Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Introduction

In the late 1970s, scientists learned that the native Inuits in Greenland, who consumed a diet very high in omega-3 fatty acids, had surprisingly low rates of heart attacks. Since that time thousands of scientific studies have evaluated the multiple ways that omega-3 fatty acids promotes not only cardiovascular health, but also the healthy functioning of many other biological activities. Many Americans don't get enough of it in their diets. One reason is that omega-3 oils are very susceptible to spoilage and so many food manufacturers remove it to keep products fresh. Another reason is that omega-3 oils mostly come from cold water fish and wild game— something most Americans don't eat in great quantities.

Flaxseed oil is another good source of omega-3. Other sources include chia, rapeseed, soybeans, alfalfa, and walnuts. In most cases, however, people are not able to consume adequate amounts of omega-3 from dietary sources and physicians often recommend supplementation.

Omega-3 refers to a group or "family" of unsaturated fatty acids. The first fatty acid in this group is named alpha linolenic acid or just linolenic acid, and sometimes it is just called omega-3. Linolenic acid cannot be made in the body and therefore, it is classified as an essential fatty acid and must be obtained from either the diet or in supplement form. The other two fatty acids in the omega-3 family are named eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The body can manufacture EPA and DHA by conversions from linolenic acid.

Dosage Info

Dosage Range

Alpha linolenic acid (omega-3): 1-2 tablespoonsful daily.

Fish oils (EPA and DHA): 500-2,000mg daily.

Most Common Dosage

Alpha linolenic acid (omega-3): 1 tablespoonful daily.

Fish oils (EPA and DHA): 1.2 grams of EPA and DHA or 3-4 grams of fish oil.

Dosage Forms

Alpha linolenic acid (omega-3): oil in gelatin capsules and in oil such as flaxseed oil; EPA and DHA: fish oils in gelatin capsules.

Interactions and Depletions

Interactions

Reported Uses

Omega-3 fatty acids are one of the primary structural components in cell walls and membranes throughout the body. They are also instrumental in regulating inflammation, blood pressure and thickness, hormone production, and the activities of the immune and central nervous systems. Omega-3 fatty acids are important for infants (and a developing fetus) for proper development of the brain and retina of the eyes.

There are many clinical applications for omega-3. Studies suggest that Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) may be linked to omega-3 deficiency. (1) Deficiencies have also been found in people who have allergies, asthma, and skin disorders like eczema and psoriasis. (2) , (3) , (4) , (5)

Omega-3 may also be a preventative measure for many major illnesses. Researchers think omega-3 can help prevent breast, prostate, and colon cancers. (6) , (7) ,, (8) Postoperative cancer patients supplemented with omega-3 experienced improved liver and pancreas function. (9) New preliminary research shows that omega 3 could be beneficial for cystic fibrosis, type 2 diabetes, and inflammatory bowel disease. (10) , (11) , (12)

Omega-3 fatty acids can support cardiovascular health by lowering blood pressure, relaxing blood vessels and lowering cholesterol levels. (13) , (14) , (15) , (16) , (17) Dietary intake of omega-3 fatty acids reduced inflammation and endothelial activation, which may help prevent cardiovascular disease. (18) Taking 3 to 5 grams of omega-3 fatty acids per day can decrease elevated serum triglycerides as much as 50%. (19) Results of a recent study in Italy reported that patients taking 850 milligrams per day of omega-3 fatty acids had a lower rate of death related to heart conditions than those who were not taking the fatty acid. (20)

Omega-3 may also decrease inflammation (21) and reduce pain for sufferers of rheumatoid arthritis. (22) , (23) Deficiencies of omega-3 in the United States as well as other countries may also be linked to depression. (24) , (25) Omega 3 has also shown possible beneficial effects for other mental disorders as well. (26) , (27)

Toxicities & Precautions

Introduction

Be sure to tell your pharmacist, doctor, or other health care providers about any dietary supplements you are taking. There may be a potential for interactions or side effects.

General

This dietary supplement is considered safe when used in accordance with proper dosing guidelines.

Omega-3 fatty acids are extremely susceptible to damage from free radicals. It is recommended that the antioxidants vitamin E, vitamin C and selenium be taken in concert with omega-3s. (28) , (29)

Care should be taken to minimize exposure of omega-3 fatty acids to heat, light, and oxygen. If flaxseed oil is used, refrigerate it to prevent it from becoming rancid.

Pregnancy / Breast Feeding

To date, the medical literature has not reported any adverse effects related to fetal development during pregnancy or to infants who are breast-fed. Yet little is known about the use of this dietary supplement while pregnant or breast-feeding. Therefore, it is recommended that you inform your healthcare practitioner of any dietary supplements you are using while pregnant or breast-feeding.

Age Limitations

To date, the medical literature has not reported any adverse effects specifically related to the use of this dietary supplement in children. Since young children may have undiagnosed allergies or medical conditions, this dietary supplement should not be used in children under 10 years of age unless recommended by a physician.

References

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  2. View Abstract: Galland L. Increased Requirements for Essential Fatty Acids in Atopic Individuals: A Review with Clinical Descriptions. J Am Coll Nutr. 1986;5(2):213-28.
  3. View Abstract: Masuev KA. The Effect of Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids of the Omega-3 Class on the Late Phase of the Allergic Reaction in Bronchial Asthma Patients. Ter Arkh. 1997;69(3):31-33.
  4. View Abstract: Isseroff RR. Fish Again for Dinner! The Role of Fish and other Dietary Oils in the Therapy of Skin Disease. J Am Acad Dermatol. Dec1988;19(6):1073-80.
  5. View Abstract: Oddy WH, de Klerk NH, Kendall GE, Mihrshahi S, Peat JK. Ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids and childhood asthma. J Asthma. 2004;41(3):319-26.
  6. View Abstract: Bagga D, et al. Dietary Modulation of Omega-3/Omega-6 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid Ratios in Patients with Breast Cancer. J Natl Cancer Inst. Aug1997;89(15):1123-31.
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  9. View Abstract: Heller AR, Rossel T, Gottschlich B, et al. Omega-3 fatty acids improve liver and pancreas function in postoperative cancer patients. Int J Cancer. Sep2004;111(4):611-6.
  10. View Abstract: De Vizia B. Effect of an 8-month treatment with omega-3 fatty acids (eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic) in patients with cystic fibrosis. J Parenter Enteral Nutr. 2003 Jan-Feb;27(1):52-7.
  11. View Abstract: Jain S. Effects of low-dose omega-3 fatty acid substitution in type-2 diabetes mellitus with special reference to oxidative stress--a prospective preliminary study. J Assoc Physicians India. 2002 Aug;50:1028-33.
  12. Belluzzi A. N-3 fatty acids for the treatment of inflammatory bowel diseases. Proc Nutr Soc. 2002 Aug;61(3):391-5.
  13. View Abstract: Kinsella JE, et al. Dietary n-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids and Amelioration of Cardiovascular Disease: Possible Mechanisms. Am J Clin Nutr. Jul1990;52(1):1-28.
  14. View Abstract: Garg ML, et al. Alpha-linolenic Acid and Metabolism of Cholesterol and Long-chain Fatty Acids. Nutrition. Jun1992;8(3):208-10.
  15. View Abstract: Knapp HR, et al. The Antihypertensive Effects of Fish Oil. A Controlled Study of Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid Supplements in Essential Hypertension. N Engl J Med. Apr1989;320(16):1037-43.
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  18. View Abstract: Lopez-Garcia E, Schulze MB, Manson JE, et al. Consumption of (n-3) fatty acids is related to plasma biomarkers of inflammation and endothelial activation in women. J Nutr. Jul2004;134(7):1806-11.
  19. View Abstract: O'Keefe JH, Harris WS. From Inuit to implementation: omega-3 fatty acids come of age. Mayo Clin Proc. Jun2000;75(6):607-14.
  20. View Abstract: O'Keefe JH, Harris WS. From Inuit to implementation: omega-3 fatty acids come of age. Mayo Clin Proc. Jun2000;75(6):607-14.
  21. View Abstract: Calder PC. Dietary modification of inflammation with lipids. Proc Nutr Soc. 2002 Aug;61(3):345-58.
  22. View Abstract: Geusens P, et al. Long-term Effect of Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplementation in Active Rheumatoid Arthritis. A 12-month, Double-blind, Controlled Study. Arthritis Rheum. Jun1994;37(6):824-29.
  23. View Abstract: Cleland LG, Proudman SM, Hall C, et al. A biomarker of n-3 compliance in patients taking fish oil for rheumatoid arthritis. Lipids. Apr2003;38(4):419-24.
  24. View Abstract: Hibbeln JR, et al. Dietary polyunsaturated fatty acids and depression: when cholesterol does not satisfy. Am j Clin Nutr. Jul1995;62(1):1-9.
  25. View Abstract: Tiemeier H, van Tuijl HR, Hofman A, Kiliaan AJ, Breteler MM. Plasma fatty acid composition and depression are associated in the elderly: the Rotterdam Study. Am J Clin Nutr. Jul2003;78(1):40-6.
  26. View Abstract: Emsley R. Randomized, placebo-controlled study of ethyl-eicosapentaenoic acid as supplemental treatment in schizophrenia. Am J Psychiatry. 2002 Sep;159(9):1596-8.
  27. View Abstract: Zanarini MC. omega-3 Fatty acid treatment of women with borderline personality disorder: a double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot study. Am J Psychiatry. 2003 Jan;160(1):167-9.
  28. View Abstract: Holm T, et al. Omega-3 fatty acids enhance tumor necrosis factor-alpha levels in heart transplant recipients. Transplantation. Aug2001;72(4):706-11.
  29. View Abstract: Yam D, Peled A, Shinitzky M. Suppression of tumor growth and metastasis by dietary fish oil combined with vitamins E and C and cisplatin. Cancer Chemother Pharmacol. 2001;47(1):34-40.