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Omega 3 Fatty Acids - Supplements

The omega-3 fatty acids play an important role in keeping the heart, kidneys, and digestive system healthy. The body needs omega-3 fatty acids to make prostaglandins that regulate blood clotting, hormone production, and inflammation, pain, and swelling in the body.

There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids; docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are found in fish oil, and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is found in plant foods such as nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils (especially flaxseed oil).

Many studies have conclusively shown that getting enough DHA and EPA through diet or supplementation protects against cardiovascular disease by lowering the levels of triglycerides (fats) in the blood, while raising levels of HDL (good) cholesterol. Omega-3 fatty acids can help prevent the buildup of cholesterol that can clog the arteries and lead to heart attack and stroke. It also helps keep blood platelets from becoming sticky and clumping together to form blood clots.

Fish-oil supplements have been shown to help prevent sudden death as a result of dangerous abnormal heart rhythms, and strokes in people with known cardiovascular disease. In 1989, the Diet and Reinfarction Trial (DART) found that men who had already had a heart attack had a 29 percent less chance of having a second heart attack when they ate a diet high in omega-3 acids. In 2003, the American Heart Association recommended that people with heart disease take approximately 1 gram of EPA plus DHA (combined) each day. This may be obtained from eating fish or from taking fish oil capsule supplements. However, because of the risk of increased bleeding associated with the use of omega-3 fatty acids (particularly at doses greater than 3 grams daily), a physician should be consulted for proper dosage before treatment with these supplements is started. Many patients with heart conditions have already been prescribed blood thinners, and omega-3 can increase the effects of these medications.

Omega-3 supplements may also help ease the pain caused by rheumatoid arthritis. Studies have shown that symptoms such as morning stiffness and joint tenderness decrease after 3 months of regular fish oil supplement intake. Omega-3 was also reported to enhance the benefits of anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen and aspirin.

Fish oil may also help fight cancer by slowing tumor growth. One study showed that eating just two servings of fish each week may lessen your chance of developing colorectal cancer and cancers of the digestive tract by 50 percent. Fish oil supplements have also been used to treat asthma, bipolar disorder, cancer, depression, dysmenorrhea (painful menstruation), eczema, lupus, psoriasis, schizophrenia, stroke, colitis, and for prevention of organ transplant and skin graft rejection.

There is no Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for omega-3 fatty acids, but you should try to get one gram a day. Nutritionists generally recommend eating cold-water fish 2 to 3 times a week; the oilier the fish, the more omega-3 it has. Cod, tuna, salmon, halibut, shark, and mackerel, herring, bluefish, shrimp, flounder, and swordfish all provide good amounts of these acids. It’s best to steam, bake, or broil your fish, since frying destroys the oils.

Recently some species of fish were shown to be more likely to be contaminated with toxins, such as methylmercury. If you have safety concerns about eating a lot of fish, you may want to opt for fish oil supplements, which have been shown to have the same benefits as eating a lot of fish. The only drawback to taking the supplements is that they can actually give your body a fishy smell over time, and cause bad breath, smelly gas, or diarrhea in some people. You can avoid this by spreading out the dosage or buying supplements that are enteric coated (slow release). Taking 200 IU of vitamin E with the fish oil will keep it from oxidizing in the body, although vitamin E is already added to most fish oil supplements.

If you don’t like the side effects of fish oil you can get your omega-3 from flaxseed oil, sometimes called linseed oil. Enzymes in your body convert the linolenic acid in the flaxseed oil into EPA and DHA—the fatty acids that are best for your heart. Although some studies indicate that EPA and DHA derived from flaxseed oil instead of fish oil may not be as effective in preventing cardiovascular disease, women could actually reap even greater benefits from flaxseed oil supplements. Studies have indicated that substances called lignans in flaxseed oil may help prevent breast cancer.

Fish liver oil contains the fat-soluble vitamins A and D, so keep this in mind if you are taking other supplements to avoid vitamin A or D toxicity.

There are some people who should consult a physician before supplementing with omega-3 oils. Diabetics should definitely take these supplements with caution, as they could raise blood sugar and lower insulin production. Also, because omega-3 fatty acids discourage clotting, taking more than 3 grams a day could cause excessive bleeding in case of trauma or surgery, or anemia in women who menstruate. Although studies have shown that regular use of fish oil supplements doesn’t thin your blood any more than taking an aspirin a day, those taking blood thinners, antiplatelet drugs, or regularly using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and naproxen, should consult a physician before taking omega-3 supplements. Omega-3 could increase the blood-thinning effects of these medications. Omega-3 may also increase the effects of medications used to lower blood pressure, blood sugar, and triglyceride levels (niacin or nicotinic acid), but can actually decrease the effectiveness of drugs used to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. People taking drugs to lower their cholesterol may still be able to take omega-3 supplements, though, provided they combine fish oil with garlic supplements—combining these two supplements seems to lower levels of both triglycerides and LDL cholesterol.

People that are allergic to fish should not take it or skin rash, or allergy to nuts, large doses of 3 grams or greater may increase risk of bleeding, nosebleed, and blood in the urine.

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