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National Institutes of Health • National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine

NCCAM Clinical Digest. For health professionals.

Spotlight on a Modality: Omega-3 Fatty Acids

August 2013
Gel pills

Omega-3 fatty acids have been in the news lately, after a new study raises concern about the association of omega-3s and an increased risk of prostate cancer. Omega-3s are a popular supplement used by many Americans. In fact, according to the 2007 National Health Interview Survey, which included a comprehensive survey on the use of complementary health practices by Americans, fish oil/omega-3/DHA supplements are the natural product (excluding vitamins and minerals) most commonly taken by adults, and the second most commonly taken by children.

Moderate evidence has emerged about the health benefits of consuming seafood, but the health benefits of omega-3s in supplement form are less clear. For example, the findings of individual studies on omega-3 supplements and heart disease have been inconsistent, and in 2012, two combined analyses of the results of these studies did not find convincing evidence that omega-3s protect against heart disease.

There is some evidence that omega-3s are modestly helpful in relieving symptoms in rheumatoid arthritis. Omega-3s may also be helpful for age-related macular degeneration (AMD; an eye disease that can cause loss of vision in older people). For most other conditions for which omega-3s are being studied, definitive conclusions cannot yet be reached. This issue of the digest provides information on what the science says about omega-3’s effectiveness and safety for several conditions for which there is the most evidence, including heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, infant development, and diseases of the eye and brain.

Read more about what the science says

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NCCAM Clinical Digest is a service of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, NIH, DHHS. NCCAM Clinical Digest, a monthly e-newsletter, offers evidence-based information on CAM, including scientific literature searches, summaries of NCCAM-funded research, fact sheets for patients, and more.

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine is dedicated to exploring complementary and alternative healing practices in the context of rigorous science, training CAM researchers, and disseminating authoritative information to the public and professionals. For additional information, call NCCAM's Clearinghouse toll-free at 1-888-644-6226, or visit the NCCAM Web site at nccam.nih.gov. NCCAM is 1 of 27 institutes and centers at the National Institutes of Health, the Federal focal point for medical research in the United States.

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