Omega-3 Supplements: The Good and the Bad

Ever wondered what’s really in that supplement you’re taking? Omega-3 supplements are talked about like they’re a miracle cure for heart disease, anxiety, and a host of other issues. But like any supplement, they have both benefits and side effects, and well, research shows neither of those things might actually matter and in some cases, the risks might even outweigh the benefits. That's right. There are risks.

The Benefits of Omega-3 for Heart Disease

Taking Omega-3 supplements for their perceived cardiac benefits is commonplace today. These supplements are easy to buy right off the grocery store shelf or online, and doctors often recommend that patients at risk of cardiovascular events take supplements like fish oil or krill oil to boost their Omega-3 levels.

But are Omega-3 Supplements Actually Helping?

Unfortunately, research indicates that their benefits are extremely mild, and not significant for the vast majority of people who take them. While Omega-3s do have some potential to ward off cardiac events, the potential isn’t strong enough to show clinically significant values to taking these supplements. 

The Risk of Cancer From Omega-3: Is It Real?

Some people who take Omega-3 supplements have stopped doing so due to some contradictory information about an increased risk of cancer. But the most recent research shows no significant link between cancer and Omega-3s. The only area where there may be a link was between Omega-3s and prostate cancer, but the number of cancers found in the study still wasn’t statistically significant.

That’s good news for anyone who doesn’t take these supplements over worries about cancer, but the fact remains that the benefits of the supplements may not be enough to continue taking them with or without that risk.

Research Shows Limited Benefits and Minor Risks

The authors of the cancer study said it best when they explained that 1,000 men who raised their intake of Omega-3 by taking supplements may result in three more prostate cancer cases. But 1,000 people raising their Omega-3 intake may also mean three people who avoided death from coronary heart disease, one who avoided arrhythmia, and six who would avoid an “event” from coronary heart disease, such as a heart attack or stroke. So perhaps the benefits are there for some people. And maybe we don't know who those are, yet. 

Based on that information, the benefits of taking Omega-3 supplements outweigh the risks from consuming them. But the benefits are mild and the risks, while small, are still risks. People who want to take these supplements are advised to discuss the matter with their healthcare provider and to consider the benefits and risks so they can make an informed decision. 

The Bottom Line on Taking, or Stopping, Omega-3 Supplements

Before you start taking any supplement, or you stop taking one you’ve already been using for a while, it’s best to check with a healthcare provider. Some supplements can react with other supplements, medications, or even some types of food. Naturally, avoiding adverse reactions should be a goal for good health. 

If you and your healthcare provider have differing opinions on taking or stopping a supplement, it’s worth having a conversation about your concerns so you can choose the path forward that’s right for you and your health. Presenting evidence may help you come to a consensus, and that's why we work hard to bring you these updates. Maybe it's time to reconsider the Omega-3 supplement and switch to a daily handful of walnuts instead? 

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8/28/2020 7:00:00 AM
Wellness Editor
Written by Wellness Editor
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