Wellness » A Beginner’s Guide to Omega-3 Supplements

A Beginner’s Guide to Omega-3 Supplements

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You’ve probably heard of omega-3s before, but have you ever explored what they are? It turns out omega-3 supplements have plenty of health and wellness benefits.

Omega-3 is actually a shorter name for omega-3 fatty acids, and there are three main types that each have a multitude of benefits. Read on to learn more about omega-3 supplements and the potential health benefits that come with them.

What are omega-3 fatty acids?

Before diving into the benefits of omega-3s, let’s first take a more in-depth look at what they are. As the full name implies, omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat. 

There are, however, multiple types of omega-3s. The main ones include alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Each type has specific functions within your body. For instance, ALA is mainly used for energy, while DHA is critical for certain parts of the body, like your brain and retinas. On the other hand, EPA can help bring down high blood pressure and inflammation, among other things.

Benefits of omega-3

It turns out that omega-3s pack plenty of healthy benefits. They can help decrease triglycerides, a substance that can cause your arteries to harden and potentially lead to cardiovascular problems.

Those who struggle with dry eye disease may also benefit from supplementing with omega-3s. Supplements could also help lessen some symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, cystic fibrosis, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It’s worth noting, though, that studies are still being done on omega-3s and their impact on these conditions.

What’s more is that getting enough omega-3s can help even out your mood, your heart rate, and your inflammation levels. Talk about packing lots of benefits into one supplement.

How should you get omega-3s?

Getting plenty of omega-3s can have truly positive impacts on your health. So, how should you ensure that your body is getting them? 

You may have heard the saying that fish is brain food, and that actually rings somewhat true. Eating fatty fish, such as salmon or tuna, could lower your chances of Alzheimer’s disease. You can also get a dose of omega-3s from flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts. Some oils, including flaxseed, soybean, and canola oils, also contain omega-3s naturally. You’ll even find that some foods, such as yogurt or milk, are often fortified with omega-3s — meaning they’ve been added into the food for a nutritional boost. 

Food preferences, along with sensitivities and allergies, can sometimes mean you may not be able to get omega-3s from eating. In that case, you might want to consider supplements.

Signs you may be deficient in omega-3s

Generally speaking, being deficient in omega-3s isn’t common in the United States. Signs of deficiency might include skin that’s bumpy or scaley, or you may notice rashes that are itchy or look red or swollen.

Though most people in the U.S. may not be deficient in omega-3s, we generally don’t consume enough on a daily basis. 

Are there side effects with supplements?

Omega-3 supplements usually don’t have serious side effects. You might find the taste of the supplements a bit unpleasant, or you may notice an odor on your breath or when you sweat. Some people may experience headaches, queasiness, or diarrhea. 

However, you may want to use caution if you take any prescriptions for blood clots. Large amounts of omega-3s might interact with warfarin (also known as Coumadin), which is prescribed to prevent blood clots. Some research also seems to suggest a potential link between large amounts of omega-3 in the blood and prostate cancer.

If you’re allergic to seafood, you may not want to take fish oil supplements, either. Whatever the case may be, it’s always best to consult with your medical provider to find what works best for your specific needs.

How much do I need?

Currently, the only guidelines that exist for omega-3s are specific to ALA. How much you’ll need varies based on gender and age. For example, men should be getting 1.6 grams each day, while women should aim for 1.1 grams. If you’re pregnant, you’ll want to get a slightly higher dose of 1.4 grams, and breastfeeding moms should try to get 1.3 grams each day. 

Choosing an omega-3 supplement

As mentioned, omega-3 can come from foods or supplements. And among supplements, there are a few options. Supplements are typically derived from fish, krill, or cod liver oils. People following a vegetarian diet may want to consider a supplement made from algae. 

When choosing a supplement for adults, look for one that includes EPA and DHA. You’ll want one that provides 650 milligrams (or more) daily. At a minimum, it should have 220 milligrams of EPA and 220 milligrams of DHA. 

Reaping the benefits of omega-3 supplements

Clearly, consuming omega-3 fatty acids is pretty important. It can help regulate your mood and may have some protective effects on your heart and brain health. Consuming fatty fish and certain oils can boost your intake of omega-3s, but sometimes supplements are a more convenient option. Either way, be sure to talk with your doctor if you have any concerns or questions about omega-3 supplements.