Understanding Omega-3 Options
Not all supplements are created equal. Although the best way to get an adequate amount of omega-3 fatty acids is from food sources, sometimes a supplement may be necessary. Abbreviations like ALA, EPA, and DHA can quickly become confusing. Here’s what people need to know about choosing an omega-3 supplement.
Breaking down abbreviations
Among the 11 fatty acids, the 3 most important are ALA, EPA, and DHA. Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is common in plant foods, and many people get the daily recommended amount through diet alone. Although ALA can convert in the body into EPA or DHA, this process is often inefficient. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) plays a significant role in reducing inflammation and can even reduce symptoms of depression. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is vital for brain development, skin and eye health, and a deficiency in DHA has also been linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
Types of supplements
When looking for an omega-3 supplement, people can opt for natural fish oil, which comes from the tissue of fatty fish. This supplement is the closest a person can get to consuming oily fish. The amounts of EPA and DHA in these types of supplements can range from 18-31%. In contrast, processed fish oil is concentrated or purified and may contain 50-90% EPA or DHA. While processed fish oils are most popular, the body may not absorb these oils as well as natural fish oil supplements.
What do omega-3s do?
Research has linked omega-3 fatty acids to a reduced risk of heart disease, decreased inflammation and joint pain, as well as improved brain development and function. Fish oil may also help to regulate blood sugar and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Should I take a supplement?
Many people can benefit from a daily omega-3 supplement. About 10% of Americans already take a daily fish oil pill. Not everyone may need the supplement, however. Studies have found that taking omega-3s is most helpful for people who eat less than 1.5 servings of fish weekly or who eat no fish at all. The same study also found that daily fish oil reduced the risk of heart attack by 77% in African American participants.
What to look for
Most patients who can benefit from a daily omega-3 supplement should look for a 1-gram dose with a combination of high-quality EPA and DHA. Some patients who have high triglyceride levels may speak with a healthcare provider about the possibility of a high-dose prescription supplement. For more information about omega-3s, speak with a healthcare provider or pharmacist.