Several different health benefits are associated with omega-3. Advantages for the heart and vascular system are well known; omega-3 can help lower cholesterol and triglycerides, reduce the risk of heart disease, and decrease blood pressure. Other possible benefits of omega-3 include fetal brain and eye development, weight loss, and depression treatment.
Omega-3 fatty acids seem to provide a wide variety of health benefits. Because the typical American diet is low in omega-3, many people turn to supplements. It is generally assumed that while obtaining omega-3 fatty acids through the diet is best, supplementation will also provide benefits.
Unlike most supplements, omega-3 fatty acids, usually in the form of fish oil, have been extensively studied for a variety of uses. In fact, it seems like researchers have studied omega-3 fatty acids for just about everything (sometimes successfully, sometimes not). This article will focus on just a few of these uses, including:
- Cardiovascular disease (including cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure, heart attacks, and strokes)
- Pregnancy and childhood development
- Weight loss
- Mental health
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Various age-related conditions.
Three different kinds of omega-3 fatty acids are important in human nutrition, including:
Omega-3 benefits for the heart and vascular system are well known. Fish oil, which contains DHA and EPA, can help lower high triglycerides (known medically as hypertriglyceridemia). Flaxseed, which contains ALA, may help lower LDL ("bad" cholesterol), although this effect may be due to fiber or other components of flaxseed, not ALA. Research suggests that ALA, DHA, and EPA can reduce the risk of heart disease, including both fatal and non-fatal heart attacks. In addition, taking fish oil after an angioplasty procedure or bypass surgery might help keep the blood vessels from closing back up.
Fish oil with DHA and EPA tends to modestly lower blood pressure, a beneficial attribute, since high blood pressure (hypertension) is a major risk factor for heart disease. Some researchers think that omega-3 fatty acids may also help treat certain irregular heart rhythms (arrhythmias), but the evidence at this point is inconclusive.
The American Heart Association (AHA) suggests that people with heart disease consider an omega-3 fatty acid supplement with DHA and EPA (such as fish oil), although dietary intake through actual fish is preferred. It also recommends that people who need to lower their triglycerides take supplements with DHA and EPA, since it is unlikely that most people can eat enough fish to lower their triglycerides. In both of these situations, the AHA recommends that you take the supplements only under the supervision of your healthcare provider.