November 8, 2013

7 Things You Should Know About Omega-3

Posted in: Health and Nutrition

by Ellen Troyer, MT MA, with Spencer Thornton, MD

1.  Results of studies on diets rich in seafood (fish and shellfish) and heart disease provide moderate evidence that people who eat seafood at least once a week are less likely to die of heart disease than those who rarely or never eat seafood.

2.  Published studies suggest that seafood rich in EPA and DHA should be included in a heart-healthy diet; however, supplements of EPA and DHA have not been shown to protect against heart disease.

In 2012, two groups of scientists analyzed the research on the effects of EPA/DHA supplements on heart disease risk. One group analyzed only studies in people with a history of heart disease, and the other group analyzed studies in people both with and without a history of heart disease. Neither review found strong evidence of a protective effect of the supplements.

3.  A 2012 review of the scientific literature concluded that EPA and DHA, the types of omega-3s found in seafood and fish oil, may be modestly helpful in relieving symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. In the studies included in the review, many of the participants reported that when they were taking fish oil they had briefer morning stiffness, less joint swelling and pain, and less need for anti-inflammatory drugs to control their symptoms.

4.  The nutritional value of seafood is of particular importance during fetal growth and development, as well as in early infancy and childhood. Women who are pregnant or breastfeed should consume 8 to 12 ounces of seafood per week from a variety of seafood types that are low in methyl mercury as part of a healthy eating pattern and while staying within their calorie needs. Pregnant or breastfeeding women should limit the amount of white tuna (labeled as “albacore”) to no more than 6 ounces per week. They should not eat tilefish, shark, swordfish, and king mackerel because they are high in methyl mercury.

5.  There is ongoing research on omega-3 fatty acids and diseases of the brain and eye, but there is not enough evidence to draw conclusions about the effectiveness of omega-3s for these conditions. DHA plays important roles in the functioning of the brain and the eye. Researchers are actively investigating the possible benefits of DHA and other omega-3 fatty acids in preventing or treating a variety of brain- and eye-related conditions.

6.  There is conflicting evidence about whether a link might exist between the omega-3 fatty acids found in seafood and fish oil (EPA/DHA) and an increased risk of prostate cancer. Additional research on the association of omega-3 consumption and prostate cancer risk is under way.

7.  The bottom line: Including seafood in your diet is healthful. Whether omega-3 supplements are beneficial is still uncertain. If you are considering omega-3 supplements, talk to your health care provider. It’s especially important to consult your (or your child’s) health care provider if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, if you take medicine that affects blood clotting, if you are allergic to seafood, or if you are considering giving a child an omega-3 supplement.

8.  A Reminder: Daily fish oil intake of twice the 3,500 mg per week of EPA / DHA from fish recommended by the American Heart Association did notproduce statistically significant results in the AREDS2 study.

So, given growing research suggesting that large intake of fish oil may not be the be-all-end-all we have been told it is, and given the fact that the bounty beneath the sapphire surface has limits, isn’t it time to think a bit more carefully about popping excessive fish oil capsules ourselves, or recommending high dose fish oil to patients in an attempt to treat dry eyes or off-set questionable lifestyle choices, including nutrient-empty junk food diets?

These 7 tips are from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services – National Institute of Health – National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) web site.

References for this article are listed here.

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