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Omega-3 fatty acids, fish oil, alpha-linolenic acid
While some complementary and alternative techniques have been studied scientifically, high-quality data regarding safety, effectiveness, and mechanism of action are limited or controversial for most therapies. Whenever possible, it is recommended that practitioners be licensed by a recognized professional organization that adheres to clearly published standards. In addition, before starting a new technique or engaging a practitioner, it is recommended that patients speak with their primary healthcare provider(s). Potential benefits, risks (including financial costs), and alternatives should be carefully considered. The below monograph is designed to provide historical background and an overview of clinically-oriented research, and neither advocates for or against the use of a particular therapy.

Related Terms

  • Aceite de pescado (Spanish), ácido alfa-linolénico (Spanish), ácidos grasos omega-3 (Spanish), ALA, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA, C18:3 n-3), cod liver oil, coldwater fish, DHA, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA, C22:6 n-3), docosapentaenoic acid (DPA, 22:5 n-3), DPA, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA, C20:5 n-3), EPA, fish body oil, fish extract, fish liver oil, fish oil, fish oil fatty acids, halibut oil, krill oil, Lipoplus®, Lipoplus® 20%, long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, Lovaza®, mackerel oil, marine oil, MaxEPA®, menhaden oil, n-3 fatty acids, n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, Omacor®, omega fatty acids, Omega Rx, omega-3 fatty acids, omega-3 oils, Omegaven®, polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), salmon oil, seal oil, shark liver oil, SMOFlipid®, w-3 fatty acids.
  • Note: This patient monograph is based on a search of omega-3 fatty acids in general, not the individual omega-3 fatty acids. Additional professional monographs are available on DHA, EPA, fish oil, and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Omega-3 fatty acids should not be confused with omega-6 fatty acids.

Background

  • Taking cod liver oil as a source of vitamin D first became popular in 19th Century England. Fish oil has been studied for heart health since it was found that Greenland Inuit people may have a lower risk of heart disease despite eating a high-fat diet.
  • The main essential fatty acids in the human diet are omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Foods that provide omega-3 fatty acids include fish oil and certain plant and nut oils, while omega-6 fatty acids can be found in palm, soybean, rapeseed, and sunflower oils. Omega-9 fatty acids, which are not considered essential, can be found in animal fat and olive oil.
  • Fish oil contains two omega-3 fatty acids called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Some nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which may be converted to DHA and EPA in the body.
  • In the United States, percentages of DHA and EPA have been found to be lower compared to other nations with lower heart disease rates, such as Japan. High levels of omega-6 fatty acids have been linked to an increased risk of some conditions such as heart disease and depression.
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Evidence

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Dosing

The below doses are based on scientific research, publications, traditional use, or expert opinion. Many herbs and supplements have not been thoroughly tested, and safety and effectiveness may not be proven. Brands may be made differently, with variable ingredients, even within the same brand. The below doses may not apply to all products. You should read product labels, and discuss doses with a qualified healthcare provider before starting therapy.

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Safety

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not strictly regulate herbs and supplements. There is no guarantee of strength, purity or safety of products, and effects may vary. You should always read product labels. If you have a medical condition, or are taking other drugs, herbs, or supplements, you should speak with a qualified healthcare provider before starting a new therapy. Consult a healthcare provider immediately if you experience side effects.

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Interactions

Most herbs and supplements have not been thoroughly tested for interactions with other herbs, supplements, drugs, or foods. The interactions listed below are based on reports in scientific publications, laboratory experiments, or traditional use. You should always read product labels. If you have a medical condition, or are taking other drugs, herbs, or supplements, you should speak with a qualified healthcare provider before starting a new therapy.

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Author Information

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References

Natural Standard developed the above evidence-based information based on a thorough systematic review of the available scientific articles. For comprehensive information about alternative and complementary therapies on the professional level, go to www.naturalstandard.com. Selected references are listed below.

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The information in this monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. Information is based on review of scientific research data, historical practice patterns, and clinical experience. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions.