What are the Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
In addition to supporting a balanced diet, there may be long-term health benefits associated with increased omega-3 FA levels in the body. The most significant evidence of the benefits is the prevention of coronary heart disease (CHD), high triglycerides, high blood pressure, rheumatoid arthritis, and prevention of further heart problems in people with heart disease. These benefits may be related to increased flexibility of cells in the body as well as changes in DNA activation when omega-3 FA are present.
Omega-3 fatty acids regulate the heart and provide protection against irregular heartbeats that may lead to death. Thus, the primary benefits of daily fish oil (1 g/day) intake are related to reducing sudden cardiac death events and CHD-related death (including heart attack) in populations with and without CHD. In patients with previous heart attacks, the reduction in sudden cardiac death is seen as early as 3 months of treatment.
At higher doses (>2 g/day), omega-3 fatty acids also significantly reduce triglyceride levels. Higher doses have greater effects, and four grams daily may lower triglyceride levels by up to 40%, which is similar to other prescription drugs used for treating high cholesterol or triglycerides (for example, statins). This supports the use of Lovaza, a prescription fish oil supplement, to manage high triglyceride levels.
How Much Omega-3 Fatty Acid Is Needed
In healthy individuals, the World Health Organization and governmental health agencies recommend consuming 0.3 to 0.5 grams EPA + DHA daily and 0.8 to 1.1 grams of daily α-linolenic acid to decrease the risk of sudden cardiac death and coronary heart disease-related death.
This EPA + DHA dose may be obtained by:
Eating fatty fish is preferred to fish oil supplements due to the additional beneficial proteins, vitamins, and selenium. However, this must be balanced with increased mercury and PCB (polychlorinated biphenyls) levels found in some fish (swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish, and albacore tuna). Fish oil supplements do not carry the same risk of these toxicities.
In patients with existing cardiovascular diseases, daily doses of EPA + DHA may need to be slightly higher (1 to 1.5 g EPA + DHA).
Significant decreases in triglyceride levels are seen when used at doses greater than 2 grams of EPA + DHA daily. Improvements may take months to years of treatment. Specific dosing recommendations should be made in collaboration with a medical practitioner.
Next: Safety of Omega-3 Fatty Acids