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Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Are They Always Healthy?

Medical Daily logo Medical Daily 2019-06-01 Seema Prasad
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A group of polyunsaturated fats that you do not want give up on is the omega-3 fatty acids, of which two — eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) — are derived mainly from fish. Whereas, the third fat ALA (alpha-linolenic acid ) is only found in plant-based foods, like nuts and seeds.

The omega-3 fatty acids are known to improve rheumatoid arthritis, dementia, asthma, depression and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) symptoms and are essential nutrients required for the body.

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Anchovies, bluefish, herring, mackerel, salmon, sardines, sturgeon, lake trout and tuna are fish varieties that have EPA and DHA. They are safe to consume two or three times a week. As for ALA, it is found in walnuts, flaxseed oil, soybean and canola oil.

For people with deficiencies, fish oil supplements are recommended by doctors since omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation and are good for the brain. One capsule or supplement provides 1 gram of fish oil and different doses of EPA and DHA. For people who do not eat fish, algae oil is recommended.

There is no recommended amount or healthy intake that doctors can determine, but there is one study suggesting that 0.25 grams of EPA and DHA are sufficient. However, overdosing is not advised and keeping within the prescribed amount is crucial to avoid potential side effects. The main ones are:

Stroke

There are contradictory studies about how overdosing of omega-3 fatty acids can increase the risk of brain haemorrhage or stroke. There are, however, a few studies based on animals that do say that omega-3 fatty acids stop the formation of blood clots that leads to haemorrhage.

A study conducted by the faculty in Memorial University, Canada involved inducing laboratory rats with energy from omega-3 fatty acids or omega-6 fatty acids, and they were artificially subjected to either haemorrhage or sham surgery. The rats that were fed fish oil experienced more bleeding and suffered more motor impairment after surgery, more so than the rats fed with safflower oil that contained omega-6 fatty acids. When the similar hypothesis was tested on human beings, it was inconclusive and only showed that more research needs to be done.

Diarrhoea

Flaxseed oil, which has omega-3 fatty acids, is known to be an easy laxative that stimulates bowel movement. If diarrhoea is experienced as an immediate result of consuming omega-3 fatty acids, then it is best to have it along with meals and limit consumption after consulting with the doctor.

Bleeding

One proven side effect is bleeding, such as in the form of nosebleeds and bleeding gums, according to studies. A small study revealed that 72 percent of adolescents who had 1 to 5 grams of fish oil experienced nosebleed as a side effect.  

Low blood Pressure

An analysis of 31 placebo-controlled studies with 1,356 test subjects conducted by the Department of Epidemiology, Harvard School of Public Health, concluded that low blood pressure was caused by the intake of omega-3 fatty acids. 

Related: 25 best sources of omega-3s (Provided by Eat This, Not That!)

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