Omega 3 Recommendations and Requirements
When people talk of the daily requirement for omega 3 fatty acids, what they really want to know is how much of which particular omega 3 fatty acid should they be consuming, or supplementing. As the two most commonly referenced of the essential fatty acids, DHA and EPA are researchers and consumers particular focus. Because of this, of less importance are the questions of how much "fish oil" or generically "omega 3 fatty acids" should a person consume, and more important is how much DHA or EPA specifically should be in a person’s diet. DHA is the most commonly studied omega 3 fatty acid and while many products claim to include omega 3 fatty acids, most studies have been done specifically on DHA. With that in mind, information on studies including DHA are more plentiful than those on EPA. There are a few expert bodies in the world that have made recommendations as to DHA consumption that are regularly cited. While the FDA has no formal dietary recommendation, the agency does not object to claims that 160mg of DHA is the recommended daily intake for normal, healthy individuals. For pregnant women, infants, and children, the values cited vary however. Always read the label on your supplements as the label is your friend and will let you know exactly how much of each particular essential fatty acid you are getting.
Pregnant and Nursing Women
A number of studies, which have been affirmed by studies reviewed in a workshop by the National Institute of Health and the International Society for the Study of Fatty Acids (NIH/ISSFAL), have shown that the optimal intake of DHA during pregnancy or breastfeeding is 300mg per day.
Children and Healthy Adults
The same workshop resulted in a recommendation of 220mg per day for children and healthy adults.
The same workshop, as well as a joint Expert Committee of World Health Organization and Food and Agriculture Organization (WHO/FAO) and the Child Health Foundation (CHF) have all recommended DHA be included in infant formula. While there has been no specific value cited, many formula manufacturers use their discretion and themselves decide the amount to add to their products (the DHA levels of human breast milk vary widely from population to population, however some studies cite an average of 3.4mg DHA per gram of breast milk).
American Heart Association Summary of Recommendations for omega 3 Fatty Acid Intake
|Patients without documented coronary heart disease (CHD)||Eat a variety of (preferably fatty) fish at least twice a week. Include oils and foods rich in alpha-linolenic acid (flaxseed, canola and soybean oils; flaxseed and walnuts).
|Patients with documented CHD||Consume about 1 g of EPA+DHA per day, preferably from fatty fish. EPA+DHA in capsule form could be considered in consultation with the physician.
|Patients who need to lower triglycerides||2 to 4 grams of EPA+DHA per day provided as capsules under a physician’s care.|
Patients taking more than 3 grams of omega 3 fatty acids from capsules should do so only under a physician’s care. High intakes could cause excessive bleeding in some people.
In 2002, the American Heart Association released a scientific statement, “Fish Consumption, Fish Oil, omega 3 Fatty Acids and Cardiovascular Disease,” on the effects of omega 3 fatty acids on heart function (including antiarrhythmic effects), hemodynamics (cardiac mechanics) and arterial endothelial function. The link between omega 3 fatty acids and CVD risk reduction are still being studied, but research has shown that omega 3 fatty acids
- decrease risk of arrhythmias, which can lead to sudden cardiac death
- decrease triglyceride levels
- decrease growth rate of atherosclerotic plaque
- lower blood pressure (slightly)