Is the hype real folks? What’s up with Omega-3 fortified milk? A lack of these nutrients has been linked with high blood pressure, depression, asthma, arthritis, and even more – type 2 diabetes, fatigue, dry/itchy skin, brittle hair and nails, and joint pain. Yikes!
The three principal omega-3 fatty acids are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The main sources of ALA in the U.S. diet are vegetable oils, particularly canola and soybean oils; flaxseed oil is richer in ALA than soybean and canola oils. ALA can be converted, usually in small amounts, into EPA and DHA in the body. EPA and DHA are found in seafood, including fatty fish (e.g., salmon, tuna, and trout) and shellfish (e.g., crab, mussels, and oysters).
Commonly used dietary supplements that contain omega-3s include fish oil (which provides EPA and DHA) and flaxseed oil (which provides ALA). Algae oils are a vegetarian source of DHA.
Omega-3 fatty acids are important for a number of bodily functions, including muscle activity, blood clotting, digestion, fertility, and cell division and growth. DHA is important for brain development and function. ALA is an “essential” fatty acid, meaning that people must obtain it from food or supplements because the human body cannot manufacture it.
If you’re taking supplements or considering them for some other health claims, here is some key information from the NIH National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health:
- There has been a substantial amount of research on supplements of omega-3s, particularly those found in seafood and fish oil, and heart disease. The findings of individual studies have been inconsistent. In 2012, two combined analyses of the results of these studies did not find convincing evidence these omega-3s protect against heart disease.
- A 2012 systematic review concluded that the types of omega-3s found in seafood and fish oil may be modestly helpful in relieving symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. In the studies included in the review, many of the participants reported that when they were taking fish oil they had briefer morning stiffness, less joint swelling and pain, and less need for anti-inflammatory drugs to control their symptoms.
- DHA plays important roles in the functioning of the brain and the eye. Research is being conducted on DHA and other omega-3 fatty acids and diseases of the brain and eye, but there is not enough evidence to draw conclusions about the effectiveness of omega-3s for these conditions.
- Omega-3 supplements (primarily fish oil supplements) also have been studied for preventing or treating a variety of other conditions such as allergies, asthma, cachexia (severe weight loss) associated with advanced cancer, Crohn’s disease, cystic fibrosis, diabetes, kidney disease, lupus, menstrual cramps, obesity, osteoporosis, and ulcerative colitis, as well as organ transplantation outcomes (e.g., decreasing the likelihood of rejection). No conclusions can be drawn about whether omega-3s are helpful for these conditions based on currently available evidence.
In summary, it’s ideal to get essential nutrients from whole foods, the way nature packaged them. If you don’t eat fish, flaxseeds and walnuts are other good sources of omega-3s. Tell all your health care providers about any complementary health approaches you use to ensure safe, coordinated health care.
Feed the wellness in you!