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Can you get omega-3 fatty acids naturally from foods?

Good food sources of omega-3 fatty acids include:

  • Coldwater fish, like mackerel, tuna, salmon, and sardines
  • Cod liver
  • Flaxseed and canola oils
  • Soybeans and tofu
  • Walnuts

The AHA recommends that people eat cold-water fish at least twice a week to increase their intake of omega-3 fatty acids.

Eating fewer foods with omega-6 fatty acids -- like some meats, eggs, and oils -- can also improve the ratio of omega-3 fatty acids in the blood, effectively raising the concentration or levels in the body. Many people in the U.S. eat diets that have 10-25 times as many omega-6 fatty acids as they do omega-3 fatty acids. This imbalance may play a role in the onset of many diseases. The more appropriate ratio appears to be approximately 2:1 or 4:1.

What are the risks of taking omega-3 fatty acids?

  • Side effects. Omega-3 fatty acid supplements might cause upset stomach or diarrhea. These side effects are worse at higher doses.
  • Interactions. If you take blood thinners, anti-platelet drugs, or anti-inflammatory painkillers (like Advil or Motrin), talk to your health care provider about using omega-3 fatty acids. The combination may increase the risk of bleeding. The same risks may apply to people taking supplements like ginkgo biloba.
  • Risks. People who are pregnant, have diabetes, a high risk of bleeding (particularly those on " blood thinners"), or high LDL cholesterol should check with their health care provider before taking omega-3 fatty acid supplements. At very high doses, they could increase the risk of hemorrhagic stroke. Eating fish is generally the best way to get omega-3 fatty acids. But keep in mind that some fish contain higher levels of mercury: king mackerel, swordfish, and albacore tuna. The benefits of eating fish are thought to outweigh the risks, but it's a good idea to limit intake of these high-mercury fish.

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