Deciphering the Research: Do Omega-3 Supplements Work?
The health and wellness community has for years touted the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids – ranging from cardiovascular health, cholesterol reduction, anti-inflammatory properties to improving brain function. These benefits undoubtedly created consumer demand, and the food and supplements industries responded by marketing omega-3 in everything from gummy vitamins to eggs and yogurt, and even in food and supplements for our four-legged friends.
More Options, More Confusion
While growth in the category has certainly created more awareness and options for consumers, it has also created confusion. While the American Heart Association (AHA) advised people 15 years ago that fish oil could help prevent further heart disease, a more recent AHA study suggests fish oil supplements may help prevent death after a heart attack – but lack evidence of cardiovascular benefit for the general population. Meanwhile, a Harvard-led study of more than 25,000 people age 50 and older who took daily supplements containing omega-3 fatty acids provides evidence that the omega 3 fatty acids found in fish like salmon, sardines or tuna can have a beneficial effect on heart health and lower heart attack risk. So, one inconclusive, one positive – and these are just two recent studies focused on heart disease.
A Google search on “omega-3 research” will generate news results including research on the fatty acids’ impact on everything from weight loss to brain function and premature births. Some suggest their efficacy, while others are not as encouraging – and then there are the nuances and questions raised within the scientific community based on the diversity (or uniformity) of the populations surveyed, type of omega-3 fatty acids used in the study, and multiple other factors. So, does this mean you won’t benefit from an omega-3 supplement?
What the Studies Don’t Always Control: Dosage
While addressing the nuances and questions raised by such diverse studies would merit multiple additional studies and research, there is one specific factor that reflects significant variability across these studies – the type and dosage of omega-3 supplement taken by study participants.
Different Dosage Needed to Realize Different Benefits
There are reasons why each study focuses on a different health benefit. One explanation is that each desired health benefit – whether it’s cardiovascular health, decreased inflammation, or improved brain function – requires a different daily dose of omega-3. GOED – the global organization for EPA & DHA omega-3s – offers the following intake recommendations for three key benefits:
Different Sources to Obtain Those Doses
As such, the leads of several studies ultimately suggested that consumers interested in attaining benefit from Omega-3 supplements consider consuming Omega-3 directly from natural food sources. Sounds like a wise solution, no? According to GOED, seafood is the primary source of EPA and DHA in the diet. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend two servings of fatty fish per week to deliver the recommended amount of omega-3s your body needs to support cardiovascular health. For pregnant or lactating women, that recommended dosage about doubles. And for general health, we’re looking at more than 1g (vs. mg) of Omega-3 EPA+DHA per day. That’s a lot of salmon and other natural sources – daily.
To Achieve a High Dose, Supplements are More Efficient
Which brings us back to the benefit of supplements: because it will be challenging (to say the least) for most people to consume sufficient cold-water, fatty fish (or other high omega-3 food sources) to reach the minimum recommended daily dosage, supplements continue to play a positive role. 2 soft gels daily of a high quality supplement like Oceanblue Omega-3 2100 will deliver 2,100mg of omega-3 fatty acids (1,350mg EPA/ 600mg DHA/ 150mg DPA), sourced from wild-caught anchovies and sardines with zero to low mercury exposure off the Peruvian coast. In case you’re running the calculations, that’s more than 4 times GOED’s daily recommendation to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, and the equivalent of consuming nearly 4oz. of salmon daily.
How to Pick the Right Omega-3 Supplement: A Checklist
If your research (including but not limited to this article, of course) leads you to the decision that an omega-3 supplement is right for your goals and needs, the next natural question is how to pick the right one – in a category filled with options? Based on research, we suggest you look evaluate these key factors:
The amount of differing research and perspectives around the benefits of Omega-3 supplements is bound to create confusion. We’ll summarize the points we’ve covered in this post to provide some context: