Do you take Omega-3 to supplement your healthy eating program?
Before I answer, here is what I found. “Most Americans don’t” get enough omega-3, as supported by this report.
“Some 10% of American adults regularly take an omega-3 supplement, despite uncertainty about whether these products truly live up to their health claims. But two new studies published in November 2018 shed some light on who might benefit from omega-3 supplements — and who probably won’t.” – per Harvard Women’s Health Watch.
Events Experienced in Life Teach us Much
Before I jump into the studies that caused the discovered Omega supplementation, I thought I should share a bit of my own dietary journey. As shared in a previous post, my childhood eating habit was awful. Way too much sugar, junk food, and too few fruits, vegetables and berries. In spite of that unfortunately typical experience, I was amazingly healthy getting only the occasional colds and flu.
As a young adult I thought I was indestructible and burned the candle a both ends -work and family life. I smoked too much, drake too much, slept too little and worked long hours. Mostly in corporate life, maintaining a home and raising 3 children. Sound familiar? It should be. It was a pretty typical guy story, huh. Because I was fairly healthy, I rarely saw a doctor and only collapsed when the flu season finally caught up to me after everyone else was down in my house as well.
Here is the kicker, my work life was as the corporate health insurance plan manager. I was privy to all the data on what we were spending on healthcare each year. I saw first hand that chronic illness was growing each year as the average age of the plan members rose. I read the reports that predicted and reported that chronic illness was caused by lifestyle choices. But that was everyone else, not me.
Apparently knowing the risks, or reading the data, did not make me change my own unhealthy habits until I was trained to manage my work process as engineers do. I became a statistical black-belt in human resource management. Everything looks different when the goal is finding the root cause for the error, not fixing the symptom, or repairing after the system fails.
But, enough about me, let’s get back to the omega story.
The Harvard Omega Study
This research is known as the “Vital Study”, and it is not the most conclusive report on omega-3 supplementation. We learn as much from what it didn’t find, as what it did find. Consider the following:
“The findings are somewhat complex and nuanced. It’s not a simple yes, or no, or one-size-fits-all answer. Some groups tended to benefit, while other groups didn’t,” says Dr. Manson.
As reported by the Harvard Women’s Health Watch, “[r]esearchers tested, among other things, whether a moderate dosage (1 gram a day) of an omega-3 supplement could help prevent major cardiovascular events, compared with a placebo. Cardiovascular events included not only heart attacks, but stroke, and angioplasty procedures to clear blocked arteries.”
Apparently, the 1 gram daily omega-3 supplementation “did not significantly reduce major cardiovascular events over all, there was a 28% reduction in heart attacks”, and other “promising signals”. As the Dr. Manson quote suggests, the data findings are not universally the same for everyone. It depends on which group of people you fall into. Such as…
- Do you eat more, or less than, 1.5 servings of fish a week, or
- You don’t eat fish at all, and
- Are you of African American decent?
If you eat less than 1.5 servings of fish each week, you would expect to benefit from Omega-3 supplementation. At least per this study, which reported out “a significant 19% reduction in the primary endpoint of major cardiovascular events, with a 40% reduction in heart attacks.” And, African Americans benefited by “a 77% reduction in heart attack, when taking the omega-3 supplement.”
In a second study of “middle aged and older adults who had elevated triglyceride levels and had already experienced a cardiovascular event, or who had other significant risk factors for one.” This study was aimed at a daily high-dose, 4-gram prescription omega-3 medication. They found there was a “substantial 25% reduction in the risk of dying from heart disease, or suffering a cardiovascular event” among the target population, “who took the medication, compared with those who had the placebo.”
As noted in the article, “High doses of omega-3 supplements, like the high-dose omega-3 product used in this trial, aren’t appropriate for everyone because they pose risks, such as bleeding or an increase in a type of abnormal heart rhythm known as atrial fibrillation”, says Dr. Manson.
Their recommendation for OTC omega-3 supplementation suggests taking:
- only a 1-gram daily dose, unless your doctor recommends more
- which is a combination of fatty acids EPA (“eicosapentaenoic acid’) and DHA (“docosahexaenoic acid”),
- from a quality supplement, as indicated by seals from U.S. Pharmacopeia, NSF International, or ConsumerLab
That said, if you consider the findings of these studies, and you are middle-aged with elevated triglycerides, a history of heart disease, or other cardiovascular event, and/or are an African American, it seems logical to discuss omega-3 supplementation with your health provider.
Based on just these studies, apparently healthy individuals, who believe they are at low, or average risk of heat disease may not need to take a daily omega-3 supplement. Especially if they are eating fish high in omega-3s regularly. That said, there are other studies that suggest supplementation with omega-3 may have other benefits besides preventing heart disease. Such as supporting eye health. Consider this. It is common knowledge that the carotenoids, in carrots, accumulate in the eyes and protect against UV light exposure, but recent studies have found that omega-3 fatty acids also support healthy vision.
As reported in NutrIngredient, the accomplished eye health researcher, Dr. John Paul SanGiovanni, at the National Institutes of Health, recently highlighted the role omega-3s have in supporting eye health.
Omega-3s Support both Your Eyes and Your Heart
What I learned is the DHA’s main job appears to be structural because it helps you maintain a healthy cell membrane. While the EPA’s role is more functional, in that it helps the eye cells communicate with each other. By the way, EPA is also used to make antioxidants which is very important because the delicate nature of the retina is prone to free radical damage. (Free radicals act like buckshot thru their host cell walls, if not balanced with antioxidants.)
According to Dr. SanGiovanni, DHA is highly concentrated in the retina, just like carotenoids. The doctor suggests there is more DHA in the retina than any other tissue of the body. Which tells us how important DHA is to eye health and should be considered when discussing omega-3 supplementation.
Now Can you See How important Omega-3s are?
Dr. SanGiovanni points us to studies that show people with higher levels of DHA have better vision. Later studies looked at intake (levels of DHA and EPA consumption) rather than the amount of these fats in your blood). The results showed that higher consumption of EPA and DHA in the food you eat the more likely you are to have healthy vision.
So let’s recap what we have learned. Supplementing omega-3s may not have much effect on your heart health, if you are caucasian, with no experience with cardiovascular events, and eat fish rich in omegas regularly. But, research also indicates the more omegas you consume the better you can improve your eye health.
Like most health reports, reading about what happened to the participants is less important than what you personally do, now that you have this new knowledge. So that leaves us to the next important questions.
Are you Getting Enough Omegas?
Right off, it is important to note, that omega-3s are the only fatty acids your body cannot produce on it’s own and therefore, must be consumed. This is why omega-3s are called essential fatty acids. As a result, you need to get them from your diet, or from supplements. It should also be noted, that some health professionals have raised concerns about mercury levels in fish, and we all know that mercury toxicity is a risk associated with increased seafood consumption.
While more and more people are trying to eat higher levels of a plant-based diet (fruits, berries, vegetables and nuts) most people don’t consume enough daily. As it turns out, most people are also not getting enough omega-3 fatty acids, as well. Supporting my opinion is this recent study. Basically it reports that 90% of Americans do not get enough omega-3s in their diet.
What’s the best we to Get More Omega-3s
Most people know EPA and DHA are abundant in fatty fish such as salmon, cod, and mackerel, and that’s a good
place to start. But you can also get them from algae, which is not only vegetarian, but also a sustainable resource.
Because of the factors I shared above, i.e. the benefits of omega supplementation, and rising toxic mercury risk associated with fish, I discovered, use and recommend supplementation using an Omega Blend. This product contains omega-3s derived from algae (not fish), which includes a broad array of other omega fatty acids — not just Omega-3, but also has omegas, 5, 6, 7 and 9. These are all derived from plant-based and environmentally sustainable sources such as pomegranate seeds, sea buckthorn berries, raspberry seeds, tomato seeds and safflower seeds.
So, I believe I have answered the question, I do take supplement omegas, even though I am caucasian, with no experience with cardiovascular events, and eat fish occasionally. The question now is… Do You?
Sources and Inspiration
“Should you be Taking an Omega-3 Supplement?“, Harvard Health Publishing.
“Research piles up supporting role of omega-3s in eye health“, Nutraingreidents. 2018 Feb 26.
Disclaimer: In fact, before starting any exercise, diet or wellness program, be sure you consult your doctor and be sure to learn the proper techniques for that diet before starting a new program. That would defeat the whole purpose of the activity and your injury may even increase your health insurance cost not reduce them. This post is intended to be for educational purposes only.