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December 2003

Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Vital to a Longer, Healthier Life
By Dale Kiefer

Shining Eyes, Glowing Skin, and All the Rest
Fish oil shows promise far exceeding improvements in cardiovascular health. Studies show that omega-3s are vital to the proper development of vision in developing infants and that a deficiency in the nursing mother may result in insufficient milk production and breast engorgement. Research shows that omega-3s may improve vision among alcoholics who have experienced alcoholism-related vision impairment. Omega-3s also may play a significant role in preventing age-related macular degeneration.

Omega-3s are under investigation for the treatment of conditions ranging from chronic (post-viral) fatigue syndrome57 and psoriasis to atopic dermatitis and post-menopausal bone loss.58 Results generally have been encouraging, but further research is needed. Supplemental fish oil has even been used in the treatment of pancreatitis, a painful condition often accompanied by abnormally high levels of triglycerides.59 Fish oil has been proven to reduce triglyceride levels, even among otherwise healthy individuals.

Getting Yours— How Much Is Enough?
Although no formal dietary guidelines have yet been established, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has ruled that intakes of up to 3,000 mg (3 g) per day of omega-3 fatty acids derived from fish oil are Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS). Many studies have reported positive results with as little as 2,000 mg (2 g) of omega-3s per day. For the average adult, it is probably advisable to consume at least 3 g daily of supplemental omega-3s, depending on dietary intake (fish consumption) and need. People with pre-existing disease conditions, for instance, may require higher doses than healthy individuals to achieve maximum benefits. Intake of omega-6 fatty acids should also be taken into consideration. In general, it is best to reduce omega-6 consumption while increasing omega-3 consumption to achieve a balance between these essential nutrients.

Attention also must be paid to the concentration of EFAs in a given supplement. Some supplements have such a low concentration of DHA and EPA, that seven or more capsules a day are needed to obtain minimum potencies. Higher concentrated supplements are available that provide more DHA/EPA in fewer capsules. Taking supplements with food is generally recommended for better tolerability. Omega-3s decrease blood viscosity and platelet aggregation, an action that explains at least some of the cardiovascular benefits conferred by these EFAs. Because of this, however, individuals taking blood-thinner medications should consult with their physicians before beginning supplementation in order to avoid the risk of excessive bleeding.


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