The latest research on omega-3 supplements

By Naveed Saleh, MD, MS
Published July 20, 2021

Key Takeaways

Fish oil supplements—an especially rich source of omega-3 fatty acids—are the most frequently taken nonvitamin/nonmineral product by adults and children in the United States, according to the NIH. Nearly 19 million adults and 664,000 children have taken them during the previous 30 days, based on a study cited by the Institute. These supplements come in various forms, including fish oil, fish liver oil, krill oil, algal oils, and flaxseed oil.

Research on the health effects of omega-3 fatty acids is burgeoning, with additional studies added each year. Here is the most recent evidence-based data on the topic.

Oral health

Certain foods are bad for your teeth and gums, including refined carbohydrates, nonvegetable proteins, and an imbalance of vitamins and minerals. On the flip side, unprocessed complex carbohydrates, vegetable proteins, omega-3 fatty acids, minerals, and vitamins mitigate periodontal inflammation.

According to the authors of a 2021 review published in Clinical, Cosmetic, and Investigational Dentistry, “Omega-3 fatty acids have been intensively studied in recent years because they are associated with less systemic inflammation. In fact, they have shown anti-inflammatory effects, which have completely overturned the historical view that the elimination of inflammation is an exclusively passive process based on the elimination of the triggering factor.”

Now researchers believe that inflammation is actively resolved by “specialized pro-resolution mediators,” which are metabolites of omega-3 fatty acids—referred to as the resoleomics theory. The authors added that combining aspirin with omega-3 fatty acids further potentiates anti-inflammatory effects.

Metabolic syndrome

Treatment options for metabolic syndrome are limited. Probably the best types of intervention are early and preventive. Studies have reported a positive effect of omega-3 fatty acids on symptoms of metabolic syndrome. 

Results from a 2021 randomized, double-blind, parallel-group study published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine elucidated the benefits of 2,000 mg omega-3 concentrate on metabolic disease parameters synergized with the addition of chromium supplements.

“Significant, though modest, improvement in endothelial function, biomarkers of oxidative stress, systemic and vascular inflammation, and lipid profile was seen with ω-3FA, but the addition of PCC, especially at 20 mg dose (400 mcg of Cr3+), significantly increased the efficacy of ω-3FA,” they wrote. “All the study medications were well-tolerated, and no serious adverse events were observed. None of the subjects discontinued the study due to any adverse event suggesting the favorable safety profile of the treatments.”

Learn more by reading Evidence-based natural ways to prevent metabolic disease at MDLinx.   

Other inflammatory diseases

In addition to metabolic syndrome, omega-3 fatty acids have also been shown to attenuate inflammation in a host of other conditions. The authors of a review published in the Journal of Clinical and Translational Research stressed that essential omega-3 fatty acids such as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and a-linolenic acid (ALA) can be obtained from supplements to reap benefits.

“EPA and DHA have been found to modulate inflammation, often through competitive inhibition of arachidonic acid use by COX and lipoxygenase enzymes, producing eicosanoids that are less pro-inflammatory,” they wrote. The authors cited research that cystic fibrosis, chronic kidney disease, and asthma may benefit from omega-3 fatty acid supplementation. 

Click here to read more about foods that help inflammation at MDLinx.  


Finally, COVID-19 has prompted some researchers to investigate the effect of omega-3 supplementation on patients with the virus.

As detailed in the Journal of Translational Medicine, results from a double-blinded, randomized clinical trial involving 128 critically ill patients with COVID-19, indicated that omega-3 supplementation improved renal and respiratory parameters in these patients. Specifically, the experimental group exhibited higher 1-month survival rates and higher levels of arterial pH, HCO3, and base excess and lower levels of BUN, Cr, and K compared with the control group.

As for possible mechanisms of action, the authors suggested that DHA and EPA supplementation enhanced vascular reactivity and microcirculation.

Learn more about omega-3s and other popular supplements at MDLinx

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