What are Omega-3 Fatty Acids?
Omega-3 fatty acids are common nutritional supplements often taken in the form of fish oil or flaxseed oil. They’re classified as a polyunsaturated fat, one of the “good” fats (as opposed to “bad” fat, which is saturated.)
Omega-3s are believed to play many important roles, including:
- Aiding brain development and function
- Reducing inflammation
- Reducing back and neuropathic pain
- Preventing heart disease
- Lowering blood pressure
- Lowering risk of cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.
- They may also help alleviate depression, asthma, painful periods and rheumatoid arthritis. However, evidence is less compelling in these areas.
Omega-3s for Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Some studies show that omega-3s may improve symptoms of fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. One survey showed that omega-3 fatty acids are among the most common supplements taken by people with fibromyalgia.
Some researchers hypothesize that omega-3 fatty acids may help alleviate oxidative stress, which studies suggest may play a role in these conditions.
Many people take omega-3 supplements, or eat a diet rich in omega-3s, in order to combat inflammation. Chronic fatigue syndrome is believed to be associated with pro-inflammatory cytokines. Some research suggests that fibromyalgia may involve inflammation of the fascia.
We don’t know yet whether they help counter the cognitive dysfunction or unique pain types of these conditions or the cardiovascular irregularities that are common in chronic fatigue syndrome.
Some health professionals recommend that people who don’t eat a diet rich in omega-3s take 500-1000 milligrams a day in supplements.
Doctors may recommend that people with certain conditions, such as heart disease, take more. It’s important for you to discuss your supplement needs with your doctor.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Your Diet
You can get dietary omega-3 fatty acids in several foods, including:
- Fatty fish (salmon, tuna, herring, sardines, anchovies)
- Canola and hemp seed oils
- Flaxseeds and flax seed oil
Side Effects of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Just because omega-3s are natural doesn’t mean they’re safe for everyone or in any amount. It’s important for you to be aware of possible side effects.
Common side effects include:
- Upset stomach
- Increased burping
- Heartburn/acid reflux
- Abdominal pain and bloating
Some people don’t like the “fishy” taste these supplements can leave behind. Taking them with meals can help alleviate this problem as well as other side effects. It may also help to start with a low dosage and gradually increase it.
While rare at lower dosages, omega-3s may increase your risk of bleeding problems, including a type of stroke.
Higher doses may also be linked to nosebleeds and blood in the urine. A blood sugar increase in diabetics is possible, but unlikely.
Those with major depression or bipolar disorder may experience mania, restlessness, or a crawling sensation on the skin.
Some fish may contain contaminants, including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxins and methylmercury. These substances are believed to build up in the meat, not the oil, so supplements are considered safe.
Long-term supplementation may cause vitamin E deficiency. Your doctor can test you for this problem.
Is Omega-3 Right for You?
It’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor about supplements you’d like to try so you can make sure it won’t be a problem with any of your other medications or conditions.
However, omega-3 is generally considered safe and is readily available anywhere that sells supplements, so it’s an easy one to add to your treatment regimen.