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.

What Do We Know About Omega-3s?

August 27, 2013

We hear a lot about omega-3s in the news and their purported benefits for a number of health conditions ranging from heart disease to rheumatoid arthritis. Just last month, a new study brought omega-3s into the headlines when its findings raised concerns about the association of omega-3s and an increased risk of prostate cancer.

Omega-3s are a group of polyunsaturated fatty acids that are important for a number of functions in the body. They’re found in foods such as fatty fish and vegetable oils and are also available as dietary supplements. Research on omega-3s, particularly for heart health, has been complex and confusing. A number of studies have shown that omega-3s had protective effects for heart disease risk factors such as level of triglycerides in the blood. However, research has not consistently found that administration of omega-3s as dietary supplements actually changes the rate of heart attacks or other cardiovascular events. Experts did agree that seafood rich in omega-3 fatty acids is a useful component of a heart-healthy diet.

NCCAM’s Web site has information that can help explain the current state of the science about omega-3’s effectiveness and safety for several conditions for which there is the most evidence—conditions such as heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, fetal growth and development, and diseases of the brain and eye. I encourage you to take a look at this information, and talk with your health care provider if you are considering taking omega-3 supplements or giving a child an omega-3 supplement. As always, take care and be well!

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