements most
While flaxseed and hemp seed are often used as alternatives for omega 3, they can’t be readily converted into the fatty acid that the body needs. If you’re plant-based, nutritionist Lily Soutter recommends a supplement made of algae oil. "When we look at vegan omega 3 sources such as flax seeds, chia seeds, and walnuts, they are in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which then has to be converted to EPA and DHA in the body. The conversion rate is quite poor – hence needing to consume these vegan sources on a daily basis." It's doable, she says but most people don't have an optimal diet and so she recommends supplementing with algae oil. "It's a very sustainable source of omega 3 in a form which is on par with oily fish, so it provides EPA and also DHA.
"The other thing to bear in mind is the fact that oily fish get their omega 3s from algae, that's how they make them so you're going straight to the source of Omega three, cutting out many links in that food chain. So it's very sustainable and good for the planet," The algae in the supplement she recommends by Hello Day (see below) is grown and controlled so that where it's not exposed to contaminants or pollutants that otherwise may be found in the sea, she adds.
What to look for in omega 3 supplements
The purity of omega 3 supplements is an issue for some people. “We know fish is increasingly becoming contaminated with heavy metals which can wreak havoc on our health,’ says Charlotte. “The only third-party testing program for fish oils is the International Fish Oil Standards (IFOS) and they check potency, freshness and purity. I only recommend fish oils with a five-star rating.”
Look at the label of supplements and search for ones that say they’re made with five-star IFOS certified oil.
Sustainability is also something to look out for with regard to omega-3 supplements. "When looking for sustainably harvested omega 3, look out for the MSC label and do some research into the practices of the brand," says personalised vitamin brand Vitl . "Make sure your supplement successfully prevents by-catch of birds, marine mammals and fish."
Our pick of omega-3 supplements
Best high-strength: Bare Biology Life and Soul Omega 3 Fish Oil Daily Capsules, £28.50 for 120 capsules
Both Shabir and Charlotte’s omega 3 supplements of choice, these are made with five-star IFOS-certified oil and contain the same amount of omega 3 as a whole tin of sardines! The capsules are made with wild, sustainably caught fish from Norway from small wild fish which are right at the bottom of the food chain, meaning they contain fewer heavy metals. They’re easily digested too, so you won’t be able to taste them all day after taking them. It's a high dose with a total omega 3 count of 1460mg (EPA 860mg, DHA 440mg). Bare Biology also does an excellent vegan omega-3 supplement Vim & Vigour, £35 derived with skin-supporting antioxidant astaxanthin.
Best vegan omega 3 supplement for heart health Hello-Day Brain and Heart Maintain, £24 for 30
Recommended by nutritionist Lily Soutter, the micro-algae in these soft gels are produced sustainably and in a controlled environment free from marine pollutants making it a great choice for vegans and non-vegans. One gel contains 250mg DHA and 3mg EPA for heart and brain health so you'd need to take two to get the recommended 500mg dose.
Best eco-friendly fish oil: Inessa Advanced Omega 3 Fish Oil, £21.84 for 60 capsules
Made from sustainably sourced anchovies, this contains a high daily dosage of omega 3 - 840mg (480mg EPA/360mg DHA per capsule) and has been purified and tested for freshness and contaminants (it’s five-star IFOS certified).
Best omega 3 supplement for no fishy after-taste JSHealth Vitamins Fish Oil, £19.99 for 60 capsules
These capsules are coated in vanilla to banish the fishy aftertaste often associated with fish oil. They have 900mg of omega 3 with 540mg EPA and 360 mg DHA. They are Friends of the Sea certified and use the purest mackerel and sardines and are heavy metal tested and the plastic bottle is recyclable.
Best value sustainably-sourced omega-3 supplement: Beauty Pie Biomega 3 Pure High-Dose Wild Fish Oil Softgel Capsules, members pay £18, typical price £40, for 120 soft gels (4 a day)
Beauty Pie launched its supplements range in 2020, and this is the star of the show. Made from wild, sustainably caught sardines, mackerel and anchovies, four of these per day give more than the suggested intake of 500mg per day (800mg EPA and 532mg DHA).
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