Every pharmacy and health store you go, there’s always omega-3 supplements on the shelf. In fact, market research has estimated that by year 2025, the global omega-3 supplements market size could reach a value of USD 57 billion. Omega-3 supplements are usually available as fish oils. Although less common, certain plant-source omega-3 supplements are availab le too.
Omega-3 are a group of polyunsaturated fatty acids that are important for a number of functions in the body. Beside being available as a dietary supplement, omega-3 is present in many natural food sources. The omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA are found in seafood, such as fatty fish (e.g., anchovies or ikan bilis, salmon, tuna) and shellfish (e.g., crab, mussels, and oysters). A different kind of omega-3, called ALA, is found in other foods, including some vegetable oils (e.g., canola and soy). Nuts and seeds such as walnuts, flaxseeds and chia seeds are superb natural sources of omega-3 too!
Omega-3 has some potential health benefits, including lower risk of dying from cardiovascular diseases, reduced discomforts in arthritis and increased levels of “good cholesterol”. With that being said, scientific evidence about the actual benefits of omega-3 have been lacking or contradicting with each other. Evidence suggests 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 other words, as much as we think the benefits of EPA and DHA are promising, it does not mean that taking omega-3 supplement would confer the same benefits.Overall, the claim about how substantial the positive impact of omega-3 is still a work in progress in the scientific community.
While omega-3 has its virtues and is generally safe to consume, too much omega-3 can be redundant or even harmful to some. Omega-3 can potentially interact with many other medications and should be taken with the advice of a healthcare professional.
It's possible that taking omega-3 supplements might increase the risk of bleeding, hence people who take anticoagulants, antiplatelets,NSAIDs and ginkgo biloba should be more cautious when taking omega-3 supplements.
Anticoagulants and antiplatelets are groups of medications commonly known as ‘blood thinners’ -- they are commonly prescribed by doctors to individuals who have had heart attack, stroke or any form of cardiovascular diseases before or to prevent these diseases from happening in the future. Examples include warfarin, dabigatran, rivaroxaban, aspirin and clopidogrel. Some blood thinners thin the blood to keep blood cells from sticking together in the veins and arteries. Others prevent blood clots by increasing the amount of time it takes for blood clots to form.
NSAIDs are common painkillers, which include ibuprofen, diclofenac and mefenamic acid. Taking NSAIDs with an omega-3 supplement may increase the risk of bleeding. The same goes to taking omega-3 supplements with ginkgo biloba. People who have a scheduled surgery in two weeks or with any bleeding disorder should avoid omega-3 supplement.
Taking fish oil supplements might slightly lower blood pressure. Taking these supplements with blood pressure drugs might increase the effects on blood pressure. Nevertheless, the pressure-lowering effect of fish oil supplement is so marginal that it should not pose any serious danger to a patient's health unless consumed in an extremely large quantity. If you are taking any blood pressure medication, consult your doctor before starting any supplements.
Patients with obesity may be prescribed with orlistat (Brand name: Xenical®), a medication that treats obesity by blocking enzymes that break down fats in your diet, thereby reducing absorption of oil into your body. As fish oil supplement is, well, an oil, hence taking it with orlistat can reduce the absorption of fish oil supplement. You may take them at least 2 hours apart.
What would omega-6 have anything to do with omega-3? Well, it turns out that your omega-6 to omega-3 ratio may have some health significance. This is because scientists believe that omega-6s are pro-inflammatory, while omega-3s are anti-inflammatory. The standard industrialized diet that many of us have today, i.e. consists of processed foods and animal meats, are high in omega-6. Therefore, scientists have hypothesized that a diet high in omega-6s but low in omega-3s increases inflammation, while a diet that includes balanced amounts of each reduces inflammation.
The omega-6 to omega-3 ratio is a delicate ratio that has to be maintained at an optimal level -- inflammation protects our body from infection and aids in recovery from injuries; but too much inflammation can lead to a wide array of health issues, including diabetes, arthritis and cancer.
However, there is still no compelling evidence to support this theory. Evening primrose oil that contains omega-6 also has many virtues. More high-quality studies are needed to investigate the potential health effects of excessive omega-6 fat intakes. At the meantime, you may optimise your omega-6 to omega-3 ratio by avoiding processed food and ensure adequate omega-3 intake through diet.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 recommends adults to eat 8 or more ounces of a variety of seafood per week because it provides a range of nutrients, including omega-3 fatty acids. 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 mercury as part of a healthy eating pattern and while staying within their calorie needs. Seafood which are high in mercury include tilefish, shark, swordfish, and king mackerel and hence should be avoided in pregnant or breastfeeding women.
As the health benefits of omega-3 dietary supplements are still unclear, you may consult a healthcare professional if you wish to get started on any omega-3 supplements. Most importantly, as with anything else, do not hyper-supplement yourself with a high dose of omega-3 supplements, and remember that the benefits of omega-3 can be reaped through an optimal diet.
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health - 7 Things To Know About Omega-3 Fatty Acids. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/tips/things-to-know-about-omega-fatty-acids#pdf
Mayo Clinic - Fish Oil. https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements-fish-oil/art-20364810
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