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Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplements

flaxseed and oil

Omega-3 fatty acids (ALA, EPA, and DHA) are important nutrients. There is a wealth of data in the medical literature about the cardiovascular benefits of omega-3 supplements. Omega-3 supplements have been shown to reduce the risk of sudden cardiac death and heart attack, slow growth of plaque in the arteries by decreasing inflammation, improve lipid levels, enhance blood pressure regulation, and reduce pulse pressure.1-5 Because of these benefits, the American Heart Association recommends eating 2 servings of fatty fish weekly - but is this really the healthiest way to get your omega-3s?

Should we eat fish to get our omega-3s?
Fish is an unfavorable source of omega-3s because most fatty fish contain harmful pollutants, such as dioxin and mercury. People also report difficulty digesting fish oils because of the fishy taste and rancidity. Purified fish oils are an option, however the increased demand for fish and fish oils is depleting our oceans of fish.6,7 Algae-based DHA+EPA is a more sustainable option, and it is free of the environmental pollutants that accumulate in fish. Also, since pregnant women are advised to limit fish intake (to avoid the potential harm of mercury to the baby's brain), supplemental omega-3 fatty acids are a safer alternative.

Omega-3s don’t only help the health of your heart – here are some additional benefits:

  • Important for pregnant/nursing women and children, to ensure proper fetal and childhood brain and vision development.8-12
  • Reduced risk of ADHD and other childhood cognitive disorders.13,14
  • Improved memory; reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease and cognitive decline in the elderly.15-17
  • Reduced risk of depression.9,18,19
  • Omega-3 fatty acids and Parkinson's disease (PD): A number of animal studies have shown that DHA has preventive and/or therapeutic effects against PD.20-22  I have seen PD in a surprising number of elderly men that eat healthy vegan diets, and I have also observed that all these men were DHA-deficient. Since men convert ALA to DHA less efficiently than women, prevention of Parkinson's disease with DHA supplementation may be important for non-fish eating men.

How to maintain adequate omega-3 levels healthfully:

  • Take 1 tbsp. of ground flaxseed or chia seeds each day
  • Include additional plant sources of the omega-3 fatty acid ALA (walnuts, hempseeds or hemp milk, and chia seeds) in your diet regularly
  • Since only a limited amount of ALA can be converted to EPA and even less to DHA, take an algae-derived DHA supplement.


References:
1. Conquer JA, Holub BJ: Supplementation with an algae source of docosahexaenoic acid increases (n-3) fatty acid status and alters selected risk factors for heart disease in vegetarian subjects. J Nutr 1996;126:3032-3039.
2. Geppert J, Kraft V, Demmelmair H, et al: Microalgal docosahexaenoic acid decreases plasma triacylglycerol in normolipidaemic vegetarians: a randomised trial. Br J Nutr 2006;95:779-786.
3. Kris-Etherton PM, Harris WS, Appel LJ: Fish consumption, fish oil, omega-3 fatty acids, and cardiovascular disease. Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol 2003;23:e20-30.
4. Nestel P, Shige H, Pomeroy S, et al: The n-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid increase systemic arterial compliance in humans. Am J Clin Nutr 2002;76:326-330.
5. Doughman SD, Krupanidhi S, Sanjeevi CB: Omega-3 fatty acids for nutrition and medicine: considering microalgae oil as a vegetarian source of EPA and DHA. Curr Diabetes Rev 2007;3:198-203.
6. Myers RA, Worm B: Rapid worldwide depletion of predatory fish communities. Nature 2003;423:280-283.
7. Jenkins DJA, Sievenpiper JL, Pauly D, et al: Are dietary recommendations for the use of fish oils sustainable? Can Med Assoc J 2009;180:633-637.
8. Higdon J: Essential Fatty Acids. In An Evidence-Based Approach to Dietary Phytochemicals. New York, NY: Thieme; 2006: 78-99
9. Kidd PM: Omega-3 DHA and EPA for cognition, behavior, and mood: clinical findings and structural-functional synergies with cell membrane phospholipids. Altern Med Rev 2007;12:207-227.
10. Ryan AS, Astwood JD, Gautier S, et al: Effects of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation on neurodevelopment in childhood: a review of human studies. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids 2010;82:305-314.
11. Helland IB, Smith L, Saarem K, et al: Maternal supplementation with very-long-chain n-3 fatty acids during pregnancy and lactation augments children's IQ at 4 years of age. Pediatrics 2003;111:e39-44.
12. Koletzko B, Cetin I, Brenna JT: Dietary fat intakes for pregnant and lactating women. Br J Nutr 2007;98:873-877.
13. Schuchardt JP, Huss M, Stauss-Grabo M, et al: Significance of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) for the development and behaviour of children. Eur J Pediatr 2010;169:149-164.
14. Stevens LJ, Zentall SS, Deck JL, et al: Essential fatty acid metabolism in boys with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Am J Clin Nutr 1995;62:761-768.
15. Yurko-Mauro K: Cognitive and cardiovascular benefits of docosahexaenoic acid in aging and cognitive decline. Curr Alzheimer Res 2010;7:190-196.
16. Yurko-Mauro K, McCarthy D, Rom D, et al: Beneficial effects of docosahexaenoic acid on cognition in age-related cognitive decline. Alzheimers Dement 2010.
17. Quinn JF, Raman R, Thomas RG, et al: Docosahexaenoic acid supplementation and cognitive decline in Alzheimer disease: a randomized trial. JAMA 2010;304:1903-1911.
18. Ramakrishnan U, Imhoff-Kunsch B, DiGirolamo AM: Role of docosahexaenoic acid in maternal and child mental health. Am J Clin Nutr 2009;89:958S-962S.
19. Stahl LA, Begg DP, Weisinger RS, et al: The role of omega-3 fatty acids in mood disorders. Curr Opin Investig Drugs 2008;9:57-64.
20. Bousquet M, Saint-Pierre M, Julien C, et al: Beneficial effects of dietary omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid on toxin-induced neuronal degeneration in an animal model of Parkinson's disease. FASEB J 2008;22:1213-1225.
21. Samadi P, Gregoire L, Rouillard C, et al: Docosahexaenoic acid reduces levodopa-induced dyskinesias in 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine monkeys. Ann Neurol 2006;59:282-288.
22. Calon F, Cole G: Neuroprotective action of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids against neurodegenerative diseases: evidence from animal studies. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids 2007;77:287-293.

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