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All About Omega 3

History of Use

The idea of essential fatty acids was brought about in the 1920s when husband-and-wife team George and Mildred Burr discovered that fatty acids were critical to health (Mukohpadhyay, 2012).  It was discovered that some fatty acids are not manufactured by the body but are in fact essential for the bodily functions. Prior to this, fatty acids were simply regarded as calories.

After the introduction of the idea of essential fatty acids, studies have flourished regarding the topic since then. There are basically two types of omega 3 – Alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), which is the plant-sourced, and Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), sourced from fish. ALAs are partially converted as EPAs and DHAs in the body (Sacks).

One study was conducted by a group of Italians probed the effect of polyunsaturated fatty acid omega 3 on patients who survived a recent myocardial infarction. The study concludes that the benefits come in reduced risk of cardiovascular death (GISSI-Prevenzione Investigators, 1999).

Another study was carried out to investigate the effects of omega 3 fatty acids on three facets of depression: childhood major depression, adult recurrent major depression and bipolar depression. In the adult unipolar depression study, highly significant benefits were found by week 3 of EPA treatment compared with placebo. In the childhood major depression study, an analysis of variance showed highly significant effects of omega-3 on each of the three rating scales. In the bipolar depression study, 8 of the 10 patients who completed at least 1 month of follow-up achieved a 50% or greater reduction in Hamilton depression (Ham-D) scores within 1 month (Osher & Belmaker, 2009).

Moderate evidence has been obtained on the benefits of Omega 3. Omega-3 fatty acids are important for a number of bodily functions, including muscle activity, blood clotting, digestion, fertility, rheumatoid arthritis and cell division and growth. DHA is important for infant development, brain development and function. DHA is also beneficial for diseases of the brain and the eye (National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, n.d.).

Omega-3 supplements (primarily fish oil supplements) are also being studied for preventing or treating a variety of other conditions but no conclusions can be drawn about whether omega-3s are helpful for these conditions based on currently available evidence. These conditions being studied include allergies, asthma, cachexia (severe weight loss) associated with advanced cancer, Crohn’s disease, cystic fibrosis, diabetes, kidney disease, lupus, menstrual cramps, obesity, osteoporosis, short bowel syndrome and ulcerative colitis, as well as organ transplantation outcomes (e.g., decreasing the likelihood of rejection). (National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, n.d.).

In 2013, it was published that new research conducted from 2012 questions the proposed cardiovascular benefits of fish oil supplements. The latest setback was a large Italian study, which failed to find any benefits. Critics have raised questions about some of the newer studies, saying that the most salient point may be that in the fact that studies from recent years, far more participants at elevated cardiovascular risk were taking “state-of-the-art” medication, such as statins and blood pressure drugs, compared to early studies. That helps explain the apparent lack of effect of the supplements. Even if omega-3s provide benefits, these would be hard to detect against the backdrop of the much larger benefits of these drugs.  The bottom line is, the proposed cardiovascular benefits of fish oil supplements now seem uncertain and major studies are underway and may help clarify matters. In any case, your best bet is to get your omega-3s from two or three servings of fatty fish a week. The American Heart Association (AHA) continues to advise people with heart disease or high triglycerides to consider taking the supplements, after consulting their doctors. That’s still good advice if you don’t eat fish, especially since some of the other proposed benefits of omega-3s may still pan out (National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, n.d.).



The AHA says taking up to 3 grams of fish oil daily in supplement form is considered safe. Don’t take more than that unless you discuss it with your doctor first (WebMD, LLC, 2015) .

Studies suggest that people who have already had a heart attack may benefit from higher doses of omega-3 supplements (basically, double the 500 mg), so if you do have heart disease, consult your healthcare provider about whether taking a higher dose of omega 3s makes sense for you (Sacks).


Who Should Not Take Omega 3

If you are currently being treated with any of the following medications, you should not use omega-3 fatty acid supplements, including EPA, DHA, ALA, without first talking to your health care provider (Hawkins & Ehrlich, 2013):

  • Blood-thinning medications
  • Blood-sugar lowering medications
  • Cyclosporine
  • Topical steroids
  • Statins
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs

Those with allergic reactions to fish and shellfish should consider plant sources of Omega 3 instead.


How to Get your Omega 3 On

Plant-Based ALA

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 but is not commonly consumed. You can incorporate these healthy oils by switching to canola, olive or other vegetable oil Instead of using butter and cream. Nuts such as cashews, almonds, and walnuts are also rich sources of Omega 3.

Check out our flaxseed oil based Omega 3source.

Fish-Based EPA and DHA

EPA and DHA are found in seafood, including fatty fish (e.g., salmon, tuna, sardines and trout), shellfish (e.g., crab, mussels, and oysters) and krill. Just be mindful of mercury poisoning. High concentrations of mercury have been found in large carnivorous fish such as tuna, sea bass and marlin. Special considerations should be made on large consumption of canned tuna.

You can also choose to supplement with premium fish oil .

Works Cited

GISSI-Prevenzione Investigators. (1999, August). Dietary supplementation with n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and vitamin E after myocardial infarction: results of the GISSI-Prevenzione trial. The Lancet, 354(9177), 447-455. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(99)07072-5

Hawkins, E. B., & Ehrlich, S. D. (2013, May 31). Possible Interactions with: Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Retrieved April 15, 2015, from University of Maryland Medical Center : http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement-interaction/possible-interactions-with-omega3-fatty-acids

Mukohpadhyay, R. (2012, November). The discovery of essential fatty acids. (A. Hopp, Ed.) ASBMB Today, 11(11), 23-25. Retrieved April 14, 2014, from http://www.asbmb.org/uploadedFiles/ASBMBToday/Content/Archive/ASBMBToday-2012-11.pdf

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. (n.d.). National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Retrieved April 15, 2015, from National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health National Institute of Health: https://nccih.nih.gov/health/omega3/introduction.htm

Osher, Y., & Belmaker, R. H. (2009, July). Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Depression: A Review of Three Studies. CNS Neuroscience and Therapeutics, 15(2), 128-133. doi:10.1111/j.1755-5949.2008.00061.x

Sacks, F. D. (n.d.). Ask the Expert: Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Retrieved April 15, 2015, from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/omega-3/

WebMD, LLC. (2015, March 25). Omega-3 Fish Oil Supplements for Heart Disease. Retrieved April 15, 2015, from WebMD Hypertension/High Blood Pressure Health Center: http://www.webmd.com/hypertension-high-blood-pressure/guide/omega-3-fish-oil-supplements-for-high-blood-pressure



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