What is Omega-3?

Omega-3 fatty acids are a group of polyunsaturated fatty acids that are essential to human health for certain vital functions and benefits. Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is essential for the eye, nerve and membrane development. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are important for the production of prostaglandins, a hormone-like substance, that usually help to regulate blood pressure, inflammation, neurological functions, hormones production etc. in human body.

"The human body itself cannot produce these essential fats such as ALA, EPA and DHA, hence will need to obtain these nutrients from diet. ALA it is typically found in plant-based oils (e.g. flaxseed, canola, soybean oils), nuts and flaxseeds. DHA and EPA are the long-chain fatty acids that can be synthesized from ALA in human body, however the conversion is slow and limited. Therefore, it is recommended to source EPA and DHA from seafood, mainly oily fish (e.g. salmon, tuna etc.) and shellfish (e.g. crab, oysters)," says​​ Ms Joey Ho, Dietitian​​ from the ​Department of Nutrition and Dietetics at KK Women’s & Children’s Hospital (KKH), a member of the SingHealth​ group.

"For vegetarians and those who do not like to eat seafoods, they can obtain such valuable fatty acids from nuts and seeds, soy products and green leafy vegetables. Besides dietary options, omega-3 supplements can be easily found on the market with different concentrations of EPA and DHA," she adds.

Various research shows that consuming oily fish and other types of seafood as part of a healthy balanced diet may improve heart health, prevent coronary heart disease related death and stroke. For healthy individuals with low risk of heart disease, the consumption of oily fish at least twice a week as part of a healthy balanced diet will be sufficient to obtain adequate amount of omega-3 fatty acids.

A meta-analysis1 published in 2019 suggests that omega-3 supplementation may lower the risk of myocardial infarction, coronary heart disease and cardiovascular disease death. For individuals who do not consume fish, research2 suggests that 1 g/day of omega-3 supplements may have protective effect. For individuals with elevated triglyceride (TG) level and history of cardiovascular disease, research3 suggests that 4 g/day of high dose omega-3 supplements are considered safe and may be useful in reducing risk of death from heart disease or having heart attack, stroke and chest pain. However, it is recommended to consult a doctor before starting any omega-3 supplements, especially for those with other health conditions and are taking certain medications.

Apart from the cardiovascular health benefits, there are also a few positive effects of omega-3 fatty acids on other aspects of women’s health.

Health benefits of omega-3 for women

The strongest health benefit of omega-3 is related to heart health. This includes helping to maintain a regular heart rhythm, reducing blood pressure, lowering blood fat levels and slowing down the rate at which our arteries get clogged up. Besides these general health benefits, omega-3 is particularly favourable for women for the following reasons:

#1: It can ease menstrual pain

Most women would have experienced menstrual cramps and abdominal discomfort on a monthly basis, this condition is known as dysmenorrhea, which is usually caused by strong contractions of uterus triggered by prostaglandins.

Two randomised controlled trials conducted in 2012 and 2018 suggest that omega-3 fatty acids may be effective to ease the menstrual pain due to its anti-inflammatory properties and one of the studies found that it also helped to reduce the usage of ibuprofen which is commonly used as a pain killer.

However, another two systematic reviews published in 2016 and 2019 conclude that currently there is only limited low-quality evidence to support the effectiveness of fish oil for dysmenorrhea.

#2: It alleviates rheumatoid arthritis

Women are two to three times at risk to suffer from rheumatoid arthritis (RA) than men and it usually happens during middle age. Rheumatoid arthritis occurs when body’s immune system attacks the lining of the joints in different areas, resulting in inflammation and pain.

Two systematic reviews published in 2012 and 2017 suggest that fish oil supplements may help to alleviate joint swelling, pain and morning stiffness because of its anti-inflammatory effects and subsequently decreased usage of NSAIDs. However, the dosage of EPA and DHA to achieve such anti-inflammatory effect is still unclear, therefore further research is needed.​

​Read the next page for more Omega-3 benefits​.​

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