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Tested: are omega-3 fatty acid capsules really suitable for a healthy diet?


Dietary supplements: How useful is it to take omega-3 fatty acid capsules?

Omega-3 fatty acids are healthy and vital in small amounts. They cannot be made by the body itself. Some people therefore use omega-3 fatty acid capsules. Does it really make sense to take the food supplements?

Essential substances for human nutrition

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential substances for human nutrition. So they are vital and cannot be made by the body itself. The substances improve the flow properties of the blood, inhibit blood clotting, lower blood pressure, have an anti-inflammatory effect and have a positive effect on the triglyceride metabolism. The German Nutrition Society (DGE) therefore recommends consuming 0.5 percent of the daily calories from omega-3 fatty acids. In an adult, this is about the amount contained in a tablespoon of rapeseed oil. Some people also use omega-3 fatty acid capsules. Consumer advocates explain whether taking the food supplements really makes sense.

Positive impact on health

Omega-3 fatty acids have a positive effect on health. According to experts, they strengthen our immune system, work effectively against vascular calcification and maintain health into old age.

Studies have also shown that they can help prevent cancer and prevent Alzheimer's.

However, they do not protect against heart disease, as has been shown in a scientific study.

Omega-3 fatty acids must be ingested through food

Omega-3 fatty acids cannot be produced by the body and must therefore be ingested through food.

Good omega-3 suppliers include walnuts, green leafy vegetables (e.g. lamb's lettuce), some vegetable oils (e.g. rapeseed, walnut and linseed oils) and chia seeds.

Above all, fish provides omega-3 fatty acids. Highly fatty sea fish such as mackerel, herring, tuna or salmon are particularly recommended here.

Basically, healthy people eat enough omega-3 fatty acids with a wholesome and balanced diet.

As the consumer advice center explains on their website, if you do not eat fish, such as a vegan diet, hardly any eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are added.

According to the experts, these can then be added via fortified foods (e.g. fortified oil or margarine) or food supplements (e.g. from fish oil or marine microalgae).

But are such remedies generally recommended?

Not suitable for the treatment of diseases

Dietary supplements containing omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish oil or linseed oil capsules, are often advertised to maintain normal blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels and blood pressure.

They are also said to contribute to normal brain function, eyesight and heart function. These health-related statements are scientifically proven and permitted by law, explains the consumer center.

However, the preparations must contain a prescribed minimum amount of these fatty acids. However, the permitted health-related statements are often reinforced or exaggerated.

For example, "contribute to normal heart function" has an advertising effect "have protective properties for a healthy heart".

Especially on the Internet, omega-3 fatty acid products are advertised time and again with inadmissible statements such as "for protection against heart attack and stroke", "help with arthritis and joint complaints" and "protection against breast cancer".

But dietary supplements containing omega-3 fatty acids are foods and are not suitable for the treatment of diseases.

No protection against heart attacks and strokes

A large study (meta-analysis) led by the University of Oxford has shown that dietary supplements with up to two grams of omega-3 fatty acids a day prevent neither heart attack nor stroke. It is still being researched whether higher-dose products work.

Another study, also from Oxford, investigated whether taking fish oil capsules (with 380 mg docosahexaenoic acid and 460 mg eicosapentaenoic acid) protects diabetics against cardiovascular diseases.

This particular target group also showed no differences in the frequency of heart attacks, strokes, cardiovascular-related deaths or cancer compared to subjects who received placebos.

Some statements are prohibited by law

The following statements have been scientifically proven for omega-3 fatty acid products for children, infants or the unborn child (products for pregnant women):

Intake of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) [100 mg daily] contributes to the normal development of eyesight in infants up to the age of twelve months.

The mother's intake of DHA [200 mg daily] contributes to the normal development of the brain / eyes in the fetus and in the breastfed infant.

However, these effects are only achieved if a certain amount of these fatty acids is consumed daily. The preparations must therefore bear a corresponding note.

If a product contains the omega-3 fatty acid α-linolenic acid [from 0.2% of the total energy daily] and the omega-6 fatty acid linoleic acid [from 1% of the total energy daily], the following statement may also appear on the product are listed:

α-Linolenic acid and linoleic acid are required for healthy growth and development in children.

Statements that omega-3 fatty acids contribute to the calming, serenity, concentration, learning ability, thinking ability and intellectual development of children (one to twelve years, also in connection with ADHD) are prohibited by law.

In people who are affected by a disease such as coronary artery disease (CHD), an additional supply of appropriately dosed medicines with omega-3 fatty acids can make sense from a therapeutic point of view (i.e. on the advice of a doctor).

Side effects and interactions

When using food supplements with omega-3 fatty acids, side effects and interactions are not excluded - even if they do not have to be mentioned.

According to the European Food Safety Authority, products with a daily intake of up to five grams of EPA and DHA (in combination) or 1.8 grams of EPA (individually) recommended by the manufacturer are considered to be safe for adults.

A warning that the amount of five grams per day should not be exceeded is prescribed for dietary supplements and fortified foods at doses above two grams per day.

Higher doses can change the flow properties of the blood, prolong the bleeding time and thus increase the risk of bleeding.

You may also experience nausea and vomiting.

In people with diabetes, blood sugar control can be difficult and the immune system can be adversely affected, which can lead to an increased susceptibility to infections, especially in older people.

If there is an infectious disease, an additional omega-3 fatty acid dose should only be given after consulting the doctor.

EPA in particular can increase LDL cholesterol levels if the intake is increased. This is particularly problematic with certain fat metabolism disorders.

Discuss usage and dosage with a doctor

Due to the above-mentioned risks, the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) recommends setting maximum amounts for omega-3 fatty acid products which unfortunately have not yet been released and to which manufacturers do not feel bound.

According to the BfR, no more than 1.5 g omega-3 fatty acids from all sources (including food such as fish, margarine, nuts) should be consumed per day.

Special care should be taken when taking medication at the same time. For example, the use of high-dose omega-3 fatty acid products can increase the effects of anticoagulant drugs such as acetylsalicylic acid (ASA).

Therefore, the use and dosage of products containing omega-3 fatty acids should only be carried out in consultation with a doctor. (ad)

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