Omega-3 fatty acids are known as “essential” fatty acids because you must get them from food. Your body can’t make them, and they are required for making hormones that control inflammation, as well as regulating blood clotting and the contraction and relaxation of the artery walls. In addition, omega-3s are necessary to keep the cell membranes flexible, which is especially important for those with diabetes. Flexible membranes allow glucose and other nutrients to pass into the cell and waste materials to get out, as well as responding to insulin more easily.
Omega-3s for the HeartThere are many studies that have tested omega-3 fatty acids for various health issues, and the results have been very promising, especially in the case of cardiovascular disease.
Blood PressureAccording to the Mayo Clinic and the National Institutes of Health, human trials have consistently reported small reductions in blood pressure with higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the diet.
Cholesterol LevelsThe omega-3s found in fish oil supplements (EPA & DHA) have been shown to cause a significant reduction of triglyceride levels and an increase in HDL (good) cholesterol. Although it also raises the levels of “bad” (LDL) cholesterol, the benefits greatly outweigh the possible disadvantages.
Heart AttacksFish oil supplements reduce the chances of subsequent heart attacks, as well as sudden death and strokes, in those who have experienced a heart attack. In addition, there is some evidence that those who eat more oily fish have a reduced chance of having a heart attack at all.
Other EffectsIn addition, higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the diet appear to reduce the risk of cardiac arrythmia (erratic heart-beat,) improve blood vessel function, reduce the inflammation that plays a role in atherosclerosis, and reduce angina.
Omega-3s for Depression, Bipolar Disorder and SchizophreniaSocieties that eat large amounts of fish have lower rates of depressive illness, and people with depression have been shown to have lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids, providing a good indication that taking omega-3s can help depression. Research is encouraging, and omega-3s have very few side-effects, so adding omega-3 supplements to depression treatments is a definite option. There is less evidence for a positive result in bipolar disorder, however, with some indications that the long-term use of antidepressants can cause unipolar depression to evolve into bipolar disorder, and the positive research in depression; there is a good chance that future studies will find a benefit. In scizophrenia, preliminary studies look promising, but more research is needed to confirm these results.
Omega-3s and InflammationOmega-3 fatty acids have been shown to reduce morning pain and stiffness in rheumatoid arthritis patients, and there is some anecdotal (word of mouth) evidence that it has the same effect in fibromyalgia. There are indications that they may also be helpful in IBS (inflammatory bowel disease,) kidney disease, ulcerative colitis, Chron’s Disease and lupus, although there isn’t yet enough data to be sure.
Omega-3s and Organ TransplantsOmega-3 fatty acids appear to have a beneficial effect in transplant patients taking cyclosporine. Most studies reported better kidney function and lower blood pressure in the patients taking fish oil.
Omega-3s and CancerPopulation studies indicate that omega-3 fatty acids from fish may reduce the chances of getting breast, colon, and prostate cancer. In addition, some preliminary studies suggest that it may also reduce the growth of existing colon and prostate cancer cells.
Omega-3s for Asthma and Cystic FibrosisStudies have been inconclusive so far, with some suggesting a benefit, and others showing no benefit. More studies are needed in this area before solid claims can be made.
Omega-3s for Eczema and PsoriasisStudies have not provided enough information to reach a conclusion about whether omega-3s are helpful for these conditions as yet. Further reading: Natural Treatments & Home Remedies For Psoriasis With many confirmed health benefits, and more possible, supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids is recommended by many doctors. There are a wide range of both animal and vegetable sources for omega-3s as well, making it fairly easy to find a supplement that you can use, even if you have allergies or food sensitivities. Omega-3 supplements are very safe, but there are a few things to keep in mind when taking them in therapeutic doses:
- You should always check with a qualified practitioner before adding omega-3 supplements to your routine, especially if you are on prescription medications or take other supplements.
- Those who are allergic to shellfish should avoid supplements derived from krill or green-lipped musssels.
- Because fish oil derived from the liver contains significant amounts of the fat soluble vitamins A and D, and long-term use of omega-3 supplements from any source can reduce vitamin E levels, it is a good idea to have blood levels of these three vitamins checked on a regular basis to prevent toxicity or deficiency.
- In large doses, fish oil supplements can increase the risk of bleeding, and may interact with blood-thinning medications, some herbs, and some other supplements even at fairly low doses.