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Omega 3 Types – What you Need to Know

3 min read

Omega 3 EPA DHA

The internet and other information sources are swamped with information on healthy Omega 3 fats. Sometimes, the terminology can be really confusing, especially when it’s attached to marketing hype. The truth is there are pro’s and con’s to what type or “format” the Omega 3 is in. There are the basic formats, Triglyceride, Phospholipid and Ethyl Ester.

So what is the difference in all these different forms, and more importantly what does this mean for you.

The triglyceride is often called “natural” because it exactly what comes out of the fish.  It is minimally processed other than being pressed in a cold environment.

ethyl ester and triglyceride

Triglyceride simply means three things attached to a central single chain. Think of a coat hanger with three belts hanging from the bottom left, center, and right.

What should you know:  The fact that it is natural and unprocessed means that only one of these is actually a useful Omega 3 fat. The other two can pretty much be any other fat including the not so healthy Omega.  In addition toxins tend to accumulate in these areas as well. That said if the ocean is as clean as it can be where these fish come from, you will not face immediate issues with toxins.  Long term can be another matter.

The other issue mentioned above, only one of the three fat is in the useful Omega 3 format.  For this reason, the absolute theoretical maximum concentration of essential Omega 3 fats in this kind of fish oil is 33%. In practice it varies between 25% and 30%.  If you are trying to get to a higher level of Omega 3, in your body, this is a tough way to do it. The human gut efficiently absorbs all fats over a 24 hour period of time no matter which format you are taking.

The Phospholipid form is next and it is often called the “membrane” form because human cell membranes store essential fats and other fats this way. Using the hanger analogy from above, this hanger only has a left and right chain.

What you should know: This type of Omega 3 is usually restricted to shellfish and crustacean types of seafood rather than fish.  In terms of human consumption and supplement marketing this is currently the least common.  It is however considered natural since it does come from a sea creature.

While it may be slightly better absorbed than the other formats it, like the natural triglyceride format provides a limited amount of Omega 3 and retains toxins found in the oceans where it is fished.  In certain areas the primary source called krill is endangered. Krill remain a primary food source for many types of fish and whales.  Fish will take the phospholipid form of Omega 3 and convert it to the triglyceride form naturally. Some marketers argue that since phospholipids do not require enzymes to convert to the membrane format, they are superior to other forms. This has not been proven to be the case in studies where clinical outcomes are measured. Processing of this kind of Omega 3 must be minimal to retain the natural format.

Ethyl Esters: These are the most common form of fish oil and by far the most often consumed in human populations and human studies on fish oil

What you should know:  Some marketers claim they are not really even fish oil since they rarely occur naturally in fish. They do however occur naturally in the billions of Calanus shrimp found in the North Atlantic. In addition once Omega 3’s are released from cell membranes (remember the storage form is phopsholipid) they usually pass through the ester stage and sometimes remain that way as a very potent anti-inflammatory derivative of fish oil. So in a very real sense they are natural to the human body and its enzyme system.

In addition because they do not have extra molecules (like the hanger in the above analogy) they can be packaged much tighter with concentrations of essential oils reaching 90%. This is often referred to as “Pharmaceutical Grade” because it is exactly the potency drug companies use in their versions of fish oil. The high potency of these oils makes them ideal for people who need or want to increase their Omega 3 levels quickly and easily. You have to be careful though because “Pharmaceutical Grade” has no legal meaning and the term can be used by anyone selling fish oil.

Finally because of their purity and potency they have almost no measurable toxins and minimal fish burp that is sometimes seen with lower potency non distilled oils.

All across the world people are consuming each of these types safely and effectively.  This information is presented so you know what to expect and how to use the brand of your choice.