Omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids are considered to be "essential fatty acids", because the body needs them but cannot produce them.
Find out more about omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids
Let's take a look specifically at the omega-3 fatty acids, which have been widely studied for a variety of potential health benefits.1 There are several omega-3 fatty acids—including ALA, EPA, and DHA.2-4 EPA and DHA have been shown to have effects on lipids in the blood,2 ALA appears to have important effects on brain functioning,5 and DHA is important for infant brain development.6 Researchers have focused largely on the so called marine omega-3 fatty acids—EPA and DHA.2,3
Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Lipids
Lipids are a naturally occurring type of fat in your blood. Triglycerides are one of these lipids—they are similar to cholesterol, but they are not the same.
Triglycerides are produced in your intestine and liver, largely from fats that you eat. High triglyceride levels are caused when your body makes more triglycerides than it can process.2
The marine omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA have both been shown to lower levels of triglycerides in the blood.7,8 One important difference between these two fatty acids, however, is that DHA can also cause an increase in LDL-C (often referred to as the "bad cholesterol") in some adults.3,4
ALA, which is the main omega-3 fatty acid in the diet for most people,8 has not been shown to have any significant effects on lipids.2
Getting Enough Omega-3 Fatty Acids
It is important to know that dietary supplements are regulated as a food,9 and not approved by the FDA to treat a diagnosed condition, such as heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol, or very high triglycerides.
To lower triglycerides, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends taking 2-4 grams of marine omega-3 fatty acids per day, under the care of a physician.2 And, for people who have diagnosed medical conditions, such as high levels of triglycerides in their blood, the AHA recommends only the use of FDA-approved medicines, under a doctor's care.8,10 Dietary supplements are not approved to treat cardiovascular or any disease.10 Always consult with your doctor before considering any treatment approach.
Find out about omega-3 fatty acid supplements and prescription products containing EPA alone or EPA+DHA in combination
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids. University of Maryland Medical Center, a member of the University of Maryland Medical System; Baltimore, MD.
http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/omega-3-000316.htm. Accessed February 11, 2013.
- Miller M, Stone NJ, Ballantyne C, et al. Triglycerides and cardiovascular disease: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2011;123(20):2292-2233.
- Jacobson TA, Glickstein SB, Rowe JD, Soni PN. Effects of eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid on low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and other lipids: a review. J Clin Lipidol. 2012;6(1):5-18n.
- Wei MY, Jacobson TA. Effects of eicosapentaenoic acid versus docosahexaenoic acid on serum lipids: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Curr Atheroscler Rep. 2011;13:474-483.
- Bourre JM. Roles of unsaturated fatty acids (especially omega-3 fatty acids) in the brain at various ages and during ageing. J Nutr Health Aging. 2004;8(3):163-174.
- Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids. National Academies Press; Washington, DC. 2005..
- Bays HE, Ballantyne CM, Kastelein JJ, Isaacsohn JL, Braeckman RA, Soni PN. Eicosapentaenoic acid ethyl ester (AMR101) therapy in patients with very high triglyceride levels (from the Multi-center, plAcebo-controlled, Randomized, double-blINd, 12-week study with an open-label Extension [MARINE] trial). Am J Cardiol. 2011;108(5):682-690.
- Kris-Etherton PM, Harris WS, Appel LJ, for the American Heart Association Nutrition Committee. Fish consumption, fish oil, omega-3 fatty acids, and cardiovascular disease. Circulation. 2002;106(21):2747-2757.
- Dietary Supplements – Q&A. US Food and Drug Administration. Accessed March 1, 2013, at http://www.fda.gov/Food/DietarySupplements/QADietarySupplements/ucm191930.htm#
- American College of Physicians. An ACP Special Report: Understanding and Managing Your Triglycerides. Greensboro, NC: The StayWell Company; 2007.
For informative use only and not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice. Those seeking medical advice should consult a physician.