Omega-3 Fatty Acids


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


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


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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.


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