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Friday, March 15, 2013

The Vitamin E and Omega-3 Connection

Hey Everyone! There is so much confusion trying to understand Omegas and which ones to choose, here is a great write up from our friend Kara Bolton, VP of SpeechNutrients that explains it all! Check it out!

The Vitamin E and Omega-3 Connection

Look at almost any omega-3 fish oil supplement, and you will notice that vitamin E is also listed as an ingredient.  Have you ever thought about why vitamin E is included, how much should be in there, and where it comes from? 
Why is Vitamin E in omega-3 supplements?
Omega-3 fats are unique and essential dietary fats.  They are not made in the body and must be consumed through the diet or supplements.  EPA and DHA are the omega-3 fats found in fish and fish oil that scientists believe are the most important functional omega-3 fats.  Always found together in nature and working synergistically in the body, EPA and DHA in omega-3 fish oil are long chain fatty acids with multiple double bonds.  Due to their fragile nature, EPA and DHA can oxidize and turn rancid very quickly when they come in contact with oxygen. 
To protect the omega-3 oil, a small amount of vitamin E is often included in omega-3 supplements and acts as a natural preservative to help the oil retain its freshness (or to prevent oxidation).  Vitamin E is typically listed under the word “tocopherol”. Most omega-3 supplements contain only d-alpha tocopherol which works in the lipid portion of cell membranes; without adequate levels of d-alpha, omega-3 fats oxidize and are unlikely to remain in a functional form.  Very few omega-3 supplements contain both d-alpha and gamma tocopherols.  It’s important to have both because gamma tocopherol provides protection against nitrogen-based free radicals which d-alpha tocopherol cannot do.  The two nutrients work synergistically to prevent oxidation of the fat-containing outer layer of cells and enhance the health benefits of omega-3. 
How much vitamin E should be included?
The amount of vitamin E in omega-3 supplements varies depending on the purpose.  A small amount is often used simply to keep the oil fresh while a much larger amount is included for therapeutic purposes.  Vitamin E is incredibly safe and is critical for normal brain function. Most fish oil supplements contain a very small amount (5-10 IU) of vitamin E to serve as a natural preservative in a softgel.  While it may stabilize the oil, this small amount does not serve any notable effect in the body. 
With sufficient amounts consumed either through the diet or with supplementation, vitamin E acts as a powerful natural antioxidant that protects cells from the damaging results of free radicals, a natural biochemical process in the body. A deficiency in vitamin E shows as symptoms that include expressive speech delay, hypotonia, and sensory integration dysfunction.  In autism and apraxia, many children face issues with malabsorption of fats, inflammation, and chronic oxidative stress within their bodies.  This malabsorption and oxidation leads to decreased availability and necessitates an increased need for antioxidants (namely vitamin E).  In fact, many of the symptoms of vitamin E deficiency mirror those of verbal apraxia including speech production problems, hypotonia, abnormal proprioception, pain sensation, and poor coordination.   Resolution of the vitamin E deficiency has been shown in hundreds of cases to relieve these conditions.
If there’s too much oxidative stress in the body, essential fatty acids (e.g. EPA, DHA) become compromised without adequate intake of antioxidants.  What this means is that even if you’re supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids, free radicals may cause the fatty acids to self-destruct before they can enter the cell.  Vitamin E intercepts the free radicals and prevents oxidation. 
Significantly larger doses of vitamin E may be required to maximize reversal of vitamin E deficiency and is the standard treatment. The improvements responders show to higher doses of omega-3 and vitamin E typically include improved speech (new sounds, words, improved narrative, more age-appropriate speech), improved gross and fine motor skills, eye contact, and pointing. These are basically a resolution of neurological symptoms that are similar if not identical to those that develop from vitamin E deficiency due to malabsorption caused by inflammation, food allergies, gluten sensitivity, and/or chronic oxidative stress.  
Where does the vitamin E come from?
Due to the highly allergic nature of certain children, many of us have become adept label readers. So it may come as a surprise to find out that an estimated 95% (or more) of the vitamin E on the market (and included in most omega-3 supplements) is derived from soy.  Soy can be a scary word to many people due to its highly allergenic properties. While a few companies disclose the source of their vitamin E on the label, the majority do not even though the vitamin E is derived from soy.  Even though the majority of vitamin E in the USA is derived from soybean oil, it is rarely called out and identified on dietary supplement labels.  Why? How can this be? Don’t we have allergen laws to protect us?
The answer is yes, we do have laws to protect us.  However, vitamin E derived from soybean oil is excluded from allergen statements due the fact that there are no traces of soy in vitamin E.  The Food Allergen and Labeling Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) requires listing of the 8 major food allergens (including soy) on a label.  However, when derived from highly refined soybean oil, vitamin E is exempt from allergen labeling due to the fact that vitamin E is produced through a thorough transformation process that results in no detectable levels of soy protein. This is typically measured by traditional methods and ELISA (Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay). Most individuals with soy allergies and soy sensitivities are allergic to the proteins in soy; however, through the purification and filtering process, all traces of soy proteins are removed.  Even the most reputable brands including SpeechNutrients, Nordic Naturals, and Barleans use vitamin E derived from soy, but there are absolutely no detectable soy allergens in these products.
Which omega-3 is right for my child?
When choosing an omega-3 supplement for your child, the choices can be overwhelming.  How can you be sure you are getting the highest quality with the most efficacy?  First, always look at the serving size and compare it to the amount of EPA and DHA in the supplement.  For example, brand A may promise 1000mg of fish oil per serving which sounds pretty good.  However, after reading the label, you may notice that a serving is 3 large capsules and the total amount of EPA and DHA (the forms of omega-3 that we want) is only 520mg.  So, if 3 capsules contain only 520mg of EPA and DHA, what else is in those large capsules?  Typically, it’s nothing that you would want and in some cases it could include saturated fats.  If you’re curious about what’s in your omega-3 supplement, place it in the freezer for about 30 minutes.  If the capsule remains clear, great! If it becomes cloudy, then typically it contains saturated fat and other undesirable oils. 
Second, check the smell.  Fish oil is always going to smell like, well, like fish oil.  However, it shouldn’t be a strong odor or cause an instant adverse response (gagging, coughing, etc).  If the fish oil smells bad, it typically is.  Remember that the oil oxidizes very quickly, so if it has a very strong odor, it has probably begun the oxidation process and may even be rancid.  You’ll want to purchase from companies who are members of GOED (Global Organization for EPA and DHA as their members must adhere to a strict monograph and standard of purity. 
Finally, think about why you are supplementing your child with fish oil.  If it’s for general health, aim for a high quality omega-3 with at least 300mg EPA and 200mg DHA per serving.  If your child has malabsorption issues due to oxidation and inflammation and is facing speech and/or motor challenges, you will want to make sure that your omega-3 contains a therapeutic dose of at least 500IU of d-alpha tocopherol and 200mg gamma tocopherol vitamin E per serving.  It’s always best to talk to your doctor before beginning any new supplementation program.

1.     Morris, Claudia R, and Agin, Marilyn C. Syndrome of Allergy, Apraxia, and Malabsorption: Characterization of a Neurodevelopmental Phenotype that Responds to Omega 3 and Vitamin E Supplementation. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine 2009; Vol. 15, No. 4: 32-41.
2.     Richardson AJ, Montgomery P. The Oxford-Durham study: a randomized, controlled trial of dietary supplementation with fatty acids in children with developmental coordination disorder. Pediatrics. May 2005; 115(5); 1360-1366.


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  2. A very informative well written article. I wantes to ask though, the fish oil I recently ordered includes soybean oil as an ingredient present in less than 2% of a capsule. As a person who tries to avoid consuming soy should I take this product. Will the inflammatory properties of the soy combat the properties of the fish oil?

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  7. AUGUST 9, 2018 AT 10:32 PM
    Lisa Geng of the Cherub Foundation says the ratio of of omegas should be 695 epa and 280 dha. Her group also recommends a small amount of omega 6 (GLA) - 70mg. This is also the same ratio used by the in their speak formula. See more at

    Some researchers also recommending adding Phoschol for a complete formula.