5 Reasons to Take Omega 3 and Vitamin D Together

  • By Becki Kesner
  • 12 minute read
Woman with omega-3 capsule in palm of hand ready to take.
  • image of Kinga Jasiak, ANutr, BSc Nutrition and Health
  • Expert reviewed by Kinga Jasiak, ANutr, BSc Nutrition and Health

What are the non negotiable supplements we should all be taking on a daily basis?

Two that stand out are vitamin D and omega-3. These two particular supplements offer so many health benefits, from skin health and heart health to immune function and even weight management.

There's been much speculation that supplementing them together can maximize their benefits and prevent health issues like heart attacks, strokes, and even certain cancers. However, more recent research has suggested that the benefits may not be as potent as initially thought.

So let's dig through the research and find out what these two essential nutrients can offer individually, and combined.

What Are Omega-3s And Why Should You Take Them?

Flat lay view of salmon, walnuts and seeds to indicate dietary sources of omega-3

With so many health benefits to offer, if you've never taken an omega-3, it's a supplement that should be on your radar.

Introduction to Omega-3s

Omega-3 fatty acids are crucial polyunsaturated fats that your body can't produce by itself. They are labeled as essential fats, which means they must be obtained through your diet or supplements. For those new to omega-3s, incorporating them into your daily regimen can significantly impact various aspects of health.

Primary Types of Omega-3s

Although there are several types of omega-3s each with unique roles in the body, we generally focus on three:

  1. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA): Found primarily in fish and algae, EPA supports cardiovascular and cognitive function.
  2. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA): Also found in fish and algae, DHA is essential for brain development, eye health, and immune function.
  3. Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA): This plant-based omega-3 source is found in foods like flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts. However, ALA must be converted to EPA and DHA in the body, a process that is generally inefficient.

The Importance of EPA and DHA

Humans can synthesize some fatty acids, but not EPA and DHA. In addition to that, as mentioned, the conversion of ALA to EPA and DHA in the liver is inefficient, with rates less than 10%. So relying solely on ALA for to meet your EPA and DHA needs is not the best way to get these two into your diet. (1)

Balancing Omega-3 and Omega-6 Intake

Omega 3 capsules on a wooden spoon.

One of the big problems with polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) is the intake between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. In the modern western diet, omega-6 intake far outweighs omega-3 intake, which can be problematic.

The ideal ratio is 1:1 or 1:2 at most, but most Americans consume upwards of 10 to 20 times as much pro-inflammatory omega-6s as they do anti-inflammatory omega-3s. (2)

See the problem?

Health Benefits of Omega-3s

Omega-3 fatty acids are involved in numerous critical functions and offer various health benefits:

  • Brain health: Vital for cognitive functions and mental clarity, especially crucial during pregnancy.
  • Mood: Helps towards a healthy mood and alleviate symptoms of depression.
  • Vision: Essential for maintaining healthy vision and overall eye health.
  • Cardiovascular Protection: Reduces cardiovascular disease risks by managing cholesterol levels and blood pressure.
  • Anti-Inflammatory Effects: Plays a significant role in controlling systemic inflammation.
  • Immune System Support: Helps regulate immune function and may reduce the risk of autoimmune diseases, including autoimmune thyroid disease.
  • Bone and Joint Health: Contributes to stronger bones and healthier joints.
  • Improved Sleep Quality: Can influence sleep patterns and overall sleep quality.
  • Skin Health: Essential for maintaining skin integrity and appearance.

Dietary Recommendations

To optimize the health benefits you can get from omega-3 fatty acids, reducing your intake of omega-6 rich sources like vegetable oils and conventionally raised meats is crucial. Instead, increasing foods rich in omega-3s or considering high-quality supplements can help achieve a healthier balance.

Vitamin D Fundamentals

Vitamin D3 capsule held up to sunlight between thumb and forefinger.

Nature and Synthesis of Vitamin D

Although it's commonly known as a vitamin, Vitamin D functions more like a hormone within our body. It's one of the few nutrients our body can synthesize on its own, primarily through skin exposure to sunlight. When UVB rays from the sun strike the skin, vitamin D3 is produced from cholesterol.

Roles and Functions of Vitamin D

Vitamin D has multiple roles across various body systems, exhibiting endocrine, autocrine, and paracrine functions. (3) The endocrine role of vitamin D is crucial for regulating calcium and phosphorus levels, directly impacting bone health. In contrast, its autocrine and paracrine functions vary depending on the cells they are affecting, influencing numerous physiological processes.

Health Benefits of Vitamin D

The traditional role of vitamin D that most people are familiar with is bone health; it regulates calcium uptake from the gut and modulates calcium levels in the bone to maintain strength. But it's also involved in immune function, digestion, circulation, mood, muscle function, and the nervous system. (4)

  • Bone Health: Vitamin D is vital for regulating calcium absorption from the gut and modulating bone calcium levels, ensuring strong and healthy bones.
  • Immune Function: It plays a significant role in the immune system, enhancing the body's ability to fight infections and potentially reducing inflammation.
  • Digestive Health: Vitamin D is involved in the digestion process, aiding in the function of the gastrointestinal system.
  • Circulatory System: It contributes to proper circulation, impacting overall cardiovascular health.
  • Mood Regulation: Adequate levels of Vitamin D are linked with improved mood and mental health.
  • Muscle Function: It is essential for muscle strength and coordination.
  • Nervous System Health: It supports the overall health of the nervous system.

Influence of Biological Factors on Vitamin D Levels

Vitamin D levels can be affected by various biological factors including age, skin pigmentation, body weight, and geographical location. These factors can significantly influence the synthesis of Vitamin D in the skin, meaning vitamin D supplements are often required in order to meet the body's needs.

Should You Supplement Vitamin D And Omega-3s Together?

Woman with hands round bottle of mixed vitamins. Indicating the benefits of an omega 3 vitamin d combination

There's no question that vitamin D and omega-3s are essential for optimal performance, but why take them together?

1. Cognitive Function

Illustration of electrical activity in a brain to convey the idea of cognitive function.

Both vitamin D and omega-3s are important for enhancing brain health and function, especially when it comes to mood and memory. And although each elicits its mechanisms, the combination of the two supplements has profound effects on mental health because of their role in the serotonin system. (5)

Serotonin is synthesized from the amino acid tryptophan by tryptophan hydroxylase 2, activated by vitamin D3. EPA functions to enhance serotonin release, and DHA influences serotonin receptor action by ‘increasing cell membrane fluidity in postsynaptic neurons.

As such, insufficient intake of vitamin D and omega-3s could lead to dysfunctional serotonin activation and function and increase the risk of psychiatric disorders.

2. May Reduce Cancer Risk

DNA strand and Cancer Cell Concept 3D rendering

Cancer is the second leading cause of mortality in older adults, with a risk that increases significantly with age. While lifestyle factors heavily influence risk and progression, nutrient deficiencies can play a significant role.

Some research shows that vitamin D can inhibit the growth of specific cancer cells by regulating various genes responsible for cell proliferation and differentiation. (6) But more recently, omega-3s have come to the forefront in cancer prevention due to the role of lipid metabolism in cancer development.

Studies suggest that vitamin D can downregulate growth hormones and reduce cell proliferation in several types of cancer. At the same time, omega-3s can inhibit carcinogenesis because of their anti-inflammatory properties and suppress angiogenesis. (6)

3. Bone Health

X ray of knee joint to convey the idea of strong bones.

When it comes to nutrients for bone health, one that generally tops the list is calcium. But most people aren't aware that for calcium to do its job, it requires help from other nutrients, one of which is vitamin D.

It plays a pivotal role in calcium absorption and bone mineralization, which have been linked to greater bone mineral density. (7) Its primary function is to regulate the amount of calcium absorbed from the small intestine.

When calcium levels are low, parathyroid hormone (PTH) stimulates the production of 1,252 D3 in the kidney, which ultimately increases calcium uptake into the cells and increases calcium absorption, thereby maintaining serum levels.

Without sufficient vitamin D, calcium is pulled from bones, which eventually decreases bone mineral density and increases the risk of fractures and osteoporosis.

But it's not just vitamin D that supports bone health—omega-3s also play an important but lesser-known role. It's suggested that chronic inflammation may contribute to the pathogenesis of osteoporosis, potentially due to increased cytokine expression that comes with menopause and aging. (8)

Because both pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokines and hormones are involved in regulating osteoblast and osteoclast differentiation and activity, imbalances could lead to a decay of bone density.

And because omega-3s have such powerful anti-inflammatory effects, they could be beneficial for bone health. One study found that a higher intake of omega-3 fatty acids improved markers of bone turnover and bone mineral density. (9, 10)

4. Cardiovascular Health

Man holding chest indicating issues with cardiovascular health.

Vitamin D has received a fair bit of attention for its role in preventing cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes; plenty of studies show that low vitamin D is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, hypertension, and diabetes. (11) The primary mechanisms by which it may do so include:

  • Reducing inflammation
  • Inhibiting vascular smooth muscle proliferation
  • Inhibiting vascular calcification
  • Regulating blood pressure and volume homeostasis
  • Regulating glucose metabolism

Omega-3s, on the other hand, may exhibit just as powerful effects on cardiovascular health as vitamin D. While their potent anti-inflammatory effects have beneficial impacts on blood vessels, they also enhance endothelial function by promoting the release of nitric oxide—one of the essential cellular signaling compounds that promote blood vessel dilation. (12)

On top of that, omega-3s can also reduce resting systolic and diastolic blood pressure via incorporating EPA and DHA into membrane phospholipids, thereby increasing systemic arterial compliance. The mechanisms by which omega-3s may benefit cardiovascular health and reduce the risk of CVD include: (13)

  • Lower triglyceride levels
  • Increase HDL
  • Lower resting blood pressure
  • Reduce platelet aggregation
  • Prevent arterial blockages
  • Enhance compliance of arteries (elasticity)
  • Decrease atherosclerosis
  • Reduce inflammatory markers

5. May Reduce Autoimmune Disease Risk

A 3d rendered image showing the thyroid gland against a blue background.

Vitamin D and Autoimmune Regulation

Vitamin D is instrumental in modulating the body's immune response, which is vital for the management and potential prevention of autoimmune diseases. Studies indicate that higher levels of Vitamin D are associated with a reduced risk of autoimmune diseases, including autoimmune thyroid disease, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD).

By promoting immune tolerance, Vitamin D helps prevent the immune system from attacking the body’s own tissues, effectively reducing the incidence of autoimmune diseases.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Inflammation

Omega-3 fatty acids, especially EPA and DHA, are renowned for their significant anti-inflammatory properties, crucial for autoimmune disease management. Chronic inflammation is a common feature of autoimmune disorders, and managing this inflammation can lead to reduced autoimmune disease symptoms and a slower progression.

Clinical evidence supports that omega-3 supplementation can lead to improved outcomes in autoimmune diseases, notably in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, by decreasing joint pain and stiffness.

Synergistic Effects in Autoimmune Disease Management

Combining vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids together has shown to be beneficial when it comes to managing autoimmune disease. The VITAL trial run by Brigham and Women’s Hospital, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School, took women aged 55 or older and men aged 50 or older, who'd never previously experienced cardiovascular problems or cancer.

Young medical technicians working in laboratory looking at data collected from the vital randomized controlled trial

Participants involved in the VITAL research group were split into four randomized groups.

  • Group 1 were given a daily dose of vitamin D and fish oil.
  • Group 2 were given a daily dose of vitamin D, and a fish oil placebo.
  • Group 3 were given a daily vitamin D placebo, and a fish oil.
  • Group 4 were given two placebos.

The results of the trial indicated that supplementation with vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids, resulted in a reduction in autoimmune disease incidence. Specifically, over a median follow-up period of 5.3 years, the trial showed that taking these supplements led to a 22% reduction in the incidence of autoimmune diseases. (14)

This result suggests that daily supplementation with Vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids may be beneficial in preventing the onset of autoimmune diseases in adults who are initially free from these conditions.

How Much Do You Need?

Woman with palm face up and a handful of omega 3 capsules.

There's currently no set recommendation for daily intake of omega-3s, specifically EPA and DHA. Still, most research shows that anywhere from 2.6 to 3 grams of EPA and DHA daily is enough to sustain levels and optimize performance.

But if you're looking to enhance overall health and well-being, you also have to focus on your intake of omega-6s to omega-3s to avoid triggering a pro-inflammatory state.

On the other hand, Vitamin D is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies, and supplementing is generally beneficial for most people.

Although the RDI for vitamin D is just 400 IU, it doesn't hurt to increase your dose. Research finds that long-term supplementation with 5000 to 50,000 IUs per day appears to be safe—but chances are you can stick closer to 5,000 IU daily. (15)

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