Omega-3 Fish Oil Supplements: Beneficial, Harmful or Waste of Money?

October 12, 2018   /
omega 3 fish oil supplements

Other potential health benefits

  • Inflammation: In addition to CVD, omega-3 supplements are often considered beneficial for inflammatory diseases. A body of research indicates that the polyunsaturated acids Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) have the potential to downregulate the inflammatory process. Although there is not enough research to recommend specific dosing guidelines, omega-3 supplements do appear to improve the development and severity of symptoms for numerous inflammatory diseases.5,6
    • In people with rheumatoid arthritis, doses ranging from 1-7 g/day have been shown to reduce inflammatory cytokines and eicosanoids, which reduces pain and cartilage destruction. Subjects have reported taking less nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and have less morning stiffness, tender and swollen joints, and joint pain, as well as increased grip strength.6
    • Omega-3 supplements may have benefits for those with asthma, although researchers agree more work needs to be done in this area. Animal studies show benefits for reducing inflammatory mediators that cause symptoms of asthma, regulating lymphocytes that predispose patients to allergenic inflammation, and improving lung function.6 Results in human studies are mixed, however, with inconsistent benefits in adults, but more promising results in children.6
    • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is another area with ongoing research on the benefits of omega-3 supplements. Both animal and human studies have shown that they can reduce inflammation.6 Studies on humans with IBD show that EPA and DHA are incorporated into gut mucosal tissue, and doses ranging from 2.5 to 6 grams/day have resulted in a reduction in inflammation and clinical benefits including lower rate of relapse and less use of corticosteroids.6
  • Brain health: Another area of interest to researchers is brain health, as omega-3 supplements have shown promise as an adjuvant treatment for those suffering from depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and possible benefit for maintaining cognitive function in older adults.7, 8, 9, 10
    • Mocking et al examined data from 13 studies and 1253 subjects with major depressive disorder and determined that supplementing with omega-3 reduces symptoms and is beneficial for this population.7 Those who used omega-3 supplements along with antidepressant medications experienced the greatest benefits.7
    • A study conducted by Bos et al that included boys with and without ADHD found that omega-3 supplements have benefits in both populations.8 Participants with and without ADHD were noted to have improvements in inattention after taking omega-3 supplements.8 Additionally, omega-3 supplements have also been shown to reduce sleep problems and improve quality of sleep in children, which researchers speculate may also contribute to better cognitive function.9
    • Results on the effects of omega-3 for cognitive function and memory are inconsistent, but a study by Külzow et al that included healthy, older adults aged 50 to 75 years found improvements in memory function after taking 2,200 mg/day for 26 weeks versus a placebo.10
  • Eye health: Supplementing with omega-3 may be beneficial for those who wear contacts, work on a computer for long stretches of time, and for older adults with early age-related macular degeneration (AMD).11, 12,13
    • Bhargava et al studied the effects of omega-3 supplementation among participants with dry eyes due to computer work. They found that those who took 600 mg of an omega-3 supplement for 3 months had improvements in dry eye symptoms and tear film stability compared to a placebo.11 Similar results were also found in a study by Bhargava and Kumar on dry eyes due to contacts.12
    • A small study, conducted by Georgiou et al, on 25 patients with AMD found that taking 5g/day of an omega-3 supplement for 6 months improved vision in all eyes.13

Are there any risks?

Omega-3 fish oil supplements are generally safe for healthy individuals to take, in moderate doses of 1-3 g/day. Some people may experience heartburn or dyspepsia when taking the supplement, which might be minimized by taking it with food, freezing the gels, or using an enteric coated product.

Higher doses of omega-3 can potentially inhibit blood coagulation and increase the risk for bleeding and hemorrhagic stroke, so patients who are at risk or bleeding should only use high doses under medical supervision.

There are a few reports that omega-3 supplements may increase the risk of prostate cancer.  A 2013 study by Brasky et al found that men who had higher blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids were at increased risk of prostate cancer.14 Earlier results from a 2011 study that examined data from the Prostate Cancer Prevention Trial also showed a positive association between omega-3 intake and high-grade prostate cancer risk.15

Quality and purity of omega-3 supplements can also be a concern. A recent study by Mason et al examined 3 popular omega-3 supplements found that they had varying levels of omega-3 fatty acids, and high levels (as much as 30 different types) of other types of fats. They also discovered high oxidation levels, which exceeded recommendations by international standards of quality.16

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