Omega-3 Fatty AcidsPage 3 of 4
Prev | Next
In one study, 13 people with a particular
sensitivity to the sun known as photodermatitis showed significantly less
sensitivity to UV rays after taking fish oil supplements. Still, research
indicates that topical sunscreens are much better at protecting the skin from
damaging effects of the sun than omega-3 fatty acids. In another study of 40
people with psoriasis, those who were treated with medications and EPA
supplements did better than those treated with the medications alone. In
addition, many clinicians believe that flaxseed (which contains omega-3 fatty
acids) is helpful for treating acne.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
When added to medication,
such as sulfasalazine (a standard medication for IBD), omega-3 fatty acids may
reduce symptoms of Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis -- the two types of
IBD. More studies to investigate this preliminary finding are under way. In
animals, it appears that ALA works better at decreasing bowel inflammation than
EPA and DHA. Plus, fish oil supplements can cause side effects that are similar
to symptoms of IBD (such as flatulence and diarrhea). Time-release preparations
may help reduce these unwanted effects.
Preliminary research suggests that omega-3 fatty acid
supplements (in the form of perilla seed oil, which is rich in ALA) may decrease
inflammation and improve lung function in adults with asthma. Omega-6 fatty
acids have the opposite effect: they tend to increase inflammation and worsen
respiratory function. In a small, well-designed study of 29 children with
asthma, those who took fish oil supplements rich in EPA and DHA for 10 months
had improvement in their symptoms compared to children who took a placebo pill.
A questionnaire administered to more than
3,000 people over the age of 49 found that those who consumed more fish in their
diet were less likely to have macular degeneration (a serious age-related eye
condition that can progress to blindness) than those who consumed less fish.
Similarly, a study comparing 350 people with macular degeneration to 500 without
found that those with a healthy dietary balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty
acids and higher intake of fish in their diets were less likely to have this
particular eye disorder. Another larger study confirms that EPA and DHA from
fish, four or more times per week, may reduce the risk of developing macular
degeneration. Notably, however, this same study suggests that ALA may actually
increase the risk of this eye condition.
In a study of nearly 200 Danish women, those
with the highest dietary intake of omega-3 fatty acids had the mildest symptoms
Consuming significant amounts of foods rich in
omega-3 fatty acids appears to reduce the risk of colorectal cancer. For
example, Eskimos, who tend to follow a high fat diet but eat significant amounts
of fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, have a low rate of colorectal cancer.
Animal studies and laboratory studies have found that omega-3 fatty acids
prevent worsening of colon cancer while omega-6 fatty acids promote the growth
of colon tumors. Daily consumption of EPA and DHA also appeared to slow or even
reverse the progression of colon cancer in people with early stages of the
However, in an animal study of rats with metastatic colon cancer (in other
words, cancer that has spread to other parts of the body such as the liver),
omega-3 fatty acids actually promoted the growth of cancer cells in the liver.
Until more information is available, it is best for people with advanced stages
of colorectal cancer to avoid omega-3 fatty acid supplements and diets rich in
Although not all experts agree, women who
regularly consume foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids over many years may be less
likely to develop breast cancer. In addition, the risk of dying from breast
cancer may be significantly less for those who eat large quantities of omega-3
from fish and brown kelp seaweed (common in Japan). This is particularly true
among women who substitute fish for meat. The balance between omega-3 and
omega-6 fatty acids appears to play an important role in the development and
growth of breast cancer. Further research is still needed to understand the
effect that omega-3 fatty acids may have on the prevention or treatment of
breast cancer. For example, several researchers speculate that omega-3 fatty
acids in combination with other nutrients (namely, vitamin C, vitamin E,
beta-carotene, selenium, and coenzyme Q10) may prove to be of particular value
for preventing and treating breast cancer.
Laboratory and animal studies indicate that
omega-3 fatty acids (specifically, DHA and EPA) may inhibit the growth of
prostate cancer. Similarly, population based studies of groups of men suggest
that a low-fat diet with the addition of omega-3 fatty acids from fish or fish
oil help prevent the development of prostate cancer. Like breast cancer, the
balance of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids appears to be particularly important
for reducing the risk of this condition. ALA, however, may not offer the same
benefits as EPA and DHA. In fact, one recent study evaluating 67 men with
prostate cancer found that they had higher levels of ALA compared to men without
prostate cancer. More research in this area is needed.
Although further research is needed, preliminary
evidence suggests that omega-3 fatty acids may also prove helpful in protecting
against certain infections and treating a variety of conditions including
ulcers, migraine headaches, preterm labor, emphysema, psoriasis, glaucoma, Lyme
disease, lupus, and panic attacks.
Fish oils and plant oils are the primary dietary source of omega-3 fatty
acids. Another potential source of omega-3 fatty acids is New Zealand green
lipped mussels (Perna canaliculus),used for centuries by the Maories to
promote good health. EPA and DHA are found in cold-water fish such as salmon,
mackerel, halibut, sardines, and herring. ALA is found in flaxseeds, flaxseed
oil, canola (rapeseed) oil, soybeans, soybean oil, pumpkin seeds, pumpkin seed
oil, purslane, perilla seed oil, walnuts, and walnut oil.
In addition to the dietary sources described, EPA and DHA can be taken in the
form of fish oil capsules. Flaxseed, flaxseed oil, and fish oil should be kept
refrigerated. Whole flaxseeds must be ground within 24 hours of use, otherwise
the ingredients lose their activity. Flaxseeds are also available in ground form
in a special mylar package so that the components in the flaxseeds stay active.
Be sure to buy omega-3 fatty acid supplements made by established companies
who certify that their products are free of heavy metals such as
Prev | Next