Founder and currently Executive Editor of Science-Based Medicine Steven Novella, MD is an academic clinical neurologist at the Yale University School of Medicine. He is also the host and producer of the popular weekly science podcast, The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe, and the author of the NeuroLogicaBlog, a daily blog that covers news and issues in neuroscience, but also general science, scientific skepticism, philosophy of science, critical thinking, and the intersection of science with the media and society. Dr. Novella also has produced two courses with The Great Courses, and published a book on critical thinking - also called The Skeptics Guide to the Universe.
The omega-3 index is also important because it is inversely related to one’s omega-6 to omega-3 ratio — another important measurement (3). A lower omega-6/omega-3 ratio (meaning, you consume a balanced amount of these two fatty acid families) is associated with a reduced risk of many chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and autoimmune disease, to name a few (4). Of course, most people get far too much omega-6 and too little omega-3, thanks to the plethora of highly processed foods in the Western diet.

While I think the article is good, it does not tell the reader that most of fish oil capsules sold over the counter are unregulated, and contain widely different ingredients and potency levels. They are mostly a waste of money. If you have health concerns, you need to consult an MD or a Registered Dietitian. Not a naturopath, homeopath, or other pseudoscience practitioner. Eat a diet rich in whole grains, nuts, and some oily fish. I take a multivitamin supplement made by CVS, formulated for my gender and age. Not from the food supplement shelves, which are unregulated, and might contain anything at all, or nothing but vegetable oil or cornstarch.

A report by the Harvard Medical School studied five popular brands of fish oil, including Nordic Ultimate, Kirkland and CVS. They found that the brands had "negligible amounts of mercury, suggesting either that mercury is removed during the manufacturing of purified fish oil or that the fish sources used in these commercial preparations are relatively mercury-free".[66]
From the time of your pregnancy through your child's later life, omega-3 fats DHA and EPA have a radically important role in her brain health and other functions. I recommend supplementing with krill oil before and during pregnancy, and while you breastfeed. Babies receive DHA through your breast milk, so continuing breastfeeding through the first year will give your child a great headstart for health and success.
Several recent clinical studies, especially those focusing on the benefits of omega-3 in inflammatory conditions, have investigated the actions of pure-EPA in protecting against excess inflammation in the body. EPA works in several different ways. Firstly, it is the precursor to a number of immune messengers, collectively called ‘eicosanoids’ (series-3 prostaglandins, series-3 thromboxanes and series-5 leukotrienes,) all of which have anti-inflammatory roles.
Krauss-Etschmann et al. (26) Double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized 311 DHA+EPA daily with either fish oil with DHA (0.5 g) and EPA (0.15 g) or with methyltetrahydrofolic acid (400 μg), both, or placebo, from gestation week 22 Fish-oil supplementation was associated with decreased levels of maternal inflammatory/TH1 cytokines and a decrease of fetal Th2-related cytokines
Kremer, J. M., Lawrence, D. A., Petrillo, G. F., Litts, L. L., Mullaly, P. M., Rynes, R. I., Stocker, R. P., Parhami, N., Greenstein, N. S., Fuchs, B. R., and . Effects of high-dose fish oil on rheumatoid arthritis after stopping nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs. Clinical and immune correlates. Arthritis Rheum. 1995;38(8):1107-1114. View abstract.
Carrero, J. J., Fonolla, J., Marti, J. L., Jimenez, J., Boza, J. J., and Lopez-Huertas, E. Intake of fish oil, oleic acid, folic acid, and vitamins B-6 and E for 1 year decreases plasma C-reactive protein and reduces coronary heart disease risk factors in male patients in a cardiac rehabilitation program. J.Nutr. 2007;137(2):384-390. View abstract.
According to the Cardiovascular Research Institute in Maastricht in Netherlands, “Epidemiological studies show that replacing fat with carbohydrates may even be worse [than the Western-type high-fat diet] and that various polyunsaturated fatty acids (FA) have beneficial rather than detrimental effects on CVD (cardiovascular disease) outcome.” This includes fish-oil fatty acids with anti-inflammatory properties, which can help prevent and reverse a plethora of cardiovascular diseases. (19)
Jump up ^ Wang C, Harris WS, Chung M, Lichtenstein AH, Balk EM, Kupelnick B, Jordan HS, Lau J (July 2006). "n−3 Fatty acids from fish or fish-oil supplements, but not alpha-linolenic acid, benefit cardiovascular disease outcomes in primary- and secondary-prevention studies: a systematic review". The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 84 (1): 5–17. doi:10.1093/ajcn/84.1.5. PMID 16825676.
Macchia, A., Levantesi, G., Franzosi, M. G., Geraci, E., Maggioni, A. P., Marfisi, R., Nicolosi, G. L., Schweiger, C., Tavazzi, L., Tognoni, G., Valagussa, F., and Marchioli, R. Left ventricular systolic dysfunction, total mortality, and sudden death in patients with myocardial infarction treated with n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. Eur.J.Heart Fail. 2005;7(5):904-909. View abstract.
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Moertl, D., Hammer, A., Steiner, S., Hutuleac, R., Vonbank, K., and Berger, R. Dose-dependent effects of omega-3-polyunsaturated fatty acids on systolic left ventricular function, endothelial function, and markers of inflammation in chronic heart failure of nonischemic origin: a double-blind, placebo-controlled, 3-arm study. Am.Heart J. 2011;161(5):915-919. View abstract.
People with metabolic syndrome (the combination of central obesity, high blood pressure, disturbed lipid profile, and impaired glucose tolerance) are at increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and other apparently “age-related” disorders. Because metabolic syndrome is closely associated with chronic low-grade inflammation, the powerful anti-inflammatory effects of omega-3 fats are especially important as a means of slowing or stopping the progression of this deadly disorder.
Ample evidence from animal studies supports regular supplementation with omega-3 oils as a means of lowering long-term cardiovascular risk. This may be due to omega-3 fatty acids’ effects on reducing inflammation, lowering triglycerides, reducing blood pressure, improving endothelial function, inducing new blood vessel formation after heart attack or stroke, and favorable modification of obesity-related inflammatory molecules.35-39

The Lyon Diet Heart Study, performed shortly after the DART study, was a prospective trial of 607 survivors of MI who were randomized to either a Mediterranean diet or a regular Western diet.49 At a mean follow-up of 27 months, the primary end point of death from cardiovascular causes and nonfatal deaths had a 73% relative risk reduction—a positive effect that continued at follow up assessment at a mean of 46 months.50 FA analysis of plasma lipids showed that in the patients randomized to a Mediterranean diet, there was a higher concentration of alpha-linolenic acid as well as EPA. Fish, however, was consumed in similar amounts by both the Western and Mediterranean diet groups. The higher blood level of EPA in the Mediterranean diet arm was attributed to its synthesis from alpha-linolenic acid, which was 60-times higher than the plasma concentration of EPA. In addition, the risk reduction that occurred in this trial could not be attributed to one particular diet intervention because as the consumption of fruits and vegetables increased, the consumption of monounsaturated fat increased, while saturated fat and cholesterol were decreased.
The differing actions of EPA and DHA, together with their competitive uptake, help to explain why studies that attempt to use standard fish oil therapeutically (where DHA and EPA are combined, in a natural ratio of approximately 1.5:1) are either less beneficial than expected, or even completely ineffective. Standard EPA/DHA fish oils are more suitable for everyday wellbeing, to compensate for a lack of fish in the diet and to meet a suggested intake.
Under these conditions, it may make sense to try fish oil even at higher doses than what I recommended. There is some evidence that krill oil will get the omega-3 fatty acids better into the brain in the psychiatric conditions that I listed. And there is some evidence that EPA-rich fish oils are better than DHA-rich fish oils for some of those psychiatric conditions as well. So there’s room to play around with the different possibilities if those things apply to you. But for the average case, limit the fish oil to 250 milligrams of EPA and DHA combined when you take it, but in all cases, go for food first, and go for fish oil only after you have exhausted those possibilities.
The omega-3 index is also important because it is inversely related to one’s omega-6 to omega-3 ratio — another important measurement (3). A lower omega-6/omega-3 ratio (meaning, you consume a balanced amount of these two fatty acid families) is associated with a reduced risk of many chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and autoimmune disease, to name a few (4). Of course, most people get far too much omega-6 and too little omega-3, thanks to the plethora of highly processed foods in the Western diet.
During pregnancy and breastfeeding, eating 8 to 12 ounces per week of fish and other seafood may improve your baby’s health. However, it is important to choose fish that are higher in EPA and DHA and lower in mercury. Examples are salmon, herring, sardines, and trout. It is not clear whether taking dietary supplements containing EPA and DHA during pregnancy or breastfeeding affects a baby’s health or development. However, some studies show that taking these supplements may slightly increase a baby’s weight at birth and the length of time the baby is in the womb, both of which may be beneficial. Breast milk contains DHA. Most commercial infant formulas also contain DHA.
Omega-3 [(n-3)] fatty acids have been linked to healthy aging throughout life. Recently, fish-derived omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA have been associated with fetal development, cardiovascular function, and Alzheimer's disease. However, because our bodies do not efficiently produce some omega-3 fatty acids from marine sources, it is necessary to obtain adequate amounts through fish and fish-oil products. Studies have shown that EPA and DHA are important for proper fetal development, including neuronal, retinal, and immune function. EPA and DHA may affect many aspects of cardiovascular function including inflammation, peripheral artery disease, major coronary events, and anticoagulation. EPA and DHA have been linked to promising results in prevention, weight management, and cognitive function in those with very mild Alzheimer's disease.

To evaluate the potential placebo effect, we made further subgrouping analyses. In the subgroups of studies using placebo controls, the omega-3 PUFAs still revealed a consistent positive anxiolytic association with anxiety symptoms. These phenomena meant that the anxiolytic effect of omega-3 PUFAs is probably not entirely owing to the placebo effect.


Chemical structure of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an essential omega−3 fatty acid, (18:3Δ9c,12c,15c, which means a chain of 18 carbons with 3 double bonds on carbons numbered 9, 12, and 15). Although chemists count from the carbonyl carbon (blue numbering), biologists count from the n (ω) carbon (red numbering). Note that, from the n end (diagram right), the first double bond appears as the third carbon-carbon bond (line segment), hence the name "n-3". This is explained by the fact that the n end is almost never changed during physiological transformations in the human body, as it is more energy-stable, and other compounds can be synthesized from the other carbonyl end, for example in glycerides, or from double bonds in the middle of the chain.
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A 2014 meta-analysis of eleven trials conducted respectively on patients with a DSM-defined diagnosis of major depressive disorder (MDD) and of eight trials with patients with depressive symptomatology but no diagnosis of MDD demonstrated significant clinical benefit of omega-3 PUFA treatment compared to placebo. The study concluded that: "The use of omega-3 PUFA is effective in patients with diagnosis of MDD and on depressive patients without diagnosis of MDD."[42]
Most vegan omega-3 supplements are made from seaweed, one of very few plant sources of both EPA and DHA. If you’d rather skip the pills, the real thing provides omega-3s as well as vitamin K, vitamin C, niacin, folate, and choline. Seaweed can be eaten raw (look for it at your local organic or Asian market) or dried — try Annie Chun’s Organic Seaweed Snack, which comes in individual packs and is available in several delicious flavors.
For those who do not eat seafood, another way exists for you to get a healthy dose of EPA and DHA each day. Fish oil supplements, which are rich in EPA and DHA, can be made from a variety of fish, with the most common ones being halibut, tuna, salmon, cod liver, mackerel and herring. On average, one 3.5 ounce serving of fatty fish contains about 1 gram of omega-3s, which can be obtained through fish oil supplements, according to MedlinePlus.
RA causes chronic pain, swelling, stiffness, and loss of function in the joints. Some clinical trials have shown that taking omega-3 supplements may help manage RA when taken together with standard RA medications and other treatments. For example, people with RA who take omega-3 supplements may need less pain-relief medication, but it is not clear if the supplements reduce joint pain, swelling, or morning stiffness.
So for those people who will not eat liver, cod liver oil on a daily basis can be a very good way of getting that. And you do benefit from the omega-3 fatty acids, and with the cod liver oil, it may even be unimportant to eat fish if you’re getting the cod liver oil, although it’s still better to focus on the fish, the egg yolks, and just add some of the cod liver oil.
It is well known that fish oil has the ability to improve vision. It also helps in avoiding age-related macular degeneration. The National Eye Institute at the National Institute of Health in the United States plans to conduct a nationwide study to evaluate the effect of fish oil in treating macular degeneration. This study will provide strong scientific evidence regarding the benefits of fish oil for eye care, thereby allowing government agencies and physicians to strongly recommend fish oil for macular degeneration.
The human body does not produce significant amounts of EPA or DHA on its own, so you must get these important nutrients from the foods you eat and the supplements you consume. If you’re looking to get the heart health benefits of omega-3s, go straight to the source of EPA and DHA. EPA and DHA are naturally found in marine sources, including fatty fish – salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring – shellfish, and marine algae.
The question is whether the observed cardiovascular benefits often found among fish eaters is due solely to the oils in fish or to some other characteristics of seafood or to still other factors common to those who eat lots of fish, like eating less meat or pursuing a healthier lifestyle over all. Whatever the answer, it does not seem to be fish oil supplements.
In addition, there was no significant difference in the association of treatment with reduced anxiety symptoms between participants receiving omega-3 PUFAs and those not receiving omega-3 PUFAs in the adolescent subgroup (aged <18 years) (k, 3; Hedges g, 0.020; 95% CI, –0.209 to 0.250; P = .86),48,53,57 in the adult subgroup (aged ≥18 years but <60 years) (k, 11; Hedges g, 0.388; 95% CI, –0.012 to 0.788; P = .06),33,35,36,47,49-51,54-56,59 or in the elderly subgroup (aged ≥60 years) (k, 3; Hedges g, –0.112; 95% CI, –0.406 to 0.181; P = .45).52,58,60 These insignificant results might be due to the smaller sample sizes in each subgroup.
This constant sweeping motion of DHA also causes the breakup of lipid rafts in membranes (8). Disruption of these islands of relatively solid lipids makes it more difficult for cancer cells to continue to survive and more difficult for inflammatory cytokines to initiate the signaling responses to turn on inflammatory genes (9). In addition, the greater spatial characteristics of DHA increase the size of LDL particles to a greater extent compared to EPA. As a result, DHA helps reduce the entry of these enlarged LDL particles into the muscle cells that line the artery thus reducing the likelihood of developing atherosclerotic lesions (10). Thus the increased spatial territory swept out by DHA is good news for making certain areas of membranes more fluid or lipoprotein particles larger, even though it reduces the benefits of DHA in competing with AA for key enzymes important in the development of cellular inflammation.
The chemical structures of EPA and DHA are very similar and they compete for uptake and processing resources. During digestion, the triglyceride molecules in standard fish oil are broken down into a mono glycerol and two free fatty acids, small enough to be absorbed into cells of the gut lining. More often than not, DHA is the fatty acid that remains attached to the glycerol backbone, meaning in essence that DHA gets a ‘free pass’ into the gut, while the remaining free fatty acids (more often EPA) must reattach onto a glycerol molecule or risk being oxidised and used as fuel. The implication of this is that DHA levels in our cells are often concentrated at the expense of EPA after absorption when taking EPA and DHA in the standard ratio of 1.5 to 1.
Higdon JV, Liu J, Du S, et al. Supplementation of postmenopausal women with fish oil rich in eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid is not associated with greater in vivo lipid peroxidation compared with oils rich in oleate and linoleate as assessed by plasma malondialdehyde and F(2)- isoprostanes. Am J Clin Nutr 2000;72:714-22. View abstract.
In a U.K. study, children of mothers who ate more than 12 ounces a week actually scored better on tests of verbal I.Q., social behavior, and development and communication than children of mothers who ate none. In the Seychelles Islands, where people average 12 fish meals -- not ounces -- a week, there are no reports of links between mercury exposure and poor outcomes in children. These studies suggest that eating less than 12 ounces of fish each week could do more harm to a child's developing neurological system than mercury poisoning.

Alpha-linolenic Acid (ALA): This plant-based omega-3 is found in green, leafy vegetables, flaxseeds, chia seeds and canola, walnut and soybean oils (although those rancid oils are not ones I generally recommend). ALA is known as a short-chain omega-3, meaning your body has to convert it into longer-chained EPA and DHA to synthesize it. This process is rather inefficient and only about one percent of the ALA you consume is converted to the long-chain version your body needs (although this percentage is slightly higher for women).
And in osteoarthritis, when a DHA/EPA formulation was added to chondroitin sulfate, people experienced more complete relief of symptoms such as stiffness and pain. One study found a significant increase in walking speed in people who supplemented with fish oil versus those who did not.79,80 As with the beneficial results seen in people with bone loss, these positive findings may have been the result of the decreased inflammatory destruction of joint cartilage.81
A study published in Brain Research shows how far-reaching fish oil can be for people with diabetes. Researches found that fish oil can help reduce the risk of diabetics from developing cognitive deficit because it protects the hippocampus cells from being destroyed. The study also showed that fish oil could help reduce oxidative stress, which plays a central role in the development of diabetes complications, both microvascular and cardiovascular. (22)
Five studies with 7 data sets recruited participants without specific clinical conditions.36,47,51,55,60 The main results revealed that there was no significant difference in the association of treatment with reduced anxiety symptoms between patients receiving omega-3 PUFA treatment and those not receiving it (k, 5; Hedges g, –0.008; 95% CI, –0.266 to 0.250; P = .95) (Figure 3A). Fourteen studies with 14 data sets recruited participants with specific clinical diagnoses.33-35,48-50,52-54,56-59,61 The main results revealed a significantly greater association of treatment with reduced anxiety symptoms in patients receiving omega-3 PUFA treatment than in those not receiving it (k, 14; Hedges g, 0.512; 95% CI, 0.119-0.906; P = .01) (Figure 3A). Furthermore, according to the interaction test, the association of omega-3 PUFA treatment with reduced anxiety symptoms was significantly stronger in subgroups with specific clinical diagnoses than in subgroups without specific clinical conditions (P = .03).
A 2009 metastudy found that patients taking omega-3 supplements with a higher EPA:DHA ratio experienced fewer depressive symptoms. The studies provided evidence that EPA may be more efficacious than DHA in treating depression. However, this metastudy concluded that due to the identified limitations of the included studies, larger, randomized trials are needed to confirm these findings.[40]
A, Subgroup meta-analysis of the anxiolytic effect of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) based on an underlying specific clinical diagnosis or not. The anxiolytic effect of omega-3 PUFAs was not significant in the subgroup of participants without specific clinical conditions (k, 5; Hedges g, –0.008; 95% CI, –0.266 to 0.250; P = .95) but was significant in the subgroup of participants with specific clinical diagnoses (k, 14; Hedges g, 0.512; 95% CI, 0.119-0.906; P = .01). Furthermore, the association of treatment with reduced anxiety symptoms of omega-3 PUFAs were significantly stronger in subgroups with specific clinical diagnoses than in subgroups without specific clinical conditions (P = .03). B, Subgroup meta-analysis of the anxiolytic effect of omega-3 PUFAs based on different mean omega-3 PUFA dosages. The anxiolytic effect of omega-3 PUFAs was not significant in subgroups of mean omega-3 PUFA dosages less than 2000 mg/d (k, 9; Hedges g, 0.457; 95% CI, –0.077 to 0.991; P = .09) but was significant in the subgroup of mean omega-3 PUFA dosage of at least 2000 mg/d (k, 11; Hedges g, 0.213; 95% CI, 0.031-0.395; P = .02).

When it comes to omega-3 benefits, there are rarely nutrients that pack this many positive health outcomes into one compound. The most commonly known benefit of omega-3s is a reduced risk of heart disease, but that’s not the only studied plus of getting lots of omega-3s in your diet — from fetal development to retinal function to weight management (and a lot more in between), these acids support and promote optimal health for anyone. (1)


Omega-3 [(n-3)] fatty acids have been linked to healthy aging throughout life. Recently, fish-derived omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA have been associated with fetal development, cardiovascular function, and Alzheimer's disease. However, because our bodies do not efficiently produce some omega-3 fatty acids from marine sources, it is necessary to obtain adequate amounts through fish and fish-oil products. Studies have shown that EPA and DHA are important for proper fetal development, including neuronal, retinal, and immune function. EPA and DHA may affect many aspects of cardiovascular function including inflammation, peripheral artery disease, major coronary events, and anticoagulation. EPA and DHA have been linked to promising results in prevention, weight management, and cognitive function in those with very mild Alzheimer's disease.
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Sangiovanni, J. P., Agron, E., Meleth, A. D., Reed, G. F., Sperduto, R. D., Clemons, T. E., and Chew, E. Y. {omega}-3 Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid intake and 12-y incidence of neovascular age-related macular degeneration and central geographic atrophy: AREDS report 30, a prospective cohort study from the Age-Related Eye Disease Study. Am J Clin Nutr 2009;90(6):1601-1607. View abstract.
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