How much do we know about omega-3 fatty acids (omega-3s)?
Extensive research has been done on omega-3s, especially the types found in seafood (fish and shellfish) and fish oil supplements.
What do we know about the effectiveness of omega-3 supplements?
Research indicates that omega-3 supplements don’t reduce the risk of heart disease . However, people who eat seafood one to four times a week are less likely to die of heart disease.
. However, people who eat seafood one to four times a week are less likely to die of heart disease. High doses of omega-3s can reduce levels of triglycerides .
. Omega-3 supplements may help relieve symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
Omega-3 supplements have not been convincingly shown to slow the progression of the eye disease age-related macular degeneration .
. For most other conditions for which omega-3 supplements have been studied, the evidence is inconclusive or doesn’t indicate that omega-3s are beneficial.
What do we know about the safety of omega-3 supplements?
Selecting the right omega-3 supplement shouldn’t give you heartburn. There are four easy steps to select a high-quality omega-3 supplement.
Step No. 1 – Before making the trip to your local retailer, connect with your health care practitioner. It’s important to speak with your doctor before starting a supplement program or switching dietary supplements. There are some vitamins and nutrients that can interact with prescription medications. These interactions are called drug-nutrient interactions. It’s always a good idea to speak with your doctor or pharmacist first to cross-reference any possible interactions.
Step No. 2 – Look for an omega-3 supplement from either fish oil or, if you are a vegetarian, algae oil. Not all omega-3s are created equally and the body can’t efficiently convert ALA omega-3 – primarily found in nuts and seeds – to the long-chain omega-3s (EPA and DHA) that have been researched extensively for their heart health benefits.
Step No. 3 – When looking at the supplement label, be sure the label clearly explains how much EPA and/or DHA omega-3 is included in each capsule. Often times, supplement companies will lump all omega-3s into one line item, but it is important to know how much of each omega-3 you are getting in a serving or capsule. Rely on your doctor to suggest the levels appropriate for your body and your health condition.
Step No. 4 – Overfishing is a serious environmental concern. There are regulations in place to protect fish populations and guide fish oil manufacturers. Many organizations guide companies in sourcing fish oil from regulated fisheries where equipment, practices and procedures are in place to protect fish stocks. Several high-quality brands will include their sustainability measures on packaging, so look for this information. Some regulating bodies include, Friends of the Sea® Certified Sustainable Fisheries, Seafood Watch, among many others.
When in doubt, you can always look for the MEG-3® logo on supplement packaging to know you are selecting a high-quality omega-3 supplement that features heart healthy EPA and DHA omega-3s.
Potency refers to how much of the key nutrient(s) or active ingredients a supplement contains, which (no surprise here) is directly tied to the efficacy of that supplement.
"For omega-3-rich fish and their oils, the active ingredients we're concerned about for potency purposes are the marine omega-3s EPA and DHA," says Ferira. "These are the bioactive (read: biologically active) lipids in the body and confer antioxidant4 and anti-inflammatory properties5 .
They are critical for cellular function and signaling and ultimately positively impact health from our heart6 and joints to our brain and eyes."*
While many fish oil products display the milligrams of total fish oil or omega concentrate in a big font on the front of their label, it's the specific milligram amounts of EPA and DHA that really matter. (It's misleading for brands to advertise those other numbers because they often make you think you're going to get more EPA and DHA than you really are.)
"Turn over your bottle and look for these line items [EPA and DHA] in the Supplement Facts panel and add them up," Ferira suggests. Their sum is the true potency of your product, which ultimately determines the benefits you reap.*
Most adults should shoot for a minimum of 500 milligrams of EPA plus DHA per day, says Ferira.
She explains that this is the approximate daily omega-3 equivalent for the American Heart Association's recommendation for folks to consume at least two servings of seafood (like oily fish)7 a week.*
That's your starting point. In fact, science demonstrates the benefits of higher levels of daily omega-38 intake.
Therefore, it may be beneficial to opt for an even more potent fish oil supplement option that offers 1,000 milligrams or more—especially if you're looking to support cardiovascular health and function over the long term, specifically, she says.* (mindbodygreen's omega-3 potency+ earns its name by providing 1,500 milligrams of EPA plus DHA in each serving, which is the omega-3 equivalent to eating a serving of oily fish every day [anchovies, for example9 ].) A fish a day...