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Who Needs Omega-3s?

Do you? Your baby? Your teen? Your parents?
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WebMD Feature

You’ve likely heard about the many health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. Are you getting enough of them in your diet?

According to experts, probably not. And most people you know -- your spouse, your toddler, and your mom – probably aren’t either.

“Pretty much everybody’s diet is deficient in omega-3s,” says David C. Leopold, MD, director of integrative medical education at the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine in San Diego. “I think that’s why adding them back in seems to have so many health benefits. We’re just balancing out what’s normally” there.

Omega-3s are rapidly becoming an important tool in mainstream medicine. They seem to have health benefits for every age group – from before birth to old age. There’s conclusive evidence that they protect against heart disease and lower triglycerides. There’s also some research showing that they might help with dozens of other conditions, too.

To help you better understand the benefits -- and some of the risks -- of omega-3s, here’s a primer on using omega-3 fatty acids. WebMD has also surveyed the evidence of how omega-3s help four groups of people -- infants, children and teens, young adults, and middle-aged to older adults.

What Are Omega-3s?

Omega-3s are essential fatty acids -- we need them for our bodies to work properly. One of their most important benefits is that they seem to have an anti-inflammatory effect.

“A lot of diseases, like heart disease and arthritis, seem to be related to an inflammatory process,” says Leopold. “Omega-3s can tune down the body’s inflammation, and that may be how they help prevent some of these chronic diseases.”

So how do omega-3s benefit people at different ages? Here’s the rundown on the research. 

Keep in mind that few of these studies are definitive, and larger studies are needed to determine therapeutic benefit.  Also, some studies used food sources of omega-3s, and others used omega-3 supplements.

Always discuss the use of any medication or supplement with your doctor.

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