The answer is related to why our bodies need antioxidants. Ever heard of antioxidants? Of course you have, since every new health product on the market boasts about its antioxidant properties and scientists have been telling us for decades to get more of them. Everything from blueberries to olive oil to green tea are recommended because of the antioxidants they contain.
But why do we need antioxidants? The reason is because of the destructive tendencies of oxygen!
Oxygen? You mean that stuff we must breathe to stay alive?
Well, yes, but that oxygen (O2) is in an extremely stable form. There are many other molecular forms of oxygen that can be rather unstable, meaning they lack an electron required to be stable. These molecules, called free radicals, steal electrons from other molecules to become stable! This means that oxygen can, and often does, have a strong destructive capacity. This is especially true in the human body, and it’s why we need antioxidants in the first place.
So oxidation is basically when an unstable, free radical molecule of oxygen steals an electron from another molecule. The latter molecule is said to become “oxidized.” This molecule then becomes unstable itself, and whatever structure it was part of becomes degraded. This is precisely how rust is formed, when iron is exposed to oxygen over time:
Such destructive tendencies will naturally wreak havoc in our bodies.
What does this have to do with omega-3 fatty acids? Well omega-3s are particularly sensitive to oxidation. For this reason, there are a few things to keep in mind with regards to omega-3 supplements:
- You should make sure that the supplement was manufactured using an oxygen-free environment. Most fish oil manufacturers don’t care enough to do this, and they manufacture fish oil the way they do any other supplement.
- The supplement should be encapsulated or bottled with fat-soluble antioxidants, such as Vitamin E (preferably the natural form, d-alpha tocopherol ), that will protect the omega-3s within the capsule or liquid.
- You should take your fish oil (or other omega-3 supplement) with a fat soluble antioxidant, such as Vitamin E, to protect the integrity of the omega-3s while in your body. Vitamin E is also good for the health of your heart, skin and other systems of the body.
- Your supplement should be tested for both peroxide and total oxidation, both of which are measures of oxidation. All fish oils certified by the International Fish Oil Standards program are tested for these levels, in addition to anisidine and acid value, which are both additional indicators of omega-3 stability.
Whether it’s your car, your body or your fish oil supplements, oxidation is definitely something you want to avoid at all costs!