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How to Take Omega-3 Supplements

By Mike Samuels

Omega-3 is a type of polyunsaturated fat found in fish oil and in some plant oils. This type of fat is important in cell growth and production and also plays a role in brain function. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, a higher intake of omega-3 may also be beneficial in preventing heart disease. When looking to introduce omega-3 supplementation into your routine, consider the source and dosage, and always speak with your doctor first.

Finding Fish Oil

Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and anchovies are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. MedlinePlus notes that fish oil may have positive effects on reducing high triglyceride levels and blood pressure, as well as the symptoms of Raynaud's disease and arthritis. While you can get omega-3 from eating fish, some fish can be contaminated with high levels of industrial and environmental chemicals; fish oil supplements are purified to remove these. Additionally, if you're not a fan of oily fish, an omega-3 supplement can help fill the void.

Don't Forget Flax

If you're following a plant-based diet but are still looking to add omega-3 fats into your diet, flaxseed could be a viable alternative to fish oil. The only downside to supplementing with flaxseed or flaxseed oil is that it contains a different type of omega-3, which is not used as efficiently by the body. Fish oil has two types of omega-3 -- eicosapentaenoic, or EPA, and docosahexaenoic, or DHA. Flaxseed contains alpha-linolenic acid -- ALA -- which must be converted to EPA and DHA before it can be used. As not all of it can be converted, you need a higher dose to get the same benefits you would from fish oil.

Getting the Dose Right

You need around 500 milligrams of omega-3 each day to get the potential benefits it offers, according to Dr. Frank Sacks, professor of cardiovascular disease prevention at Harvard School of Public Health. A doctor might advise those who've already had a heart attack to double this to 1,000 milligrams per day, however. If you're already eating oily fish on a regular basis, you may wish to reduce this slightly, but those using flaxseed as their omega-3 supplement might look to increase the dosage. You often need six times the dose of flaxseed as you do fish oil to get the same amount of EPA and DHA.

Supplement Guidelines

Always check with your doctor before introducing any new supplements into your diet. He may feel you need a different dosage from the standard recommendation or that you don't need to supplement with omega-3 at all. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration advises being vigilant when picking a supplement and always verifying the credibility of the manufacturer and the claims made about the product.

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