Omega-3 Supplementation – Good For The Heart | See the Research

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Is Omega-3 the silver bullet of supplementation?

It's potential effects are vast, from improving cholesterol numbers, reducing the risk of developing diabetes, reducing inflammation, preventing renal disease, assisting in weight loss, increasing muscle growth, reducing stress, improving cognition, and boosting mood.1

But don't let the hype confuse you. There are conflicting studies (a lot of them, actually); they just don't get the same level of media attention. Omega-3 doesn't improve heart health? Boring.

On balance; however, there are more studies which report positive change than those that report null or negative change.1

If you are interested in investigating one of the potential benefits besides mood, you can find an overview of the relevant studies at's page on fish oil.

Let's talk about mood.

Can taking omega-3 make you happier?

To answer that question, we're going to look at three sub-questions:

  1. Does omega-3 supplementation treat depression?
  2. If omega-3 does improve the mood of the depressed, can those results be generalized to ‘normal' people?
  3. Does omega-3 supplementation reduce stress?

Does omega-3 supplementation treat depression?

Sort of. There are more than a dozen studies which show positive results, and almost a dozen which show no result.2

The authors of Marine omega-3 fatty acids and mood disorders – linking the sea and the soul, a 2011 review of over 100 relevant studies speculate two main results for the inconsistency:

  1.  Rather than hounding some of the studies as products of bad science, the authors point out that there was no common testing protocol – the studies tested different preparations and doses of omega-3 on different demographics. The true reality is likely to be highly complex, with different people responding to different preparation/dose combinations.
  2. Omega-3 supplementation is likely of most benefit to those with a deficiency. Unfortunately, accurately detecting that deficiency is not easy. There are almost as many studies which show that blood levels of omega-3 (which a doctor order blood test would measure) can not predict depression and bipolar disorder as those than can. However; post-mortem dissections of the brains of the depressed can predict omega-3 deficiency and depression. I don't suppose you want to be dissected?

To put numbers to the uncertainty, the authors suggest that 5%-10% of depressed individuals seem to have a ‘true/severe' omega-3 deficiency, which when treated improves their mood.

So what about ‘normal' people?

The science seems grim – it seems clear that the largest benefits go to those with a ‘true/severe' deficiency, and that there are not many like that.2

Studies which examine healthy humans have so far turned up less than spectacular results. For example, one study of 90 healthy children over a 2-month period of supplementation found no significant effect on mood or cognitive performance.3 Another study of 33 healthy adults found an increase of 5% across mood states like anxiety and vigor, but given the small study and effect size, the results are only slightly encouraging.4

At this point, I must admit to being a bit sad. The allure of a pill that can cheaply, safely, and easily boost mood is huge. I myself eat eggs and omega-3 fortified gummy bears every day, precisely because the media had me convinced of its cognitive and mood benefits.

Nevertheless, there are still four reasons to consider supplementation: its stress-reducing effects, its safety, its low cost, and its other potential benefits.

Omega-3 vaporizes stress.

Ah, if only that were true. But it does help.

Students taking tests, subjects that were shocked, and even healthy non-stressed people have had their norepinephrine levels (a stress hormone) reduced by taking omega-3 supplements.1

Omega-3 is extremely safe.

I'm sure I missed something – but from my review of the literature, dozens of studies turned up zero negative effects on health; while just one provided a cautionary tale.

This study  suggests that high omega-3 levels increase the risk of men developing aggressive prostate cancer by two-and-half times.  Still, quoting one of the authors of the study, “the beneficial effects of eating fish to prevent heart disease outweigh any harm related to prostate cancer risk.”5

Give how cheap and safe fish oil supplements are (anywhere from $0.20 to $0.50 a day), although they may not directly make you happier, they will improve your heart health and prevent you from having a heart attack.

I'm going to continue consuming eggs, omega-3 fortified gummy bears, and fish oil supplements, even if they don't boost my mood.

So what if I lose my prostate? I think my heart is a bit more important.

This is post 11 of the Month of Happiness. Check out the rest!


Day 1: Psychostimulants: They might give you happiness; they might give you a heart attack
Day 2: How to Harness the Power of Laughter: An Easy, Effective, and Infinite Source of Joy
Day 3:  Three Good Things, A Small Gratitude Exercise for a Large Boost of Happiness
Day 4: The Right Way to Fake a Smile For Health and Happiness
Day 5: Emotional Contagion: 5 Ways to Get Your Environment to Work for You
Day 6: Ditch Porn – It’s Playboy on (Dopamine Draining) Steroids
Day 7: Why I “Remain” an Introvert, Though the Science Suggests Extroverts are Happier
Day 8: Yoga – It Isn’t Just for Female Hipsters
Day 9: Watch More TV; It Makes You Happy!
Day 10: Kaizen: Accomplishing Big Goals with Tiny Steps
Day 11: Omega-3 Supplementation – Good For The Heart & Vitamin Shoppe’s Bottom Line
Day 12: Good Sleep: Not Optional for Happiness and High Performance
Day 13: One Tab at a Time: 7 Tips to Browse the Web More Mindfully
Day 14: Optimism, The Blind Man’s Gamble
Day 15: A Story of Change, The 5 Willpower Techniques That Create Action
Day 16: Zest, The Spice of Life… or is it?
Day 17: Exercise: Better than Zoloft
Day 18: Relaxation: The Magic Tonic That Cures Headaches & Relieves Indigestion
Day 19: Spirituality for the Irreligious – Getting the Benefits Outside the Cathedral
Day 20: Meditation – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly Beautiful

Omega-3 Supplementation Research
Kennedy, D. O., Jackson, P. A., Elliott, J. M., Scholey, A. B., Robertson, B. C., Greer, J., & … Haskell, C. F. (2009). Cognitive and mood effects of 8 weeks' supplementation with 400 mg or 1000 mg of the omega-3 essential fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in healthy children aged 10–12 years. Nutritional 
Fontani, G. G., Corradeschi, F. F., Felici, A. A., Alfatti, F. F., Bugarini, R. R., Fiaschi, A. I., & … Berra, B. B. (2005). Blood profiles, body fat and mood state in healthy subjects on different diets supplemented with Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. European Journal Of Clinical Investigation35(8), 499-507.

2 thoughts on “Omega-3 Supplementation – Good For The Heart | See the Research”

  1. Omega-3 fortified gummy bears? Sign me up! I love anything gummy… Aaaanyway… I have a bottle of lemon-flavored fish oil (sounds sick, I know – but it honestly tastes fine!) in my fridge. Unfortunately, I almost always forget to take it, soo I couldn’t tell ya how it’s helped me. I really do want to get into taking it regularly though, just to see.

    • Lemon-flavored fish oil. That really does sound a lot worse than my gummy bears 🙂 My local CVS & Sam’s Club sell them. Honestly, I have a hard time taking my omega pills every day, but without fail those gummy bears end up in my mouth!

      Taking it every day could definitely help you… but without strict scientific controls it could be extremely hard to detect benefits. There is a large time lag – it can take a few weeks just to see a small change. Some of my friends on quantified self and quantified mind (self tracking communities) have run controlled experiments on themselves and seen changes, but unlike say caffeine, where you can easily notice benefits, they had to run statistical tests on daily collected data.


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