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Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish and some other food sources. Although study results suggest that eating an omega-3 rich diet offers health benefits, researchers are less sure of the effectiveness of supplements.
In this article, we look at the potential benefits of taking omega-3 supplements and explain what to look for when making a purchase.
Omega-3 fatty acids belong to a group of polyunsaturated fatty acids that support various functions in the body. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), there are three main types of omega-3 fatty acids: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).
The NCCIH lists some of the potential benefits of fatty acids and explains the following:
- High doses can help lower the levels of triglycerides in the blood
- These fats can help relieve rheumatoid arthritis symptoms
- Food omega-3s can help prevent heart disease, but supplements may not
They also find that other claims about fatty acids – whether they come from food or from supplements – are either inconclusive or not supported by the results of the studies.
Although more research is needed, a 2018 study found that omega-3 supplements had cardiovascular benefits for some people. In people whose diet did not consist of at least 1.5 servings of fish per week, taking supplements reduced the risk of developing heart disease.
Another study, known as REDUCE-IT, had similar results for cardiovascular events and death. The researchers found that taking omega-3 supplements compared to a placebo reduced the risk of high blood triglycerides and cardiac events or death.
However, all participants had risk factors for heart disease, which could mean the results only apply to specific groups of people, not the general population.
According to an article in NYU’s Langone Online Journal of Medicine, the REDUCE-IT study is an anomaly among other studies that generally show limited evidence of omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce the risk of cardiovascular events. While the author calls for further research, they also acknowledge that taking an omega-3 supplement is likely not a bad idea.
In 2019, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it would not object to certain health claims made on omega-3 supplements that reduce the risk of high blood pressure and coronary artery disease. In other words, as long as manufacturers follow FDA guidelines, they can claim their products could reduce these risks.
You can find more information on vitamins, minerals and nutritional supplements in our dedicated hub.
As with other supplements and vitamins, the FDA does not directly regulate the manufacture of omega-3 supplements. However, they have approved a prescription drug called Lovaza that contains the fatty acid. Doctors can use this drug to lower triglyceride levels in people with hypertriglyceridemia.
The authors of a 2016 study state that there are big differences between the prescription drug and the dietary supplements. These include:
- how strict the necessary test procedure is
- the consistency of effectiveness
- the consistency in security
Individuals interested in taking omega-3 supplements should speak to a doctor first. This is especially true for people who are pregnant or breastfeeding, as well as for people who take medication or other dietary supplements.
When choosing an omega-3 supplement, a person should consider the following:
- Certifications from external experts for safety and purity standards
- Form of supplement, such as gum or pill
Many omega-3 supplements can be bought. Below are four products that you may want to test.
Please note that the author of this article has not tried these products. All product information is purely research-based.
Life Extension Super Omega-3 EPA / DHA Fish Oil, Sesame Lignans & Olive Extract
Life Extension’s capsules contain a formula that includes EPA and DHA, plus sesame lignans and olive extract. Research suggests that both sesamin (a lignan found in sesame seeds) and olive leaf extract can help prevent heart disease.
The International Fish Oil Standards have given this product a 5-star certification. It’s also gluten-free and uses non-GMO products.
Life Extension Super Omega-3 EPA / DHA Fish Oil, Sesame Lignans, and Olive Extract Supplements can be purchased here.
LiveWells capsules contain 800 milligrams (mg) EPA and 600 mg DHA and come from sustainable fish oil sources. The company also uses third-party testing on its products.
LiveWell OmegaWell supplements can be purchased here.
Source Naturals Vegan Real omega-3 fatty acids without fish
Source Naturals’ fish-free dietary supplements are suitable for vegans and vegetarians. The company’s facilities are GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices) certified and use independent third-party laboratory tests to confirm the quality of their products.
Source Naturals Vegan True Non-Fish Omega-3 Fatty Acids can be purchased here.
Nordic Naturals Omega-3 gums
These gums have a tangerine flavor with no false flavors, preservatives, or coloring. The company states that they have been tested by a third party and can provide analytical certification for each of their products.
Doses of DHA and EPA are low, and the company claims children older than 2 years can eat them.
Nordic Naturals Omega-3 gums can be bought here.
Omega-3 is associated with only minor side effects. According to the NCCIH, some side effects can include:
They also note that while researchers found a link to prostate cancer in some studies, the results are inconclusive.
People taking blood clotting medications should speak to their doctor about possible complications before starting supplementation.
There are several food sources for omega-3s, including:
For people who do not eat or enjoy seafood, omega-3s are also available in plant foods and oils, such as:
- ground flaxseed
- Flaxseed oil
- I am oil
- Rapeseed oil
- Chia seeds
In addition, a person can look for foods fortified with fatty acids. They can include:
- Infant formula
- Soy drinks
A person should speak to their doctor before starting any new supplement, including omega-3.
People taking blood clotting medication should not take the preparation without consulting their doctor, as the combination can lead to complications. People who are pregnant or breastfeeding should speak to their doctor first.
Omega-3 supplements can offer some benefits by promoting heart health and lowering blood triglyceride levels. Many of the other claims for their benefits require additional research.
A person interested in taking omega-3 supplements should speak to their doctor first. If they do decide to take the supplement, they should opt for products that have been third party tested for safety and purity.