There sure has been a lot about fish oil and Omega 3 in the media lately. It is a hot topic. And no wonder. 9 out of 10 Americans don’t eat enough Omega 3, and not enough Omega 3 can lead to all sorts of serious illnesses like arthritis, diabetes, depression, and heart disease.
But acne? Can not enough Omega 3 lead to acne, or make acne worse? Can increasing it make acne better?
The Case for Omega 3 and Acne
There is very little research on the subject, but we can figure some things out based on the research there is about Omega 3 to know there very well could be a connection. The one small study I know of about Omega 3 and acne, plus lots of clinical, anecdotal evidence, suggests a strong connection.
Here’s what we do know. Our skin cell membranes are made of essential fatty acids, which include Omega 3 and Omega 6.
If you are short of any one of the Omegas, your skin cell membranes can’t replicate properly, which means they can’t take in nutrients and expel toxins. Replicating skin cells happens every day, as our old cells slough off and new ones are formed. But when you are healing anything, like a wound or acne, you are replicating skin cells at a much greater rate. Those new cells need to have healthy, properly replicated membranes.
We also know that Omega 6 promotes inflammation, and Omega 3 reduces it. Our bodies do best when the two are in balance, but with a typical western diet we eat 20 times as much Omega 6 as Omega 3.
Omega 6 is in many, many things we westerners eat regularly like meat, dairy and vegetable oils. However, Omega 3 is only in oily fish, like salmon, mackerel, sardines, and anchovies. Part of it, which we’ll discuss in a minute, is in vegetable sources like Chia seeds, Flax, Walnuts and Avocados. So most of us don’t eat nearly enough Omega 3.
Acne is an inflammatory condition. The latest research suggests that all acne begins with inflammation. Even acne that doesn’t look inflamed (think blackheads) has been shown to have histological markers for inflammation. The traditional model of acne begins with excess dead skin cells, which are hereditary, but the new research suggests that the inflammation may be what leads to the production and retention of excess dead skin cells.
Do you think reducing inflammation in your body might affect your acne? I do. Would getting more Omega 3 help get rid of your acne? It sure seems to. A friend of mine who is a doctor in Canada also treats acne. When a patient can’t afford much in the way of treatment, he puts them on high doses of Omega 3 and does nothing else. He typically sees a 50 to 60% reduction in lesions in three to four months. That’s an example of clinical anecdotal evidence. It is not a double-blind, statistically significant, controlled study. But it is food for thought. At The Acne Treatment Center we have noticed those clients who clear the most readily are the ones who are consistent about getting their Omega 3. Again, not a controlled study and the population is too small for statistical significance, but it is food for thought. We also have some evidence that non-inflamed acne’ plugs are low in linolenic acid, which is a component of Omega 3. Adding Omega 3 to the diet seems to help resolve these plugs and allow them to slough more easily.
So, if you don’t eat enough Omega 3, can you get it through taking a pill? Yes. As much as I am in favor of getting nutritional needs through diet, and try to eat fish several times each week, this is one instance where I am thrilled a pill exits.
Choosing an Omega 3 Supplement
Not all supplements are created equal, and that starts with the fact that not all Omega 3 is created equal. There are several Omega 3 fatty acids. If you have ever looked at the back of a bottle of Omega 3 supplements you may be familiar with EPA (Eicosapentaenoic Acid) and DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid). These are the work horses of the Omega 3 family and are found in the greatest concentration in fish oil. Studies have shown that EPA is the one most linked to inflammation reduction, while DHA seems to affect the brain the most.
Sometimes the label will include a category called “Other” which includes DPA (Docosapentaenoic Acid), SDA (Stearidonic Acid), ETA (Eicosatrienoic Acid) and ALA (alpha-Linolenic Acid) or it may list “ALA” separately. ALA is the Omega 3 mentioned earlier that is found in vegetable sources like chia and flax seeds. The body will convert ALA to EPA for inflammation reduction, but it is terribly inefficient at doing so.
So if you are looking on that label for help with your acne, you want it to tell you it has a LOT of EPA. How much is enough? Well, the small study and our own evidence shows that at least 1000 mg of EPA a day is necessary to have the anti-inflammatory effect. That is also consistent with the larger studies of inflammation reduction throughout the body. Krill oil was real popular there for a while and the pills are tiny, which is a plus, but you are going to need 20 of those babies to get your 1000 mg of EPA.
Is EPA on the label the only thing you need to look for in a fish oil supplement? Actually there are several things to consider when choosing a supplement.
First, is what’s on the label, what is actually in the bottle? The least expensive product is typically coming out of China, and in that case it is anyone’s guess. If you want to be sure you are getting what the label says, the product should be rated by an independent lab that tests and identifies the ingredients. One of the best is the IFOS, the International Fish Oil Standards program, and they have a cute little logo featured on the labels of products they have confirmed.
Next it should be enteric coated. Enteric coating’s job is to carry the capsule through the acid of the stomach to be absorbed in the intestine. If it dissolves in the stomach you actually lose about 15-20% of the vital nutrients. Also, if it dissolves in the stomach you are more likely to get fishy burps. And here is another place where not all is created equal. We have had some fish oil capsules that were enteric coated but the coating broke regularly for some clients. You also want to check that the coating is not made of shellac or other ingredients that have no place in your body.
Next you want to check if the fish oil has been purified of mercury and PCBs. Trust me, you don’t want that stuff added to your body, but it is present in the fat of lots of fish. Neither mercury nor PCBs will help your acne, or anything else.
Another thing you want to check is whether your fish oil is pharmaceutical grade. While it is not yet an FDA designation, the term was coined by Dr. Barry Sears of Zone Diet fame in the 1990’s to indicate supplements that had more than 50-60% Omega 3 in the fish oil. That was considered a lot back then. Today it refers to fish oil that is more than 85% Omega 3. I know, you thought they were ALL Omega 3, but they are not. Regular fish oil supplements are only typically 30% Omega 3. The rest is just fish fat. And fish fat is cheap, so regular fish oil doesn’t cost very much. Pharmaceutical grade costs more, but for my money, it’s worth it.
I spent a lot of time researching fish oil supplements before choosing the one we recommend now. It is everything recommended here and more.
When you are ready to be done with your acne, call us up and let’s get started. We’ll gladly tell you which fish oil we believe is the best, along with a lot of other considerations to safely clear your acne.
©2014 Jane Neville Dudik; The Acne Treatment Center; www.acnetreatmentcenterWA.com