Omega-3 Fatty Acid Review

Omega-3 fatty acids are vital for a number of important body functions. There are three acids: EPA and DHA we get from fatty fish like salmon and tuna, and shellfish like oysters and crab. The third acid, ALA, is in foods like soy and good-for-you vegetable oils. If you’re not into fish, Omega-3s are also packed into chia and flax seeds. Chia seeds have almost half a gram of Omega-3s in just an ounce (about 3.5 tablespoons)—that’s a lot.

Eating seafood and other omega-3-rich foods can have health benefits—though whether omega-3 fatty acid supplements are as effective as the foods themselves is not absolutely definitive. That said, people who use omega-3 supplements—fish oil—rave about them. We’ll get to that shortly.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids Claims

Most fish oil brands don’t use a lot of hype—probably because they really don’t have to. The heart health evidence alone is enough to have folks looking for it. So most brands take their marketing in a different direction.

  • “Burpless” – apparently this has been a thing in the past: “fish burps”
  • Sustainable sources and purity – most brands claim to get their oils from wild-caught fish rather than farmed, and use sustainable practices and species
  • Purified – as mercury is a concern in a lot of oily fish (tuna comes to mind), most brands claim any mercury and other potential toxins have been removed

The Science (or Lack Thereof) Behind Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids—fish oil—are said to help promote better heart health. Indeed, U.S. dietary guidelines urge that adults eat 8 or more ounces of seafood per week, with at least half that amount for very young children. It’s now commonly accepted science that fish oil is good for your heart, joints, blood and more. [3]

From the Office of Dietary Supplements at the National Institutes of Health:

Omega-3s are important components of the membranes that surround each cell in your body. DHA levels are especially high in retina (eye), brain, and sperm cells. Omega-3s also provide calories to give your body energy and have many functions in your heart, blood vessels, lungs, immune system, and endocrine system (the network of hormone-producing glands). [3]

Fish oil has been shown to help arthritis sufferers with less joint swelling and joint pain and can help to lower or eliminate the need for anti-inflammatory meds. And fish oil has been shown to help with brain health—it may help improve mood.

The studies on whether or not it reduces depression are all over the map, so we’ll just call it the blues; fish oil may help when you’re down in the dumps. There’s also evidence of the possible benefits of fish oil for overall brain and eye health, too.

But what about weight loss?

First, know that there are more than just omega-3 fats; there are omega-6 fats and omega-9 fats (monounsaturated fats), the latter being of great benefit. Some suggest that including small amounts of good fats in a reduced-calorie diet can help with weight loss by making “your meals more satisfying.” [1]

It’s the omega-6s we already eat too much of and need to be careful of. From WebMD.com:

The two essential fatty acids most important to good health are omega-3 and omega-6. But we need these in the right balance in order to protect our hearts, joints, pancreas, mood stability, and skin.

Unfortunately, we eat way too much omega-6, which is found in the corn oil and vegetable oils used in so much American food. Too much omega 6 can raise your blood pressure, lead to blood clots that can cause heart attack and stroke, and cause your body to retain water.

We don’t eat nearly enough omega-3, which can reduce our risk for heart disease and cancer. Omega-3 is found in fish and fish oil, all green leafy vegetables, flax seed, hemp, and walnuts. [2]

So back to omega-3s. Let’s go to the science on the weight loss question.

Like so many supplements under study, the science is not static—it’s ongoing and often results are mixed. A 2013 study published by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, a department of the National Institutes of Health, found omega-3 supplements used “during a weight loss program does not appear to assist weight loss.” [4]

Currently a “Weight Loss Plus Omega-3 Fatty Acids or Placebo in High Risk Women” clinical trial is being conducted at University of Kansas Medical Center with results anticipated by fall of 2017. High-risk meaning obese and at risk for diabetes and the like. [5] So we’ll learn more about that soon.

But here’s the big omega-3 weight loss news: In a 2015 study by Japanese researchers, published in the journal Nature, on the effectiveness of fish oil as a weight loss aid. It turns out, according to these scientists, it does.

In a series of complicated scientific sentences that explains the study’s conclusion, the addition of fish oil in a diet resulted in an increase of energy expenditure with a decrease in body weight gain and accumulation. Conclusion: fish oil intake may contribute to an effective treatment for obesity. [6]

Their bottom line :

Numerous animal studies have demonstrated that fish oil reduces the accumulation of body fat, which could be mediated via several possible mechanisms, including reduced proliferation of fat cells, and metabolic changes in the liver, adipose tissue, and small intestines. Furthermore, fish oil supplementation prevents fat accumulation in white adipose tissue (WAT), compared to other dietary oils. [6]

Of course, this is just one study. But it’s a good one. And one good study will lead more researchers to test and determine just how solid the results are.

Science. It’s tough to argue with.

Word on the Street About Omega-3 Supplements

One of the more popular omega-3 supplement brands, Dr. Tobias Omega-3 Fish Oil Triple Strength, more than 90 percent of the 7,600 Amazon reviews are very positive, the vast majority five-star shout-outs. [7]

The main reason users love this supplement has a lot to do with the lack of a fishy aftertaste and “fish burps.” And most point to specific conditions helped or benefits they either hoped for or didn’t expect—some that may likely contribute, in a transient way, to weight loss.

For example, say you don’t work out because you have inflammation due to rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and it’s painful. People incorporating omega-3 in their diet seem to find some relief from RA, and that might make them get more exercise. It’s a stretch, but makes sense.

Amazon reviewer “Rainmaker I” (2017, 5 stars) said, “Helped relieve pain from arthritis right away! I could feel a difference in my hands in one day and will continue to take this product for my arthritis pain. No fishy taste at all!” [8]

There were dozens and dozens of reviews praising the product for help with arthritis. A number of users who found arthritis relief and lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol also were surprised to find another unanticipated benefit: better eye health. And, as we now know, the research may bear them out on this claim.

Amazon user and recent reviewer “Tall Mom” (2017, 5 stars) said,

Noticed a decrease in arthritis pain and anticipate a good outcome at my next physical. I can’t tolerate statin drugs for high cholesterol so I’m counting on Dr. Tobias to resolve this issue. A surprising outcome is that my vision has improved dramatically. My eyes are a lot less dry and I can read all night long again. Got my folks to order as they take fish oil supplements too and were impressed with my high praise. [9] (emphasis added)

Many reviewers said their doctors recommended fish oils to lower bad cholesterol. Amazon reviewer “Chandran Kumar” (2016, 5 stars), who takes omega-3 to treat hereditary high cholesterol, says it works.

My HDL is now 51 (minimum is 40). I take two tablets along with daily exercise and doing my best to stay away from bad food. My doc is happy and so I’m happy. I’m going to take this until they don’t make it anymore. Would another brand work the same or better. Don’t know, don’t care. This one is working for me. The after taste isn’t bad in that it’s only if I don’t eat that I taste it. At least the bottle I have smells of fish, which isn’t pleasant. Talk about a first world problem! I can deal with the smell if that means staying out of the emergency room! [10]

Omega-3 will likely have an indirect effect—but an effect nonetheless—in an overall nutritional diet and exercise program. And with heart health all but guaranteed, one need not be a scientist or physician to know a healthier heart can lead to proper and sustained weight loss.

Bottom Line: Are Omega-3 Supplements Worth a Try?

Depends. For weight loss, the effect will likely be indirect. But go for it, after talking to your doctor. Chances are if you have any of the health issues helped by omega-3, then your health care provider will probably give it a thumbs-up—albeit from food rather than supplements, because whether omega-3 supplements are beneficial is still uncertain. [11]

That said, not everyone can eat fish and other foods containing omega-3s; they may not be appetizing or tolerable for some. In that case, grab these supplements and feel better. Or there’s always those chia seeds.

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