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Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Forms of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

There are three nutritionally important types of Omega-3 Fatty Acids: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

ALA is found naturally in plant sources such as flaxseed, canola oil, and mungo been. EPA and DHA are found most commonly in the oils of cold water oily fish such as salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies and sardines.

In terms of psychiatric uses, EPA and DHA are the forms that have been shown to be effective. They are available over-the-counter as nutritional supplements produced by a variety of different manufacturers, usually in the form of capsules containing fish oils.

Uses of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 Fatty Acids may help in the treatment of Bipolar Disorder and Major Depression when added to other indicated medications for those conditions. In Bipolar Disorder, Omega-3 Fatty Acids may be more effective for the Depressive Episodes than the Manic Episodes [ref].

There are some early suggestions that Omega-3 Fatty Acids may also help in the management of ADHD, Borderline Personality Disorder, and Schizophrenia, but further research is required to confirm these findings [ref].

In general medicine, Omega-3 Fatty Acids have been shown to have a wide range of beneficial uses, including for cardiovascular health, proper immune functioning, rheumatological problems, and preventing certain forms of cancer.

How Omega-3 Fatty Acids Work

Omega-3 Fatty Acids are essential fatty acids that the body cannot make on its own, but that it requires for the proper functioning of the central nervous system, cardiovascular system, immune system, bones and kidneys. They are involved in the metabolism of pro-inflammatory cytokines and also in the functioning of neuronal synaptic membranes.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids compete with Arachidonic Acid (AA), an Omega-6 Fatty Acid, for membrane space and conversion to potent pro-inflammatory cytokines. AA is found in high amounts in seed oils, such as Corn and Soy oils. The excessive production of pro-inflammatory cytokines derived from AA is thought to contribute to immune dysfunction and possibly also to reduced health and functioning of the cardiovascular, bone, kidney and central nervous systems. Consuming substantial amounts of Omega-3 Fatty Acids is thought to offset the actions of AA.

Cautions when Using Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Individuals consuming more than 3g/day of Omega-3 Fatty Acids should have their bleeding times monitored.

Dosing of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

The recommended dose of Omega-3 Fatty Acids for psychiatric conditions is 1-2g/day of EPA, with or without DHA [ref].

Onset of action

Several weeks are required before improvement in psychiatric symptoms are expected.

Side-effects of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

There has been concern that fish oil supplements may be contaminated with Mercury and other pollutants, given that many of the fish used to provide these oils are high on the food chain and may have accumulated significant levels of environmental pollutants. However, all reported tests that have been performed on these fish oil supplements have found that these products do not contain significant amounts of known contaminants.

There have been some suggestions that Omega-3 Fatty Acids can increase bleeding times and cause blood coagulation problems. However, this has not been substantiated in studies. As a precaution, individuals taken more than 3g/day should be monitored by a physician [ref].

Omega-3 Fatty Acids may interfere with glucose metabolism in individuals with Diabetes Mellitus.

Fish oil supplements may also cause diarrhea, belching, flatulence, and a fishy taste in the mouth.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids and pregnancy

Omega-3 Fatty Acids are considered important for the healthy development of the fetus during the pregnancy, and may contribute to good cognitive and neurological functioning in the newborn. Some concerns remain about the possibility of environmental pollutants being contained in fish oil supplements, but so far all studies have shown that this is not the case.