Omega-3 fish oil pills are among the most popular of the many dietary supplements on the market today. They can be beneficial for some people, but for many others they are unnecessary.
Omega-3 is the predominant type of fatty acid found in fish and seafood. Your body needs these fatty acids to function properly, and they have many health benefits.
Omega-3 fatty acids have been found to lower risk factors for heart disease. Omega-3s can significantly reduce blood triglycerides, lower blood pressure, reduce risk of blood clots, help prevent plaque formation in the arteries, and can raise “good” HDL cholesterol levels.
Omega-3s can reduce the stiffness and joint pain associated with rheumatoid arthritis.
Depression can often be treated with omega-3s. Worldwide, lower incidences of depression are seen in countries where more omega-3 is consumed. Rates of depression are higher in countries where diets contain very little omega-3.
Eye health and risk of macular degeneration (one of the leading causes of blindness) improve with omega-3 consumption. A type of omega-3 is an important structural component of the retina of the eye.
Omega-3s are necessary to promote a healthy brain and visual development in infants. During pregnancy it is important to consume adequate omega-3, as well as during the first year of infancy. Breast milk naturally contains adequate amounts of omega-3 to nourish an infant.
The best natural source of omega-3 is cold water fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring and sardines. Other fish and seafood also contain omega-3s, but because most fish is low in total fat, the omega-3 content is therefore not as high as in fatty fish.
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends consumption of about eight ounces (or two to three servings) per week of a variety of seafood in order to get enough omega-3.
Some plant foods such as canola oil, flaxseed, chia seeds, walnuts and soybeans are also good sources of omega-3s.
But what about supplements?
Studies are mixed on the effectiveness of omega-3 supplements. Some research suggests that supplements are effective in the treatment of some forms of heart disease. But many believe it is the combination of omega-3 along with other nutrients in fish that may be responsible for the health properties.
Most experts, including the American Heart Association, say that supplementation is unnecessary in those without heart disease or risk factors. However, for those with existing heart disease, supplementation may be beneficial.
If you don’t consume fish or seafood, a daily supplement might be a good idea.
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Dietary supplements are available in several different formulations, including fish oil, krill oil, cod liver oil, and vegetarian supplements containing algal oil.
The usual recommended dosage is 1,000 mg per day. Intake from supplements should not exceed 2,000 mg per day. High triglyceride levels can be effectively treated with higher dosages of about 4,000 mg per day, but should only be taken under the direction and supervision of a physician.
Quality of dietary supplements of omega-3s can vary significantly, as these are not regulated by the FDA. In order to assure a high quality product, look for the USP (United States Pharmacopeia) seal on the product label. USP certification assures quality, purity, and potency.
The bottom line is that omega-3s are vital for health. It’s best to get them from natural sources such as fish and seafood. But if you don’t eat fish, you might want to consider taking a supplement.
Susie Bond is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian/Nutritionist with Health First Pro-Health & Fitness Center. Contact her at susie.bond @health-first.org.