Do You Take Omega 3 Fish Oils? Are You Taking Enough?

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After reading this post see this link for an UPDATE: Should I Take Fish Oils – or Not

The American Heart Association recommends that patients with elevated triglycerides take 2 to 4 grams (that’s 2000 to 4000 mgs) of omega 3 fish oils a day. In my practice, I recommend 4 grams per day for almost everyone – particularly those people with abnormal cholesterol profiles, Metabolic Syndrome, diabetes, and/or cardiovascular disease.

That’s the dose I take myself – for prevention – even though my cholesterol profile is normal. But when I ask my patients how much they take, most of the time they say “one a day” – and that is not enough. More omega 3s are better than not enough.

First, what are omega 3s and what do they do?

Omega 3 fish oils contain essential fatty acids our bodies need but can not produce – that’s why we have to get them from our diet and why they they are called essential!

Omega 3s beneficial health effects are:

  • lowering triglycerides.
  • lowering blood pressure (but only slightly).
  • decreasing inflammation.
  • slowing the progression of plaque (also known as “hardening of the arteries”) in blood vessels.
  • decreasing clotting tendencies.
  • improving brain function.
  • decreasing the risk of heart attack and stroke.
  • perhaps decreasing heart arrythmias (or irregular heart beats) – but that is still under study.

The three most important omega 3s fatty acids are:

  • eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
  • docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
  • alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)

How do you get enough omega 3s?

One way is to eat foods that contain high amounts of omega 3s. Oily fishes such as salmon, halibut, albacore tuna, sardines, mackerel, herring and trout are good sources of EPA and DHA. There is ALA in nuts like walnuts and oils such as flaxseed, canola, and olive – but ALA, though a healthy fat, has only a fraction of the beneficial effects that EPA and DHA have.

Most Americans get more omega 6 fatty acids than omega 3s in their diets. Omega 6s are found in vegetable oils containing linoleic acid including corn, safflower, sesame, soybean, sunflower, walnut, and wheat germ.

Since omega 3s and omega 6s compete with each other to be converted by the body, you can increase how much omega 3s you get either by reducing your intake of omega 6 fatty acids or increasing your intake omega-3 fatty acids.

Omega 3 dietary supplements come in either 1000 mg capsules or 1200 mg capsules. The benefit of supplements is that, if purchased from a reputable manufacturer, they have gone through a purification process to remove any mercury, heavy metals, PCBs and other contaminants that may be present in the fish themselves.

How much is enough?

If you have high triglycerides, high blood pressure, are on medication for either of them or have other cardiovascular risks (i.e. Metabolic Syndrome or diabetes, for example), 4 grams, which is equal to 4000mgs per day is optimum.

Take either two 1000 mg capsules in the morning and two 1000 mgs capsules at night or take four 1000 mg capsules together following a meal. (I take four 1000 mg capsules after my evening meal along with my other vitamins.) If the supplement you buy is 1200 mgs then take three capsules a day.

In my clinical practice, I see much more dramatic improvements in cholesterol profiles at the 4 gram/4000 mg dose of omega 3s than at 2 grams/2000 mg or less. So if you are going to take them at all – take enough to get the effect you are seeking.

Are there side effects?

The most common complaint I hear from people about omega 3s is a fishy after taste with some supplements. I have not found this with the high quality (but not expensive one) that I buy at a health food store. For those people I recommend trying another brand. Also, if you keep the capsules in the refrigerator – that helps, too.

Because omega 3s reduce clotting there is some risk of bleeding, though I have not observed this in clinical practice. If you are planning surgery, discontinue them 7 to 14 days before your procedure and resume them again after. If you are on blood thinners such as Coumadin/warfarin make sure you keep up with your protime blood tests to monitor your medication dosage. Be sure to discuss all your medications and supplements with your health provider.

A fish oil by prescription.

For people with good insurance there is a fish oil capsule by prescription called Lovaza (it used to be called Omacor but they changed the name).

This is a pharmaceutical grade fish oil meaning, unlike over the counter supplements, it is produced with the oversite of the FDA (Federal Drug Administration) to insure quality. Dietary supplements are not subject to this FDA oversite. The dose is the same – 4 grams or 4000 mgs per day. If you don’t have insurance that covers, it is expensive so just buy over the counter high quality supplements.

Quality fish oil supplements are very affordable considering the potential benefit to be gained by taking them. There is strong scientific and clinical evidence behind making fish oils a part of your daily health and nutrition plan.

So – don’t stop at a half dose, take the full 4 grams/4000 mgs a day to get the full benefit from omega 3 fish oils – OK?

Other Resources on Omega 3s:

U.S. National Library of Medicine

American Heart Association

This information is offered for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, prescribe or treat. For that please seek direct care from a health professional.

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