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The researchers selected 26 trials from the past decade in which omega-3 fatty acid supplements were compared to placebo. Ten of the studies looked at the effects in healthy adults, while others looked at the effects in people with heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease, Alzheimer’s disease, sepsis (an infection in the blood), and acute pancreatitis. The fatty acids used in the studies were those most commonly found in fish oil—EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid)—and the amounts ranged widely from 120 mg per day to more than 20 grams per day. The studies lasted anywhere from two days to six months.
People with chronic kidney disease, acute sepsis, and acute pancreatitis appeared to benefit from omega-3 fatty acid supplements. Taking omega-3 fats consistently led to decreased levels of certain inflammatory markers in people with cardiovascular disease who used the supplements for 12 weeks or more; however, because of the variety of study methods, the researchers were not able to determine the exact amount needed for a benefit.
There was not enough evidence to say whether omega-3 fats were helpful in people with Alzheimer’s disease. In healthy people, omega-3 fats had no effect on levels of inflammatory markers, except in healthy exercisers: in this group, the usual post-exercise spike in inflammatory chemicals was blunted by taking omega-3 fats.
Here are some things to consider if you are thinking about taking omega-3 fatty acid supplements:
(Br J Nutr 2012;107:s159–70)