Omega-3 supplements: how, why and who to take them

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Many people know about the benefits of omega-3 and often prescribe themselves without consulting a doctor. But who really benefits from these supplements and what is the right dosage? And when does too much omega-3 harm the body?

First study

Researchers led by Dr. Joanne Manson have found out how vitamin D and omega-3s work in healthy adults. More than 25,000 people took part in the experiment. None of them had a history of cardiovascular disease, and the risk of getting sick was moderate. Scientists first of all wanted to answer the question – can a moderate dose of omega-3 – 1 gram per day – help those who have problems with the heart and blood vessels. “The results are mixed,” says Dr. Manson. “Some people benefit from these supplements, others don’t.”

And while overall, taking the lowest dose of omega-3s every day did not make any significant difference, the number of heart attacks fell by 28%. Strictly speaking, omega-3 supplementation did not protect most healthy people from possible heart problems. However, for some participants it turned out to be useful – especially for those who did not eat fish at all or rarely ate fish. According to Dr. Manson, these people significantly decreased the indicator of the target criterion of the study: the likelihood of cardiovascular disease – by 19% and heart attacks – by 40%.

Second study

Thanks to this project, the scientists, led by Dr. Deepak Bhatt, wanted to find out if eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) could reduce cardiovascular disease. It is a polyunsaturated fatty acid of the omega-3 class, which is part of the lipids of most animal tissues and enters the human body with breast milk, and later with fatty fish and food algae.

The study involved 8000 middle-aged and elderly people. They had an increase in the level of fats (triglycerides), they were at risk or already suffered from diseases of the heart and blood vessels. In the course of the work, scientists found that people who took the supplement – 4 grams per day – had a 25% lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease compared to those who took a placebo.

It’s important to consider, Dr. Manson recalls, that high doses of omega-3s aren’t for everyone. They can cause bleeding or atrial fibrillation. “And yet, for people with high triglycerides and heart and vascular problems, the benefits of taking high doses of omega-3s outweigh the risks.”

Omega-3 supplements: how, why and who to take them

Expert recommendations

For those planning to take omega-3 supplements, experts advise to be careful.

  • Do not exceed a daily dosage of 1 gram.
  • Combine different fatty acids – eicosapentaenoic (EPA) and docosahexaenoic (DHA). Each of them has its own health benefits.
  • Buy only quality supplements from trusted manufacturers.

If you have high fat levels and are at risk for heart disease, talk to your doctor. He may recommend taking more than 1 gram of omega-3s a day.

What does this mean in practice?

1. Healthy people who eat fish can do without additives. But there should be enough fish in the diet. And this is at least two servings of salmon, tuna, herring per week. Omega-3s from food are always preferred, Dr. Manson is convinced.

2. Those who do not eat fish are advised to take algae-based omega-3 supplements. A daily dosage of 1 gram will help strike a balance between safety and effectiveness. But it is better to consult your doctor.

3. Those who take omega-3s but eat fish do not need to stop taking. But for those not yet taking the supplement, it is worth weighing the pros and cons, says Dr. Manson.

4. For those at high risk of cardiovascular disease and high fat levels, it is recommended to take omega-3 in a high dosage, but also as directed by a doctor.

Do not forget that any nutritional supplements are not a panacea for all diseases, it is much more important what kind of lifestyle you lead. “Healthy foods like fish, seafood, nuts cannot be substituted for even the best nutritional supplements,” she says. “Only a healthy diet, physical activity and smoking cessation will actually help maintain the health of the heart and blood vessels,” said Dr. Manson.

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