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THE OVERVIEW AND FUNCTIONS OF OMEGA 3

 Polyunsaturated fats are essential fatty acids that we need to obtain through our diet as the body cannot make these. Omega 3 and Omega 6 are essential fatty acids that are important in the normal functioning of all tissues of the body given that they act as structural components of cell membranes and provide a source of energy. Additionally, omega 3s exert anti-inflammatory effects (1). There is a high prevalence of omega 6 in the western diet, resulting in a high omega 6 to omega 3 ratio in the body, whereas a ratio closer to 1:1 (omega 3 to omega 6) maybe more beneficial (2). As omega 3 and omega 6 compete for the same receptors in the body, including oily fish in the diet and supplementing with high quality omega 3 is an effective method to promote a range of health benefits, such as: cardiovascular health, immune function and exercise performance.

 

Two key compounds when supplementing with omega 3 are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Both EPA and DHA are building blocks of immune cells and act as precursors of the inflammatory mediators: prostaglandins and leukotrienes (1, 3). Prostaglandins play a role in the regulation of immune responses and leukotrienes are involved in the activation of leukocytes, white blood cells that fight foreign bodies and diseases. Additionally, omega 3 fatty acids decrease the production of inflammatory cytokines and reactive oxygen species (4). It is well known that there is an inflammatory response to exercise and prolonged, heavy training can cause immunosuppression (1, 3, 5). In this way, including a daily dose of omega 3 can support in normal immune function both post-exercise (1) and in athlete populations (3).

 

Omega 3 supplementation may also have a role to play in cardiovascular health, with EPA and DHA reducing triglycerides (6) and eliciting beneficial effects on cholesterol. There are two main forms of cholesterol: high-density lipoproteins (HDL) and low-density lipoproteins (LDL). HDL plays an important role in transporting cholesterol to the liver to be expelled from the body, whereas LDL transport cholesterol to the arteries where it may be deposited. In this regard, HDL is often viewed as beneficial in the body and increases in HDL cholesterol have been seen in a range of populations when supplementation of fish oils (7, 8).

 

OMEGA 3 AND EXERCISE PERFORMANCE

 In relation to exercise performance, supplementation with omega 3 has been linked to a reduction in the delayed onset of muscle soreness following eccentric muscle damaging exercise (9, 10). With lower perceived pain reported and decreased thigh circumference (10), this 48-hour post-exercise reduction in thigh circumference may indicate a reduction in muscle swelling and inflammation. In a group of competitive football players, an increase in anaerobic endurance capacity was identified through increased distance covered in the Yo-Yo test (a high-intensity running protocol) when supplementing with omega 3 fatty acids compared to a placebo trial (11). Additionally, an increase in nitric oxide production was linked to higher muscle oxygen uptake and increases in VO2 max have been seen in a group of endurance trained cyclists supplementing with omega 3 (12).ZZ

 

WHY SCIENCE IN SPORT OMEGA 3

 The Science in Sport Super Strength Omega 3 formulation delivers 1000mg of EPA and 500mg of DHA per serving.  In addition, Science in Sport High Strength Omega 3 + Astaxanthin provides 900mg of EPA and 600mg of DHA per serving, with the innovative addition of 3.6mg astaxanthin and vitamins A, D, E and K to support normal immune function. Astaxanthin is a carotenoid with anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties, shown to enhance immune response and decrease inflammation (13, 14). Additionally, in a trained football population, astaxanthin supplementation increased salivary IgA secretion rate when compared to a control (14). Salivary IgA is a cell in the immune system which functions as an anti-body. This increase would indicate reduced inflammation in those supplementing with astaxanthin.

 

Alongside these health benefits, astaxanthin has also been investigated in relation to exercise performance. In trained cyclists, astaxanthin supplementation resulted in a significant improvement in 20km time trial performance and power output following a 2-hour steady state ride (15). Reductions in muscle damage have been measured in athlete groups supplementing with astaxanthin (14, 16), with significantly lower post-exercise serum blood creatine kinase (CK) levels (16). CK is analysed as a marker of muscle damage as catabolic processes during exercise cause an efflux of CK into the blood; therefore, a reduction in CK in the blood would indicate a reduction in muscle damage during exercise.

 

TAKE HOME MESSAGES:

  • Omega 3 fatty acids play an important role in cardiovascular health, immune function and exercise performance
  • EPA and DHA are the active compounds when supplementing with omega 3s and the above studies referenced dosed in the range of 600mg-1600mg of combined EPA and DHA per day
  • Astaxanthin is a carotenoid which has been linked to enhanced immune response, decreased inflammation, improved time trial performance and reduced muscle damage
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    References:

    1. Gray, P., Gabriel, B., Thies, F., & Gray, S. R. (2012). Fish oil supplementation augments post-exercise immune function in young males. Brain, behavior, and immunity, 26(8), 1265-1272.
    2. Simopoulos, A. P. (2002). The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids. Biomedicine & pharmacotherapy56(8), 365-379.
    3. Andrade, P. M., Ribeiro, B. G., Bozza, M. T., Rosa, L. F. B. C., & do Carmo, M. G. T. (2007). Effects of the fish-oil supplementation on the immune and inflammatory responses in elite swimmers. Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids77(3), 139-145.
    4. Immunomodulation by omega-3 fatty acids. Prostaglandins, leukotrienes and essential fatty acids77(5-6), 327-335.
    5. Gleeson, M. (2007). Immune function in sport and exercise. Journal of Applied Physiology, 103(2), .693-699.
    6. Wei, M. Y., & Jacobson, T. A. (2011). Effects of eicosapentaenoic acid versus docosahexaenoic acid on serum lipids: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Current atherosclerosis reports13(6), 474-483.
    7. Bernstein, A. M., Ding, E. L., Willett, W. C., & Rimm, E. B. (2011). A Meta-Analysis Shows That Docosahexaenoic Acid from Algal Oil Reduces Serum Triglycerides and Increases HDL-Cholesterol and LDL-Cholesterol in Persons without Coronary Heart Disease–3. The Journal of nutrition142(1), 99-104.
    8. Eslick, G. D., Howe, P. R., Smith, C., Priest, R., & Bensoussan, A. (2009). Benefits of fish oil supplementation in hyperlipidemia: a systematic review and meta-analysis. International journal of cardiology136(1), 4-16.
    9. Tartibian, B., Maleki, B. H., & Abbasi, A. (2009). The effects of ingestion of omega-3 fatty acids on perceived pain and external symptoms of delayed onset muscle soreness in untrained men. Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine19(2), 115-119.
    10. Mickleborough, T. D. (2013). Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in physical performance optimization. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism23(1), 83-96.
    11. Gravina, L., Brown, F. F., Alexander, L., Dick, J., Bell, G., Witard, O. C., & Galloway, S. D. (2017). n-3 Fatty Acid Supplementation During 4 Weeks of Training Leads to Improved Anaerobic Endurance Capacity, but not Maximal Strength, Speed, or Power in Soccer Players. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism27(4), 305-313.
    12. Żebrowska, A., Mizia-Stec, K., Mizia, M., Gąsior, Z., & Poprzęcki, S. (2015). Omega-3 fatty acids supplementation improves endothelial function and maximal oxygen uptake in endurance-trained athletes. European journal of sport science15(4), 305-314.
    13. Park, J. S., Chyun, J. H., Kim, Y. K., Line, L. L., & Chew, B. P. (2010). Astaxanthin decreased oxidative stress and inflammation and enhanced immune response in humans. Nutrition & metabolism7(1), 18.
    14. Baralic, I., Andjelkovic, M., Djordjevic, B., Dikic, N., Radivojevic, N., Suzin-Zivkovic, V., … & Pejic, S. (2015). Effect of astaxanthin supplementation on salivary IgA, oxidative stress, and inflammation in young soccer players. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine2015.
    15. Earnest, C. P., Lupo, M., White, K. M., & Church, T. S. (2011). Effect of astaxanthin on cycling time trial performance. International journal of sports medicine32(11), 882-888.
    16. Djordjevic, B., Baralic, I., Kotur-Stevuljevic, J., Stefanovic, A., Ivanisevic, J., Radivojevic, N., … & Dikic, N. (2012). Effect of astaxanthin supplementation on muscle damage and oxidative stress markers in elite young soccer players. J Sports Med Phys Fitness52(4), 382-392.
    Ben Samuels
    Written By

    Ben Samuels

    Ben is a Performance Nutritionist at Science in Sport