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What’s Up with Fish Oil?

Published in Eye Health

I am typically sceptical of claims of a cure all product. I remember listening to the only radio station that would come in clearly as I was driving across rural Utah one evening and hearing couple of people make such claims. No matter the ailment someone called in with, their product would cure it and each conversation would end with them making the same statement, “and remember you can not take too much”. I was sceptical to say the least. As I have reviewed nutritional supplement however, Omega 3 fatty acids may be as close to a cure all as anything I have seen. I want to be clear about a couple things; first I have no financial interest in any company who produces or sells supplements and second Omega 3 is not a cure all but it sure seems to be a help all. From your brain to your heart to your eyes medical studies seem to indicate that it helps.

So what is this magical substance and where can you find it? Fatty acids are the building blocks of fats in our bodies. Fats have a bad rap but some are essential for us to be healthy and for our bodies to function properly. While our bodies can produce some of these fatty acids, it can not produce all of them. The Omega 3 fatty acids; docosahexaenoic acid(DHA), eicoapentaaenoic acid(EPA) and alpha-linolenic acid(ALA), are essential fatty acids meaning our bodies can not produce them so we must acquire them through our diets. DHA and EPA are found in high concentrations in cold water fish such salmon, sardines, herring and tuna. The American Heart Association recommends a minimum of two servings of these a week. If you do not like fish or have a difficult time getting two servings a week you can also take fish oil supplements. ALA can be aquired through flaxseeds, flax seed oil, walnuts and dark green leafy vegatables although your body can not process ALA as easily as DHA and EPA.

What may it do for you? As you read the literature on Omega 3's the most common word you find is “may”. It is thought that Omega 3's “may” reduce the risk for cardio-vascular disease, reduce dry eye syndrome and reduce the risk of developing glaucoma. Eurpopean studies have found it also reduces the incedence of wet macular degeneration which is the most visually destructive form of the disease. I could go on and on with what it may do but I think it is better to say it is thought to help in alot of ways. I have personally seen many patients who suffer from dry eye who have benefited from taking Omega 3 and it is my preffered first line treatment for mild to moderate dry eye syndrome.

How much do you need? There is no RDA for Omega 3 but the American Heart Association recommends 500-1800 milligrams of combined DHA and EPA a day. What does that mean? About 2 servings of salmon or other cold water fish a week or 1 to 2 capsules of fish oil supplements daily. For my dry eye patients I have found that 500 to 1000mg of DHA/ EPA seems to provide relief after about 4-6 weeks.

Where should you get it? If you can do it through your diet great, two servings of cold water fish and lots of green leafy vegatables. If you can’t or don’t get it through your diet, supplement. Buy them where ever you feel most comfortable, online or in your local health food store or pharmacy. A recent article I read indicated that there was not much difference in how easy it was for your body to absorb the Omega 3 from different suppliers so I personally would not pay alot extra for “bioavailability” but you may feel different and thats ok. Be aware that some supplers provide more DHA/EPA per 1200mg capsule. I found that it can range from around 350 up to 1000 mg DHA/EPA per 1200mg capsule so pay attention to how much DHA/EPA the capsule provides you and not the capsule size. The other thing you should consider is getting capsules that are enteric coated. This will eliminate or minimize the most annoying side effect of taking fish oil, fishy burpes, which I have alot of patients complain about. All said and done you can pay as little as 25 cents a day or less for 500-1000mg DHA/EPA.

So just as a wrap up, Omega 3 is something your heart, brain and eyes “may” and most likely will benefit from. I recommend that all my patients get 500-1000mg daily either from their diet or through supplementation and you do not have to spend a ton to do it, so do it! If you want to study more on the beneficial effects of Omega 3 visit the following links.

http://www.nei.nih.gov/news/pressreleases/062407.asp

http://www.nei.nih.gov/news/scienceadvances/advances/omega.asp

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