Omega-3 fatty acids are a group of polyunsaturated fatty acids that are essential for many functions in the body. The primary omega-3 fatty acids are EPA, eicosapentaenoic acid, and DHA, docosahexaenoic acid is what is found in seafood, such as fatty fish (e.g., salmon, tuna, and trout) and shellfish (e.g., crab, mussels, and oysters). There is another kind of omega-3, called ALA, αlpha-linolenic acids found in other foods, including some vegetable oils like canola and soy. Omega-3s are also available as dietary supplements; for example, fish oil supplements contain EPA and DHA, and flaxseed oil supplements contain ALA. Many scientists have emerged about the significant health benefits of consuming seafood and even more health benefits of omega-3 dietary supplements in your diet.
Here are seven important things you should know about Omega-3s:
- The product of the research on diets rich in seafood like fish and shellfish and heart disease provide reasonable evidence that people who eat seafood at least once a week is less likely to die of heart disease than those who never eat seafood or rarely have it in their diet. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 (3MB PDF) includes a new recommendation that adults should eat 8 or more ounces of a variety of seafood per week because it will provide a range of nutrients, including omega-3 fatty acids. Smaller amounts are recommended for young children, and there are personalized recommendations for breastfeeding or pregnant women. See Tip number 4.
- Evidence suggests that seafood rich in EPA, Eicosapentaenoic acid, and DHA, the Docosahexaenoic acid should be included in a heart-healthy diet. However, supplements of EPA and DHA have shown very little to protect against heart disease. In 2012, two groups of scientists analyzed the research on the effects of EPA/DHA supplements on heart disease risk. One group analyzed only studies in people with a history of heart disease, and the other group analyzed studies in people both with and without a history of heart disease. Both reviews found decent evidence of a protective effect of the supplements and the heart.
- In 2012 review of the scientific literature concluded that the acids EPA and DHA, the types of omega-3s found in seafood, fish oil, and specific supplements might be modestly helpful for relieving symptoms of RA, rheumatoid arthritis. In the studies included in the review, many of the participants reported that when they were taking fish oil, they had less morning stiffness, less joint swelling and pain, and a fewer need for anti-inflammatory drugs to control their symptoms.
- The nutritional value of seafood specifically omega-3 acids is of particular importance during fetal growth and development, as well as in newborns and early childhood. Women who are pregnant and breastfeeding should consume 8 to 12 ounces of seafood per week from a variety of seafood types and omega-3 supplements that are low in methylmercury as part of a healthy eating pattern and while staying within reasonable calorie needs. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should try to stay away from large amounts of white tuna, labeled as “albacore” and limit the amount to no more than 6 ounces per week. They should not eat tilefish, shark, swordfish, and king mackerel because they are high in methyl mercury. It is best and safest to regulate supplements because you know exactly what your getting and the measured out dose recommended for you.
- There is continuous research on omega-3 fatty acids and diseases of the brain and eye, but they still need more evidence to be able to draw conclusions about the effectiveness of omega-3supplements for these conditions. DHA, Docosahexaenoic acid plays important roles in the functioning of the brain and the eye. Researchers are still actively investigating the possible benefits of DHA and other omega-3 fatty acids in preventing or treating a variety of brain- and eye-related conditions.
- There is conflicting evidence about whether a link might exist between the omega-3 fatty acids found in seafood and fish oil, such as EPA and DHA and an increased risk of prostate cancer. Additional research on the association between omega-3 consumption and prostate cancer risk is under way. Immunotherapy, or utilization of the immune system to repair, enhance, or stimulate the body’s natural immune responses to fight cancer, is a rapidly growing field of research. In addressing the challenge of prostate cancer, scientists have created or are developing various immunotherapeutic approaches such as Provenge, checkpoint therapies. However, natural substances also may have potential, including omega-3 fatty acids.
- The bottom line: Including seafood in your diet is healthy and beneficial. Omega-3 supplements are helpful in many different ways. If you are considering omega-3 supplements, talk to your health care provider. It’s especially important to consult your or your child’s health care provider if you are pregnant and breastfeeding and if you take medicine that affects blood clotting. If you are allergic to seafood, or if you are considering giving a child an omega-3 supplement which is allergic may be helpful to ask a doctor.
All in all the food source of omega-3, which is fish and other seafood, is not typically a 100% safe option. The vast majority of our fish supply is very heavily contaminated with many different pollutants and toxins like mercury, PCBs, heavy metals and radioactive poisons that should be replaced by supplements that are tested and correctly measured. Another reason why a high-quality, animal-based omega-3 fat supplement is important is that many people, including pregnant women, do not get enough of these vital fatty acids.