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Who Needs Omega-3s?

Do you? Your baby? Your teen? Your parents?

Omega-3s for Young Adults

As an age group, young adults tend to be pretty healthy. But it’s a good time to start thinking ahead and considering your health in the long-term. So how can omega-3s help?

  • Cardiovascular health. Studies have found that people who eat fatty fish twice a week have lower rates of heart disease. One study found that fish oil – in foods or supplements – cut the risk of death from cardiovascular disease by 32%. People with documented heart disease are advised to get about 1 gram of omega-3s from fish oil per day or to consider EPA plus DHA supplements.
  • Cancer. So far, the evidence is not very strong. But a number of studies have noted that people who take in higher amounts of omega-3s seem to have lower levels of certain cancers. These include cancers of the breast, prostate, colon, ovaries, esophagus, and others. Are the omega-3s really responsible? It’s impossible to say. But the evidence is promising and more research needs to be done.
  • Depression and other psychiatric conditions. There’s some fairly good evidence that omega-3s can play a role in brain chemistry and a number of studies have found some benefits. Several studies have found that blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids are lower in those who suffer from depression .

“We have studies showing that countries that have healthier diets -- with more vegetables and fish -- tend to have a lower incidence of depression than western countries,” says Ronald Glick, MD, medical director of the Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

At least a few studies have found that adding omega-3s supplements is beneficial for those suffering from depression. For instance, fish oil does seem to boost the effectiveness of some antidepressants. There’s also some early evidence that omega-3s might help with schizophrenia and the depressive symptoms of bipolar disorder. There’s some conflicting evidence that omega-3s may help with other conditions -- ranging from skin conditions to painful menstruation to Crohn’s disease. More evidence is needed to determine whether omega-3 supplements benefit people with inflammatory bowel disease.

Omega-3s for Middle-aged and Older Adults

As you get older, the risks of serious conditions like heart disease grow. The good news is that omega-3s have their best established benefits in people of this age group.

  • Heart health. “Omega-3s have enormous benefits from a cardiovascular standpoint,” says Erminia M. Guarneri, MD, a cardiologist and medical director of the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine. Not only do they help prevent problems in healthy people, they also cut the risk of complications and death in people who already have heart disease. Omega-3s seem to help keep the heart rhythm steady. One study found that people who had already had a heart attack and took fish oil had a 45% decrease in the risk of heart-related death. Fish and fish oil also seem to slow down arteriosclerosis and lower the risk of strokes.
  • Triglycerides. The omega-3s -- DHA and EPA -- can slash triglyceride levels by 20% to 50%. The effect seems to depend on the amount, so your doctor might recommend fairly high doses. The effects of omega-3s on other types of cholesterol are less clear.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis. While the evidence isn’t conclusive, a number of studies have found that fish oil can reduce rheumatoid arthritis symptoms, like morning stiffness and pain. High doses – of 3 to 4 grams -- may be necessary. No one should be on such a large dose without the supervision of a doctor.
  • Osteoporosis. Studies have found that people who eat higher levels of fatty fish than average have greater bone density in the hip. One study found that fish oil – in combination with calcium and primrose oil – increased bone density in older people with osteoporosis.
  • Memory, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease. Several studies have found that diets high in fatty fish may help prevent memory loss and lower the risk of dementia in older people. However, other studies have not found a benefit. Recent studies have also evaluated whether the omega-3 supplement DHA can slow the decline seen in people with Alzheimer's dementia or in age-associated memory impairment. One recent study showed that DHA can be a beneficial supplement and may have a positive effect on gradual memory loss associated with aging.

 

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