Benefits Of Omega-3 Supplements True?
Do You Really Need An Omega-3 Supplement?
[Courtesy ofMen's Health] Today's headlines may make you reconsider your daily omega-3 supplement: In a review published in theJournal of the American Medical Association, researchers analyzed 20 studies totaling nearly 69,000 people and found no association between people taking omega-3 supplements and decreased mortality from any cause, as well as cardiac death, sudden death, heart attack or stroke.
But don't take the results at face value. It's important to note that the group analyzed in theJAMAstudy are high-risk heart patients. Expecting fish oil to prevent future heart attacks or strokes in people already vulnerable to them is like expecting a Band-Aid to hold back a gushing wound.
Say you're already overweight and have diabetes—both big risk factors for heart disease. An omega-3 supplement won't help you much. "There is no way to take these results and assume they apply to healthy people. Of course fish oil is not a cure. If someone is already falling apart, omega-3s won't put them back together," says Alan Aragon, M.S.,Men's Healthnutrition advisor.
What about generally healthy people? One study in theAmerican Journal of Clinical Nutritionfound that overweight adults taking fish oil improved their HDL cholesterol and artery function more than taking a placebo supplement. Even in healthy, young, normal weight adults, fish oil exerts certain heart-protective benefits—lower levels of triglycerides and higher "good" HDL cholesterol numbers, to name a few.
This study is one of the many meta-analyses that have come out on fish oil supplements recently, says Aragon. "Some review studies show that there is a positive benefit to fish oil, and others say that there's insufficient evidence. Right now though, more studies than not are on the beneficial side of the fence," he says.
Other potential issues: TheJAMAstudy doesn't consider what type of omega-3 supplement these patients were taking. Some fish oil supplements go through processing that makes the omega-3s less absorbable to the body. Others contain contaminants (like mercury or PCBs), and that could make the supplements less effective, explains Aragon. (Find out if your omega-3s are the real deal in Are Your Omega-3 Supplements Fake?)
Bottom line? It's best to get nutrients from whole food sources first. Diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to reduce inflammation, decrease triglycerides, and lower blood pressure.
If you don't eat at least two 3.5-ounce servings of fish a week, then it's a good idea to take a supplement of about one gram of EPA and DHA a day. For the record, Aragon takes fish oil daily. His pick: The Costco Kirkland Signature brand, since it contains the type of omega-3s readily absorbed by the body. "Looking at the research as a whole, there's a small heart protective effect from taking fish oil.
Video: What Does Omega-3 Do For Dry Eye and the Body?
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