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Health Tips July 13, 2022

What You Need To Know About Omega-3s

Medically Reviewed by Pharm Chioma and Pharm Ose

Written by Adaobi Oduenyi

Omega-3 fatty acids are a group of polyunsaturated fatty acids that are important for a number of functions in the body. The omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA are found in seafood, such as fatty fish (e.g., salmon, Titus, Tuna, mackerel and sardines) and shellfish (e.g., crab, Lobster and oysters). 

Another kind of omega-3, called ALA, is found in other foods, including some vegetable oils (e.g., canola and soy). Omega-3s are also available as dietary supplements; for example, fish oil supplements contain EPA and DHA, and flaxseed oil supplements contain ALA. 

Are Omega-3 fatty acids bad fat?

Not all fats are unhealthy. Omega-3 fatty acids are one of the "good" types of fat. They can help lower the risk of heart disease, depression, dementia, and arthritis. Your body can't make them. You have to eat them or take supplements.

What are the 3 Types of Omega-3s

Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, which are called DHA and EPA, seem to have the strongest health benefits. 

Another form known as ALA is found in vegetable oils, flaxseed, walnuts, and dark leafy vegetables such as spinach.

 The body can change a small amount of ALA into EPA and DHA, but not very well.

Benefits of  Omega-3s

 Fight Disease

Omega-3 fatty acids can help your heart in several ways. They curb inflammation in the blood vessels (and the rest of your body). At high doses, they also make abnormal heart rhythms less likely and lower your level of blood fats called triglycerides. Finally, they can slow plaque buildup inside the blood vessels.

They can help you if you have Heart Disease

The American Heart Association recommends 1 gram a day of EPA plus DHA for people with heart disease. Eating oily fish is best, but your doctor might recommend a fish oil capsule. If you've had a heart attack, a prescription dose of omega-3s may help protect your heart. Some studies show fewer heart attacks and fewer heart disease deaths among heart attack survivors who boosted their levels of omega-3s.

Helping Your Heart's Rhythm

They can lower heart rate and help prevent arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythms). Several common sources of omega-3s are fish, walnuts, broccoli, and green soybeans.

Lowering High Blood Pressure

Omega-3s can help lower blood pressure a bit. One plan is to replace red meat with fish during some meals. Avoid salty fish, such as smoked salmon. If you have high blood pressure, limiting salt is probably one of the things your doctor has recommended.

Can They Help Prevent Stroke?

Omega-3 foods and supplements curb plaque buildup inside blood vessels, helping with blood flow. So they may help prevent stroke caused by clots or a blocked artery.

 But at high doses, omega-3 supplements might make a bleeding-related stroke more likely, so check with your doctor.

Can they help with Rheumatoid Arthritis?

A 2012 review of the scientific literature concluded that EPA and DHA, 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.

Omega-3 and Fetal Growth

The nutritional value of seafood is of particular importance during fetal growth and development, as well as in early infancy and childhood. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should consume 8 to 12 ounces of seafood per week from a variety of seafood types that are low in methyl mercury as part of a healthy eating pattern while staying within their calorie needs. 

Pregnant or breastfeeding women should limit the amount of white tuna to no more than 6 ounces per week. They should not eat tilefish, shark, swordfish, and king mackerel because they are high in methyl mercury.

Depression and Brain Benefits?

Some studies have shown that depression is rarer in countries where people eat a lot of omega-3s. But omega-3s aren't a treatment for depression. If you're depressed, talk with your doctor about what might help you feel better.

Research on Dementia

There's some evidence that omega-3s may help protect against dementia and age-related mental decline. In one study, older people with a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids were less likely to get Alzheimer's disease. More research is needed to confirm the link.

Omega-3 and Children

Be wary of promises that omega-3s have "brain-boosting" powers for children. The Federal Trade Commission asked supplement companies to stop that claim unless they can prove it scientifically. The American Academy of Pediatrics does recommend that kids eat fish, but it cautions against types that are high in mercury, such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish.

Omega-3s and Eye Health

DHA, a type of omega-3, is a major structural component of the retina of your eye. When you do not get enough DHA, vision problems may arise.

Getting enough omega-3 is linked to a reduced risk of macular degeneration, one of the leading causes of permanent eye damage and blindness.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids May Improve Sleep

Studies tie sleep deprivation to many diseases, including obesity, diabetes and depression.

Low levels of omega-3 fatty acids are associated with sleep problems in children and obstructive sleep apnea in adults.

Low levels of DHA are also linked to lower levels of the hormone melatonin, which helps you fall asleep. Studies in both children and adults reveal that supplementing with omega-3 increases the length and quality of sleep.

“Omega-3s are a family of essential fatty acids that play important roles in your body and may provide a number of health benefits“

How to get an Omega- 3 Boost

The  Food and Drug Administration (FDA)  encourages people to eat fish, and for most people, mercury in fish is not a health concern. But the FDA has this advice for young children and for women who plan on becoming pregnant, are pregnant, or are nursing:

  • Eat 8-12 ounces of fish per week (which is equal to 2 or 3 servings a week). Provide kids with age-appropriate portion sizes. 

  • Choose fish lower in mercury, such as salmon, shrimp, tuna (light canned), tilapia and catfish.

  • Limit fish to 6 ounces for women and 1-3 ounces for children and do not eat fish for the rest of the week.

Take an Omega-3 Supplement

If you do not like fish, you can get omega-3s from supplements. One gram per day is recommended for people with heart disease, but ask your doctor before starting. 

High doses can interfere with some medicines or increase the risk of bleeding. You may notice a fishy taste and fish burps with some supplements. 

Always read the label on the supplement to find the right amounts of EPA, DHA, or ALA you want, you can also reach out to a pharmacist for free to know more about the best supplement that is right for you.

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Vegetarian Sources of Omega-3s

If you don't eat fish or fish oil, you can talk to a healthcare professional about the best Omega-3 supplement for you, vegetarians can also get the ALA version of omega-3 from foods such as canola oil, flaxseed, walnuts, broccoli, and spinach.

Does Omega-3 have any side effects?

Side effects from omega-3 fish oil may include:

  • A fishy taste in your mouth

  • Fishy breath

  • Stomach upset

  • Loose stools

  • Nausea

  • Taking more than 3 grams of fish oil daily may increase the risk of bleeding.

If you are considering omega-3 supplements, talk to your health care provider. It is especially important to consult your (for your child) health care provider if you are pregnant or breastfeeding if you take medicine that affects blood clotting, if you are allergic to seafood, or if you are considering giving a child an omega-3 supplement.

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