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Omega-3 Fish Oil Supplements and Prescriptions

Your doctor may have suggested that you eat salmon or other fatty fish at least twice a week. The reason for this recommendation is that fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids. These are healthy fats that have been promoted for a variety of heart, brain, and other health benefits.

Your body can't make omega-3 fatty acids. So you need to get them from your diet. The ideal sources are from foods like:

  • Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, and tuna
  • Flaxseeds
  • Nuts

Even though food should be your main source of omega-3 fatty acids, most Americans don't get enough of this nutrient from diet alone.

If that's the case with you, your first step should be to eat more fish and other omega-3 foods. Besides providing omega-3s, these foods have other health benefits, including:

  • Proteins
  • Vitamins
  • Minerals

But if you can't or don't want to change your diet, then supplements you can buy without a prescription may help you make up the omega-3s you're missing. Omega-3 supplements come in different doses.

Omega-3 fatty acids also come in higher-dose prescription capsules. In addition to diet, exercise, and weight loss if needed, your doctor might prescribe them if your levels of triglycerides -- a type of fat in the blood -- are over 500 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL).

Omega-3s may help lower your risk for heart disease. Lowering very high triglycerides can also lessen your risk of pancreas inflammation, called pancreatitis.

Types of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

There are three main types of omega-3 fatty acids:

EPA. This type of omega-3 is found primarily in:

  • Fish
  • Fortified foods, such as some brands of eggs and orange juice
  • Fish oil supplements you can buy without a prescription
  • Prescription fish oil

EPA helps lessen inflammation in the body.

DHA. This type is found in:

  • Fish
  • Fortified foods, such as some brands of eggs and orange juice
  • Fish oil supplements you can buy without a prescription
  • Prescription fish oil
  • Algae supplements

DHA is essential for brain health and function.

ALA. This is contained in walnuts. It's also found in vegetable oils such as:

  • Canola oil
  • Soybean oil
  • Flaxseed oil

The body converts ALA to its more active forms -- EPA and DHA -- but only in small amounts.

Non-Prescription Omega-3s and Your Health

Omega-3 supplements can help make up for a lack of omega-3 fatty acids in your diet. 

But when it comes to preventing or treating disease, many studies have not found much benefit in taking low daily doses of omega-3 supplements.

However, if you have heart disease, the American Heart Association recommends higher amounts of omega-3s that may be hard to get from diet alone. So, ask your doctor if supplements or prescriptions are right for you.

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