National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH)

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Josephine P. Briggs, M.D.
Josephine P. Briggs, M.D.

Director's Page
Josephine P. Briggs, M.D.

Omega-3 Supplements for Heart Disease?

November 16, 2012

Omega-3 fatty acids, commonly sold as fish oil, have been in the news a lot lately. We know that many people in this country take omega-3 supplements. In fact, according to the 2007 National Health Interview Survey, omega-3 supplements are the most common natural product taken by U.S. adults, and the second most common supplement taken by children.

Omega-3s are important for a number of functions in the body and are studied for a variety of conditions—from rheumatoid arthritis to bipolar disorder to infant brain development to dementia. But they may be best known for their purported heart protective effects. Chances are your doctor may have even recommended that you take an omega-3 supplement to help protect against heart disease.

Based on what the science tells us, most experts agree that a diet that includes fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids is healthy, but there just isn’t good evidence that omega-3s taken as supplements protect against heart disease. And although omega-3 supplements are generally safe for most people, there may be potential safety issues in some populations.

NCCAM’s Web site has information on what the science says about omega-3 supplements for heart disease, as well as for other conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, infant development, and diseases of the brain and eye. If you are considering taking omega-3 supplements, I encourage you to take a look at this information and talk to your health care provider. As always, take care and be well!

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