Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Fact Sheet
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.
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.