Omega-3 Fatty acid supplements -- typically sold as “omega-3” or “fish oil” supplements -- have become a popular dietary addition among health-conscious consumers.
According to the 2012 National Health Interview Survey, an estimated 7.8% of adults (18.8) million had reported taking a fish oil supplement within the past 30 days.1
Omega 3 Fatty Acid Supplement
According to Market Insight Reports:
“Omega 3 fatty acids for food applications market surpassed USD 310 billion in 2018 on account of growing demand for natural growth promoters in supplements, bakery products and snacks.”2
Further, this report estimates that the omega-3 fatty acid market may exceed 1.2 trillion by 2025!3
The popularity of omega-3 fatty acid supplements is not surprising. After all, omega-3s are a group of polyunsaturated fatty acids that have been proven to provide many health benefits. Your body cannot make omega-3s, so you must get it through your diet or by taking omega-3 fatty acid supplements.
Types of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Though there are 11 types of omega-3 fatty acids, you’ll probably only hear of the 3 most important ones: ALA, EPA, and DHA.
- ALA (Alpha-linolenic acid) - found mostly in plant oils
- EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid) - found mostly in marine oils
- DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid) - found mostly in marine oils
ALA is the most prevalent omega-3 in your diet. Your body needs to convert ALA to EPA or DHA before it can be used for any purpose other than energy.
This conversion process does not go smoothly, however, and your body only converts a small amount of ALA into EPA or DHA..4
Food sources of ALA include:
- Plant oils, such as flaxseed, canola, and soybean
- Chia seeds
- Hemp seeds
- Whole wheat bread
- Navy beans
Food sources of EPA and DHA include:
- Fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines
Clinically Proven Health Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Most of the clinical research studies focus on the health benefits of EPA and DHA, but there is evidence that ALA can also support health.
Here are several clinically proven health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids:
Slashes Heart Disease Risk
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the US. An estimated 18.2 million US adults suffer from coronary artery disease, the most common type of heart disease.
The main risk factors for heart disease include high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol levels, and arterial inflammation. Turns out, omega-3 fatty acids may modify these risk factors.
Abnormal cholesterol levels: Multiple clinical research studies suggest that omega-3 fatty acids may slash triglyceride levels by a whopping 15% to 30%! Plus, they can raise HDL (good) cholesterol levels, which also protect the heart.5,6,7
Blood pressure: Studies indicate that omega-3 fatty acids may lower blood pressure. In fact, a 2009 study showed that eating salmon, a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, 3 times a week can significantly reduce diastolic blood pressure.
If you don’t like fish, or don’t want to eat it 3 times a week, no problem. This same study showed that fish oil capsules may have the same blood pressure lowering effect.8
Arterial plaque:The buildup of plaque (bad cholesterol) in the arteries and blood platelets sticking together are forerunners of heart attack. (This plaque can also break off, causing a blood clot that travels to the heart.)
Research shows that omega-3 fatty acids, in the form of fish oil supplements, can stabilize plaque, thereby reducing the risk of blood clots.Fish oil also has a blood-thinning effect that can keep blood platelets from sticking together.9,10
Reduces Disease-Causing inflammation
According to a Harvard Medical School report, inflammation plays a role in many of the most common and serious conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, asthma, and Alzheimer’s disease.11
Studies show that omega-3 fatty acids can significantly lower pro-inflammatory markers, which could help prevent many of these conditions.
Improves Cognitive Function and Reduces Risk of Dementia:
Poor cognitive function is an issue that affects millions of people. Brain fog. Inability to concentrate. Confusion. All can negatively impact your daily life. Fortunately, omega-3 fatty acids may help improve cognitive function.
In a review of literature, researchers found omega-3 fatty acids may slow cognitive decline. EPA, in particular, has been found to have a positive effect on neuronal functioning in older adults, and may be able to slow the development of Alzheimer’s disease.12,13
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2- Press Release. Fatty Acids Market Analysis with Key Players, Applications, Trends and Forecasts to 2025. MarketWatch. Nov 25, 2020. Accessed Nov 25, 2020.
3- Press Release. Fatty Acids Market Analysis with Key Players, Applications, Trends and Forecasts to 2025. MarketWatch. Nov 25, 2020. Accessed Nov 25, 2020.
4- Gerster H. Can adults adequately convert alpha-linolenic acid (18:3n-3) to eicosapentaenoic acid (20:5n-3) and docosahexaenoic acid (22:6n-3)? Int J Vitam Nutr Res. 1998;68(3):159-73. PMID: 9637947.
5- Cazzola R, Russo-Volpe S, Miles EA, Rees D, Banerjee T, Roynette CE, Wells SJ, Goua M, Wahle KW, Calder PC, Cestaro B. Age- and dose-dependent effects of an eicosapentaenoic acid-rich oil on cardiovascular risk factors in healthy male subjects. Atherosclerosis. 2007 Jul;193(1):159-67. doi: 10.1016/j.atherosclerosis.2006.06.008. Epub 2006 Aug 1. PMID: 16879829.
6- Shidfar F, Keshavarz A, Hosseyni S, Ameri A, Yarahmadi S. Effects of omega-3 fatty acid supplements on serum lipids, apolipoproteins and malondialdehyde in type 2 diabetes patients. East Mediterr Health J. 2008 Mar-Apr;14(2):305-13. PMID: 18561722.
7- Bernstein AM, Ding EL, Willett WC, Rimm EB. A meta-analysis shows that docosahexaenoic acid from algal oil reduces serum triglycerides and increases HDL-cholesterol and LDL-cholesterol in persons without coronary heart disease. J Nutr. 2012 Jan;142(1):99-104. doi: 10.3945/jn.111.148973. Epub 2011 Nov 23. PMID: 22113870.
8- Ramel A, Martinez JA, Kiely M, Bandarra NM, Thorsdottir I. Moderate consumption of fatty fish reduces diastolic blood pressure in overweight and obese European young adults during energy restriction. Nutrition. 2010 Feb;26(2):168-74. doi: 10.1016/j.nut.2009.04.002. Epub 2009 May 31. PMID: 19487105.9- Thies F, Garry JM, Yaqoob P, Rerkasem K, Williams J, Shearman CP, Gallagher PJ, Calder PC, Grimble RF. Association of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids with stability of atherosclerotic plaques: a randomised controlled trial. Lancet. 2003 Feb 8;361(9356):477-85. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(03)12468-3. PMID: 12583947.
10- Phang M, Garg ML, Sinclair AJ. Inhibition of platelet aggregation by omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids is gender specific-Redefining platelet response to fish oils. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 2009 Jul;81(1):35-40. doi: 10.1016/j.plefa.2009.05.001. Epub 2009 May 29. PMID: 19481915.
11- Harvard Health Publishing. Fighting Inflammation. Harvard Medical School. Accessed Nov 25, 2020. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/understanding-inflammation12- Fotuhi M, Mohassel P, Yaffe K. Fish consumption, long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and risk of cognitive decline or Alzheimer disease: a complex association. Nat Clin Pract Neurol. 2009 Mar;5(3):140-52. doi: 10.1038/ncpneuro1044. PMID: 19262590.
13- Robinson JG, Ijioma N, Harris W. Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Cognitive Function in Women. Women’s Health. January 2010:119-134. doi:10.2217/WHE.09.75