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Omega-3 fatty acids are present in fish and some other food sources. Although study findings suggest that a diet rich in omega-3 provides health benefits, researchers are less certain about the effectiveness of supplements.
In this article, we consider the possible benefits of taking omega-3 supplements and explain what to look for when buying them.
Omega-3 fatty acids are part of a group of polyunsaturated fatty acids that support several functions in the body. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), there are three main types of omega-3 fatty acids: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).
The NCCIH list some of the possible benefits of fatty acids, stating that:
- high doses can help reduce triglyceride levels in the blood
- these fats may help alleviate symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis
- dietary omega-3 may help prevent heart disease, but supplements may not
They also note that other claims about fatty acids — whether they come from the diet or supplements — are either inconclusive or remain unsupported by the findings of studies.
However, although more research is necessary, a 2018 study found that omega-3 supplements did have cardiovascular benefits for some people. For people whose diet did not consist of at least 1.5 servings of fish a week, taking supplements led to a decrease in their risk of developing heart disease.
Another trial, known as REDUCE-IT, had similar results relating to cardiovascular events and death. The researchers found that in comparison with a placebo, taking omega-3 supplements reduced the risk of high triglycerides in the blood and cardiac-related events or death.
However, the participants all had risk factors for heart disease, which could mean that the results apply only to specific groups of people, not the general population.
According to an article in the NYU Langone Online Journal of Medicine, the REDUCE-IT study is an anomaly among other studies that generally show limited evidence of omega-3 reducing the risk of cardiovascular events. Though the author urges further research, they also acknowledge that taking an omega-3 supplement is likely not a bad idea.
In 2019, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that they would not object to certain health claims about omega-3 supplements reducing the risk of hypertension and coronary heart disease. In other words, as long as manufacturers follow the FDA’s guidelines, they can claim that their products may reduce these risks.
As with other supplements and vitamins, the FDA do not directly regulate the manufacturing of omega-3 supplements. However, they have approved a prescription medication called Lovaza that contains the fatty acid. Doctors can use this drug to lower triglyceride levels in people living with hypertriglyceridemia.
The authors of a 2016 study state that there are major differences between the prescription drug and supplements. These include:
- how rigorous the necessary testing procedure is
- the consistency of effectiveness
- the consistency in safety
People interested in taking omega-3 supplements should talk to a doctor first. This is particularly true for people who are pregnant or breastfeeding and those taking medications or other supplements.
When selecting an omega-3 supplement, a person should consider the:
- certifications from third party reviewers for safety and purity standards
- form of the supplement, such as gummy or pill
Many omega-3 supplements are available to buy. Below, we list four products that people may wish to try.
Please note that the writer of this article has not tried these products. All product information is purely research-based.
Life Extension Super Omega-3 EPA/DHA Fish Oil, Sesame Lignans & Olive Extract
Life Extension’s softgels contain a formula that comprises EPA and DHA, as well as sesame lignans and olive extract. Research suggests that both sesamin (a lignan in sesame) and olive leaf extract may also help prevent heart disease.
The International Fish Oil Standards have given this product a 5-star certification. It is also gluten-free and uses non-GMO products.
LiveWell’s softgels contain 800 milligrams (mg) of EPA and 600 mg of DHA, and they come from sustainable sources of fish oil. The company also use third party testing for their products.
Source Naturals Vegan True Non-Fish Omega-3s
Source Naturals’ fish-free supplements are suitable for vegans and vegetarians to take. The company’s facilities are Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) certified, and they use third party, independent laboratory testing to confirm the quality of their products.
Nordic Naturals Omega-3 Gummies
These gummies come in a tangerine flavor with no fake flavoring, preservatives, or coloring. The company state that they are third party tested and can provide a certification of analysis for any one of their products.
The doses of DHA and EPA are low, and the company claim that children older than 2 years can eat them.
Omega-3 is associated with only minor side effects. According to the NCCIH, some side effects may include:
- bad breath
- gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea, heartburn, or diarrhea
- an unpleasant taste in the mouth
- bad-smelling sweat
They also note that although in some studies, researchers found a link to prostate cancer, the findings are not conclusive.
People taking medications for blood clotting should talk to their doctor before starting the supplement due to possible complications.
There are several dietary sources of omega-3, including:
For people who do not eat or enjoy seafood, omega-3s are also available in plant-based foods and oils, such as:
- ground flaxseeds
- flaxseed oil
- soy oil
- canola oil
- chia seeds
In addition, a person can look for foods fortified with fatty acids. They can include:
- infant formulas
- soy drinks
A person should talk to their doctor before starting any new supplement, including omega-3.
People who are taking blood clotting medication should not take the supplement before asking their doctor, as the combination can lead to complications. People who are pregnant or breastfeeding should also talk to their doctor first.
Omega-3 supplements may provide some benefits by boosting heart health and lowering levels of triglycerides in the blood. Many of the other claims regarding their benefits require additional research.
A person interested in taking omega-3 supplements should talk to their doctor first. If they decide that they wish to take the supplement, they should opt for products that have undergone third party review for safety and purity.