Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Benefits and Risks


Omega-3 fatty acids are found in foods and dietary supplements. They help the membranes that surround all cells in the body work well.

There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids:

  • Alpha Linolenic Acid (ALA)
  • Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
  • Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)

ALA is found primarily in vegetable oils such as chia seeds, flax seeds, and walnuts. DHA and EPA are mainly found in fatty cold water fish like mackerel, salmon, herring, and sardines.

A person’s body can convert small amounts of ALA into DHA and EPA. According to the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS), most people in the United States get enough ALA in their diet. Experts have yet to determine how much DHA and EPA a person needs.

In addition to the basic maintenance of cells in a person’s body, initial research has linked omega-3s to various other health benefits.

However, much of the research to support these relationships is at an early stage or based on animal studies.

Until scientists conduct further research, it is generally not clear to what extent omega-3 fatty acids benefit a person beyond the basic maintenance of body cells.

The ODS notes that studies have found that people who eat fish, which is a major source of omega-3 fatty acids, are typically at lower risk of various long-term illnesses compared to people who don’t eat fish.

However, it’s not clear if this is due to the omega-3 fatty acids the fish contains or something else. If it’s because of the omega-3s that fish contain, it’s not clear whether a person taking omega-3 supplements will get the same benefits.

Can reduce inflammation

According to an article in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, research has shown that DHA and EPA reduce the inflammatory process associated with various cardiovascular diseases.

While these effects were evident in animal studies, clinical studies in humans have been less conclusive.

People with rheumatoid arthritis seemed to benefit from taking fish oil supplements, but there was no clear benefit for people with inflammatory bowel disease or asthma.

May reduce the likelihood of a heart attack

According to the ODS, there is evidence that taking omega-3 supplements can reduce the risk of a heart attack. However, the ODS notes that other studies found no link between omega-3 supplements and a person’s lower chance of having cardiovascular problems in general.

A review article in the Journal of Physiology and Biochemistry states that this is a controversial area of ​​research that is still open to debate.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Inclusive Health (NCCIH), researchers have shown that omega-3 fatty acids help lower a person’s triglyceride levels. Triglycerides are fats and when a person has an excess of them there is a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.

However, the NCCIH advises that drugs containing, among other things, omega-3 fatty acids are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of high triglyceride levels, although omega-3 supplements are not .

A 2018 study found that taking omega-3 supplements could benefit African Americans. Black participants who received the supplement saw a 77% reduction in heart attack compared to those who took the placebo.

Can Help Fight Obesity

An article in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry states that human research does not yet show omega-3 supplements that help a person lose weight. They may be able to help a person stop gaining weight, although it is not exactly clear how to do it.

Can contribute to the child’s health

The NCCIH highlights a study showing that children born to mothers who took a high-dose fish oil supplement are less likely to develop asthma than children born to mothers who took a placebo. However, the NCCIH also notes that other studies contradict this finding.


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