2 WHAT ARE OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS?
Omega-3 fatty acids are considered essential fatty acids. They are essential to
human health but cannot be manufactured by the body. For this reason, omega-3
fatty acids must be obtained from food. Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in fish,
such as salmon, tuna, and halibut, other marine life such as algae and krill, certain
plants (including purslane), and nut oils.
Also known as polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), omega-3 fatty acids play a
crucial role in brain function as well as normal growth and development. The
American Heart Association recommends eating fish (particularly fatty fish such as
mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna, and salmon) at least 2 times
There are three major types of omega 3 fatty acids that are ingested in foods and
used by the body: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and
docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Once eaten, the body converts ALA to EPA and DHA,
the two types of omega-3 fatty acids more readily used by the body. Extensive
research indicates that omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation and help prevent
risk factors associated with chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and
arthritis. These essential fatty acids are highly concentrated in the brain and
appear to be particularly important for cognitive (brain memory and performance)
and behavioral function. In fact, infants who do not get enough omega-3 fatty acids
from their mothers during pregnancy are at risk for developing vision and nerve
problems. Symptoms of omega-3 fatty acid deficiency include extreme tiredness
(fatigue), poor memory, dry skin, heart problems, mood swings or depression, and
It is important to maintain an appropriate balance of omega-3 and omega-6
(another essential fatty acid) in the diet, as these two substances work together to
promote health. Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce inflammation, and most omega-6
fatty acids tend to promote inflammation. An inappropriate balance of these
essential fatty acids contributes to the development of disease while a proper
balance helps maintain and even improve health. A healthy diet should consist of
roughly 1 - 4 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids. The typical
American diet tends to contain 10 - 30 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-
3 fatty acids, and many researchers believe this imbalance is a significant factor in
the rising rate of inflammatory disorders in the United States.
In contrast, however, the Mediterranean diet consists of a healthier balance
between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, and many studies have shown that
people who follow this diet are less likely to develop heart disease. The
Mediterranean diet does not include much meat (which is high in omega-6 fatty
acids) and emphasizes foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, including whole grains,
fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, olive oil, garlic, as well as moderate wine
However, it's important to remember not all fish oil supplements are created
equal. Some fish oil supplements contain contaminated fish oil and could be
harmful to your health. By buying fish oil supplements that are high in omega-3
but molecularly distilled for highest purity without toxicity, you'll be getting all of
the benefits of Omega 3 without the harmful effects of toxins.
Clinical studies suggest that omega-3 fatty acids may be helpful in treating a
variety of health conditions. The evidence is strongest for heart disease and
problems that contribute to heart disease, but the range of possible uses for
omega-3 fatty acids include:
3.1 Cardiovascular health
fatty acids is in relation to cardiovascular health, first reported by Danish
scientists in the early 1970s.
In addition to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk, research has
also linked omega-3 fatty acids to improved heart rhythms, and a reduced
risk of a second heart attack.
Indeed, the first report of the reduced risk of a second heart attack was
published in 2006 in The American Journal of Cardiology (Vol. 97, pp. 1127-
1130) by researchers from the Mid America Heart Institute and the University
Recently, Italian researchers reported that a daily supplement of omega-3
polyunsaturated fatty acids (EPA and DHA) may reduce mortality and
admission to hospital for cardiovascular reasons in patients with heart failure
by 8 and 9 per cent, respectively.
3.2 Cognitive performance
The second most established area of research, particularly for the marine
omega-3 fatty acids, is cognitive performance and reducing the rate of agerelated
Two studies published in April 2007 in the American Journal of Clinical
Nutrition reported that regular consumption of omega-3-rich food could
prevent age-related cognitive decline. The studies, from the Dutch National
Institute for Public Health and the Environment, and the University of North
Carolina, stated that only a limited number of studies have looked at the
decline in cognitive function that precedes these diseases.
Researchers have started focusing their attention on Alzheimer's disease. A
pre-clinical study, supported by DHA-supplier Martek, reported that DHA may
cut the build-up of a certain protein linked to Alzheimer's (Journal of
Neuroscience, April 2007, Vol. 27). The study used genetically modified mice,
and is reported to be the first study to show that DHA may slow the
accumulation of a protein, tau, that leads to the development of
neurofibrillary tangles, one of two signature brain injuries of Alzheimer's
Results of a clinical trial published in the Archives of Neurology (Vol. 63, pp.
1402-1408) reported that a daily supplement of 1720 mg DHA and 600 mg EPA
showed promise for the slow mental decline in people with very mild
Alzheimer's disease, but had no impact on people with more advanced forms.
3.3 Mood and behavior
Linked to cognitive performance are reports that supplements of the fatty
acids may improve mood and behavior. Several studies have reported that
supplementation with EPA and DHA may result in improvements in behavior
and learning of children, although such studies have their critics.
In terms of mood, several studies, such as the French study published in 2008
in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, have reported benefits for
omega-3 and symptoms of depression (May 2008, Vol. 87, pp. 1156-1162).
Moreover, a joint Anglo-Iranian study reported that depression ratings were
cut by 50 per cent following daily one gram supplements of EPA, an effect
similar to that obtained by the antidepressant drug fluoxetine, according to
findings published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry
(2008, Vol. 42, pp. 192-198).
However, the science overall is insufficient to support a link between omega-
3 and depression, said the British Medical Journal's Drug and Therapeutics
Bulletin (DTB) in February 2007.
A small number of epidemiological and animal studies have reported
potential role of omega-3 in the prevention of certain cancers, such as
breast, prostate, and colorectal cancer.
However, various experts in this field still question if the fatty acids offer
3.5 Eyes & vision
Looking further afield, the fatty acids may also play a role in maintaining eye
health and reducing the risk of conditions such as age-related macular
degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of blindness in the over-fifties.
It is known that omega-3 fatty acids, and particularly DHA, play an important
role in the layer of nerve cells in the retina, and studies have already
reported that omega-3 may protect against the onset of AMD.
A study published in 2008 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, for
example, reported that an increased consumption of DHA and EPA may
reduce the risk of AMD by about 70 per cent.
ALA may also have eye benefits, according to findings published in the
February 2008 issue of the Archives of Ophthalmology. Researchers at the
Schepens Eye Research Institute in Boston, Massachusetts, and the
Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary Cornea Service reported that a topical
application of the fatty acid may ease the symptoms of dry-eye syndrome.
3.6 Mother and child
development of a foetus during pregnancy. Many studies have already
reported the necessity of would-be mothers to ensure high intakes of omega-
3 fatty acids, and concerns over contaminants and pollutants in fish have
promoted supplemental forms.
A recent study from Canada, for example, reported that an increased intake
of the omega-3 DHA during pregnancy could produce improved motor
function in the offspring in later life (The Journal of Pediatrics, March 2008,
Vol. 152, pp. 356-364.e1).
And increased levels were linked to improved visual, cognitive, and motor
development in the offspring, report the researchers from Wayne State
University School of Medicine, Detroit and Laval University.
3.7 Other benefits
Other health conditions, such as diabetes, skin health, and weight
management, may also benefit from increased omega-3 consumption. The
science supporting these potential benefits is less established, however.
4 IN CASE OF PREGNANCY?
It is now a well-established fact that omega-3 fatty acids are required nutrients for
a healthy pregnancy and baby.
It is also a fact that the human body does not make enough omega-3 fatty acids to
meet our nutritional needs during pregnancy and therefore must be obtained from
The omega-3 fatty acid DHA is particularly important to developing children and to
pregnant and lactating women. A woman's demand for DHA increases substantially
during pregnancy and will remain low for 9-12 months after delivery unless the diet
A very common dilemma faced is that: Both the Food and Drug Administration
(FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have sounded the alarm
regarding the potential dangers of consuming too much fish because of
environmental toxins that accumulate in fish.
Hence, if you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, studies have compared
levels of mercury and pesticides in fish versus fish oil supplements and concluded
fish oil provide the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids without the risk of toxicity.
International experts agree that a minimum of 300 mg of DHA is necessary to meet
the needs of pregnant and lactating women. So if you are avoiding fish because of
fear of environmental contaminants, you may be doing your baby more harm than
good. Hence, adding a high-quality fish oil supplement to your daily habits is the
better option of supplying your offspring with the nutrients they need without the
chance of exposing them to unnecessary toxins.
5 FLAX SEED OIL vs FISH OIL
There are three main types of omega-3 essential fatty acids, EPA, DHA and ALA.
Flax seed oil vs fish oil is as simple as EPA & DHA vs ALA.
The omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil are the EPA and DHA fatty acids and the omega-
3 fatty acids in flax seed oil are the ALA fatty acids.
It is harder for your body to get the omega-3 out of the ALA fatty acids and that's
why it's so important that any omega-3 supplement you take be derived from fish
There is no harm in taking both flax seed oil and fish oil, if you're taking the
supplements to get the benefits touted for omega-3, then you probably would be
well off just taking fish oil supplements.
In the comparison between flax seed oil vs fish oil, both have their benefits, but
fish oil is considered superior.
6 OMEGA-3 vs OMEGA-6
Omega-6 fatty acids, also considered essential, are found in foods such as eggs,
poultry, cereals, vegetable oils, baked goods, and margarine. They support skin
health, lower cholesterol, and help make our blood "sticky" so it is able to clot. But
when omega-6s aren't balanced with sufficient amounts of omega-3s, problems can
The trouble is that we as a society consume far too much omega-6 and not near
enough omega-3. Many nutrition experts believe that before we relied so heavily on
processed foods, humans consumed omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in roughly
equal amounts. Healthy ratios of omega-6:omega-3 range from 1:1 to 4:1. But to
our great detriment, most people living on a Western diet get far too much of the
omega-6s and not enough of the omega-3s. Typical Western diets provide ratios of
between 10:1 and 30:1 i.e., dramatically skewed toward omega-6.
This dietary imbalance may explain the rise of such diseases as asthma, coronary
heart disease, many forms of cancer, auto-immunity and neuro-degenerative
diseases, all of which are believed to stem from inflammation in the body. The
imbalance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids may also contribute to
obesity, depression, dyslexia, hyperactivity and even a tendency toward violence.
Bringing the fats into proper proportion may actually relieve those conditions.
To balance this deficit, many physicians suggest omega-3 as a supplement to
reduce the negative impact ofomega-6s.
7 POSSIBLE INTERACTIONS
If you are currently being treated with any of the following medications, you should
not use omega-3 fatty acid supplements, including eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA),
docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), without first talking to
your health care provider.
Blood-thinning medications -
Omega-3 fatty acids may increase the effects of blood thinning medications,
including aspirin, warfarin (Coumadin), and clopedigrel (Plavix). While the
combination of aspirin and omega-3 fatty acids may actually be helpful under
certain circumstances (such as in heart disease), they should only be taken
together under the guidance and supervision of a health care provider.
Blood sugar lowering medications -
Taking omega-3 fatty acid supplements may increase fasting blood sugar levels. Use
with caution if taking blood sugar lowering medications, such as glipizide (Glucotrol
and Glucotrol XL), glyburide (Micronase or Diabeta), glucophage (Metformin), or
insulin, as omega-3 fatty acid supplements may increase your need for the
Taking omega-3 fatty acids during cyclosporine (Sandimmune) therapy may reduce
toxic side effects, such as high blood pressure and kidney damage, associated with
this medication in transplant patients.
Etretinate and topical steroids -
The addition of omega-3 fatty acids (specifically EPA) to the drug therapy
etretinate (Tegison) and topical corticosteroids may improve symptoms of
Cholesterol-lowering medications -
Following certain nutritional guidelines, including increasing the amount of omega-
3 fatty acids in your diet and reducing the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio, may allow a
group of cholesterol lowering medications known as "statins", including atorvastatin
(Liptor), lovastatin (Mevacor), and simvastatin (Zocor) to work more effectively.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) -
In an animal study, treatment with omega-3 fatty acids reduced the risk of ulcers
from nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), including ibuprofen (Motrin or
Advil) and naproxen (Alleve or Naprosyn). More research is needed to evaluate
whether omega-3 fatty acids would have the same effects in people.
Because of the potential for side effects and interactions with medications, dietary
supplements should be taken only under the supervision of a knowledgeable health
- Omega-3 fatty acids should be used cautiously by people who bruise easily,
have a bleeding disorder, or take blood-thinning medications, including
warfarin (Coumadin) or clopidogrel (Plavix), because excessive amounts of
omega-3 fatty acids may lead to bleeding. In fact, people who eat more than
three grams of omega-3 fatty acids per day (equivalent to 3 servings of fish per
day) may be at an increased risk for hemorrhagic stroke, a potentially fatal
condition in which an artery in the brain leaks or ruptures.
- Fish oil can cause flatulence, bloating, belching, and diarrhea. Time-release
preparations may reduce these side effects, however.
- People with either diabetes or schizophrenia may lack the ability to convert
alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) to eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic
acid (DHA), the forms more readily used in the body. Therefore, people with
these conditions should obtain their omega-3 fatty acids from dietary sources
rich in EPA and DHA. Also, individuals with type 2 diabetes may experience
increases in fasting blood sugar levels while taking fish oil supplements. If you
have type 2 diabetes, only use fish oil supplements under the supervision of a
health care provider.
- Although studies have found that regular consumption of fish (which includes
the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA) may reduce the risk of macular
degeneration, a recent study including 2 large groups of men and women found
that diets rich in ALA may substantially increase the risk of this disease. More
research is needed in this area. Until this information becomes available, it is
best for people with macular degeneration to obtain omega-3 fatty acids from
sources of EPA and DHA, rather than ALA.
- Similar to macular degeneration, fish and fish oil may protect against prostate
cancer, but ALA may be associated with increased risk of prostate cancer in
men. More research in this area is needed.