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While a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids may help to prevent heart disease and protect brain and eye health, research into supplement use has produced mixed results.
Fish oils come from fatty or oily fish, such as trout, mackerel, tuna, herring, sardines, and salmon. They contain omega-3 fatty acids, and many contain vitamins A and D.
Many people use fish oil and omega-3 supplements because they believe that they have health benefits.
Guidelines from the American College of Cardiology and American Heart Association (ACC/AHA) recommend eating fish as part of a heart-healthy diet. Indeed, having a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids may help prevent heart disease, protect brain and eye health, and contribute to fetal development.
However, studies into supplement use have produced mixed results, and it is unclear whether or not supplements are helpful.
In this article, learn more about fish oils and omega-3, including some potential health benefits and some good food sources.
Two types are plentiful in oily fish: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), meanwhile,
Omega-3 is present throughout the body, especially in the brain, retina, and sperm cells. The body cannot produce omega-3 on its own, however, so people need to obtain it from dietary sources.
Scientists have linked omega-3 to a number of health conditions. However, it is not always clear whether or not taking additional omega-3 can offer benefits.
The following sections outline some of these conditions and some other health benefits that omega-3 may provide.
In 2020, survey data suggested that females who take probiotics, vitamin D, fish oil supplements, or a combination of these may have a slightly lower risk of developing COVID-19.
However, this investigation has not yet undergone peer review, and the findings are far from conclusive.
In fact, experts have warned against using supplements in an attempt to prevent infection with the virus.
For more information on the COVID-19 outbreak and advice on prevention and treatment, see our live updates page and visit our coronavirus hub.
Some people with multiple sclerosis (MS) take omega-3 because it may have protective effects on the brain and the nervous system.
However, at least
The precise link between omega-3 and different types of cancer
People with low levels of omega-3 during pregnancy and while breastfeeding may be more susceptible to postpartum depression.
The authors of a
Memory and other mental health benefits
In addition to postpartum depression,
- attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
- post-traumatic stress disorder
- Parkinson’s disease
- cognitive decline, including memory loss
More investigations are necessary to confirm these benefits.
Heart and cardiovascular benefits
Omega-3 fatty acids in fish oils may help prevent heart disease and stroke, according to the
Specifically, omega-3 may help manage:
A 2013 study found that people who took fish oil supplements for longer than 1 month had better cardiovascular function during mentally stressful tests.
However, in 2012,
Vision loss and eye health
Some evidence suggests that getting an adequate intake of omega-3 may help protect eye health.
In a 2012 study, mice that received omega-3 supplements for 6 months appeared to have better retinal function and a lower risk of age-related vision loss than mice that did not receive the supplements.
In 2019, for example, scientists who looked at the data of
Some people use omega-3 supplements for dry eyes. In 2018, however, a
Epilepsy is a neurological condition. Some studies have suggested that taking omega-3 supplements may help reduce the number of seizures a person experiences.
Healthy fetal development
Omega-3 consumption may
However, it is important to avoid eating fish with high levels of mercury, such as shark and king mackerel, during this time.
In 2011, scientists concluded that consuming omega-3 during pregnancy may improve memory function in school-age children.
In most cases, the best way to consume nutrients is through food, unless a doctor recommends taking supplements.
- oily fish, such as sardines, tuna, and salmon
- other seafood, such as oysters and shrimp
- eggs, especially those fortified with omega-3
- fish liver oils, such as cod liver oil
Vegetable-based alternatives to fish oil for omega-3 include:
- flaxseed oil
- chia seeds
- canola oil
- soybean oil
- kidney beans
When choosing fish, it is worth checking Seafood Watch to make sure that one’s choices are sustainable.
Most people who follow a healthful, balanced diet do not need to use supplements.
However, omega-3 supplements are unlikely to cause any severe adverse effects, according to the
That said, people should check with their doctor before using them, as there may be some risks. For example:
- Omega-3 supplements may affect blood clotting and interfere with drugs that target blood-clotting conditions, such as warfarin (Coumadin).
- They can sometimes trigger side effects, which are usually minor gastrointestinal problems such as belching, indigestion, or diarrhea.
- Those with a fish or shellfish allergy may be at risk if they consume fish oil supplements.
- People should check that their supplement comes from a reliable source. Some fish products may contain pollutants from the ocean.
- Some fish oil supplements, such as cod liver oil, are high in vitamin A. This vitamin can be toxic in large amounts.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) do not regulate the quality or purity of supplements. It is, therefore, essential to buy them from a reputable source.
Learn more about the possible side effects of taking fish oil here.
Omega-3 is an essential nutrient that most people can obtain from dietary sources.
Consuming more fish oil and omega-3 may bring some health benefits, but eating a diet that offers a variety of nutrients is likely to be healthful.
Anyone who is considering taking supplements should first check with a healthcare provider to ensure that it is safe.