Health Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega 3 capsules in jar
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Omega-3 fatty acids are important for a number of functions in the body. These functions include:

  • Regulating inflammation
  • Blood clotting
  • Blood pressure
  • Development of the nervous system
  • Construction of cell membranes, especially for cells in the brain, retinas, and sperm
  • Movement of substances in and out of cells

Sources

Available in dietary supplement form, omega-3s are found naturally in certain foods. Oily fish, such as salmon and mackerel, contain the omega-3s docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Meanwhile, certain nuts, such as English walnuts, and vegetable oils (flaxseed, canola, and soybean) contain an omega-3 called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).

Health Benefits

Research suggests that intake of omega-3 fatty acids may offer the following benefits:

1) Heart Health

Increasing levels of DHA and EPA (either by eating fish or taking fish oil supplements) has been found to improve a number of cardiovascular disease risk factors. For example, studies show that omega-3 intake may lower triglyceride levels and slightly lower blood pressure. Some research suggests that omega-3s can also reduce risk of heart attack, stroke, and death among people with cardiovascular disease.

2) Rheumatoid Arthritis

Regular intake of fish oil supplements may reduce morning stiffness, the number of swollen joints, and the need for corticosteroid drugs in people with rheumatoid arthritis. Fish oil's anti-inflammatory effects may be key to its role in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.

Additional Benefits 

A number of studies have shown that omega-3s may also be beneficial for people with the following health problems. However, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine cautions that more research is needed before conclusions can be drawn about the use of omega-3s in the treatment of these conditions.

  • Depression (specifically MDD)
  • ADHD
  • Dementia
  • Dry-eye disease
  • Age-related macular degeneration
  • Lupus

Several population studies indicate that dietary intake of omega-3 fatty acids may lower your risk of developing certain types of cancer (including cancer of the breast or colon). However, randomized controlled trials need to be conducted before scientists can draw any conclusions about the anti-cancer effects of omega-3s.

Caveats

Although omega-3 supplements are generally considered safe when taken in low to moderate doses, they may cause the following symptoms in some cases:

  • Diarrhea
  • Heartburn
  • Indigestion
  • Abdominal bloating

A fishy aftertaste is a common side effect of fish oil supplements. Taking the supplement before eating may reduce the aftertaste or burps.

In high doses, fish oil can interact with certain medications, including antiplatelet and anticoagulant medications.

Keep in mind that supplements haven't been tested for safety, and due to the fact that dietary supplements are largely unregulated, the content of some products may differ from what is specified on the product label. Also, the safety of supplements in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications has not been established.

A Word From Verywell

If you're considering the use of fish oil supplements, talk with your primary care provider first. Self-treating a condition and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences.

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Article Sources
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  2. National Institutes of Health. Office of Dietary Supplements. Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Updated October 17, 2019.

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