Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Benefits
- Blood fat [triglycerides]. According to a number of studies, fish oil supplements can lower elevated triglyceride levels. Having high levels of this blood fat is a risk factor for heart disease. DHA alone has also been shown to lower triglycerides.
- Rheumatoid arthritis. A number of studies have found that fish oil supplements [EPA+DHA] significantly reduced stiffness and joint pain. Omega-3 supplements also seem to boost the effectiveness of anti-inflammatory drugs.
- Depression. Some researchers have found that cultures that eat foods with high levels of omega-3s have lower levels of depression. Fish oil also seems to boost the effects of antidepressants. Fish oil may help reduce the depressive symptoms of bipolar disorder.
- Prenatal health. DHA appears to be important for visual and neurological development in infants. However, studies are inconclusive as to whether supplementing omega-3 during pregnancy or breastfeeding benefits the baby.
- Asthma. Evidence suggests that a diet high in omega 3s reduces inflammation, a key component in asthma. However, more studies are needed to show if fish oil supplements improve lung function or reduce the amount of medication a person needs to control their disease.
- ADHD. Some studies show that fish oil can reduce the symptoms of ADHD in some children and improve their cognitive function. However, more research is needed in this area, and omega-3 supplements as a primary treatment for this disorder are not supported by research.
- Alzheimer's disease and dementia. The evidence is preliminary, but some research suggests that omega-3s may help protect against Alzheimer's disease and dementia. Recent studies have also evaluated whether the omega-3 supplement DHA can slow the decline seen in those 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. However, more research needs to be done.
Past evidence pointed to omega-3 fatty acids reducing risk of heart attacks, strokes and death from heart disease, but recent research has refuted these findings. More specific research is needed to sort this out.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Omega-3s and Omega-6s
You may have heard about the importance of having a healthy balance of omega-3s with another fatty acid, omega-6s. Omega-6s are found in many oils, meats, and processed foods. Some experts believe that most people in the U.S. are eating far too many omega-6s and far too few omega-3 fatty acids. They argue that this imbalance may be causing many chronic diseases. However, other experts disagree. They don't believe the ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s is actually significant. They also argue that the health benefits of omega-6s are being ignored. For now, the full implications aren't clear. But the bottom line is simple. Whether the ratio turns out to matter or not, increasing your intake of omega-3 fatty acids is still a good idea.