Omega-3 Fatty Acids – Should Men Take Them?

Articles about omega-3 fatty acids is all over the internet. It seems there’s a new story about this important nutrient just about every week. If you’re among the nearly 19 million Americans who takes an omega-3 supplement in the form of fish oil (the typical way), then you may find yourself checking out the latest research on the topic. We’re going to talk about that here.

If you don’t take an omega-3 supplement, then it may be time for you to see why this supplement gains so much attention. Chances are unless you are a regular consumer of fatty cold water oily fish, you should be taking an omega-3 supplement since the body can’t make these fatty acids, so food and fish oil supplements are the only sources.

What are omega-3 fatty acids?

The two most prevalent omega-3s are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). A third omega-3, called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), is found in foods other than fish, such as walnuts, flax seed, soybeans, pumpkin seeds, canola oil, and tofu. However, the body must convert ALA into EPA and DHA, and the conversion rate is very low.

According to the National Institutes of Health, there’s insufficient data available to give recommended intake for EPA and DHA. However, many organizations recommend a range of 250 mg to 500 mg daily of EPA and DHA for healthy individuals. Higher amounts are usually recommended for people who have specific health conditions, such as heart disease. For ALA, the recommended intake is 1.1 to 1.6 grams. 

Why men should take omega-3 supplements

Heart health. Since heart disease is the number one killer of men in the United States and many other places around the world, research pointing to the heart-healthy properties of omega-3s is especially relevant. A 2017 Harvard University study reported that omega-3s are associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and urged individuals to substitute saturated fatty acids with unsaturated fats, such as omega-3s. In a 2018 review, the authors noted that the American Heart Association recently expanded their Class II recommendations, stating that treatment with omega-3 fatty acids for cardiovascular disease is reasonable.

Prostate cancer. Numerous studies have shown that DHA has an ability to shrink prostate tumors, reduce the risk of prostate cancer, and enhance the impact of the chemotherapy drug, cisplatin. Now a recent study has discovered the processes by which this omega-3 fatty acid can help in the prostate cancer fight.

Without getting too technical, it appears that DHA induces the inhibition of cancer cell growth and cell suicide of prostate cancer cells that are dependent on something called the Hippo pathway. This knowledge may open the door to new therapies for prostate cancer. Until then, omega-3 fatty acids seem to be a wise supplement choice.

Memory support. Use of omega-3 supplements have been found to be helpful in individuals who have mild Alzheimer’s disease. In younger individuals (ages 18 to 25) without dementia, taking fish oil supplements daily for six months resulted in a 23 percent increase in working memory.

Depression. In a recent (December 2018) study from Spain, investigators found that moderate intake (500 to 1,000 mg daily) of omega-3 fatty acids was significantly associated with a lower prevalence of depression. This is half of the dose suggested by many organizations. In an Italian meta-analysis and review that involved 31 studies and more than 255,000 individuals, the authors reported that dietary intake of omega-3 fatty acids was associated with lower risk of depression.

Eye health. Approximately 11 million people in the United States alone have macular degeneration, and omega-3 fatty acids may be able to help. In a study of more than 114,000 adults, those with a higher intake of omega-3s were more likely to delay or prevent development of this devastating eye condition.

Australian researchers conducted what is believed to be the first study ever to show that daily use of omega-3s can reduce intraocular pressure, which is a risk factor for the potentially blinding eye disease, glaucoma. The dose used was 1,000 mg EPA plus 500 mg DHA and 900 mg ALA.

Weight loss and metabolism. Weight gain is a concern as men age, especially among those with heart disease, diabetes, or respiratory conditions. Use of fish oil supplements may help boost metabolism and result in less accumulation of fat and weight loss, based on the findings of an animal study. In a human study, adults who switched to fish oil from other fats showed a reduction in body fat mass index, which indicated that omega-3s have an ability to reduce body fat and prompt the fatty acids to produce energy (i.e., burn calories).

Immune system. Maintaining strong immune function is critical as men age, and omega-3s may play a part. A study appearing in the Journal of Leukocyte Biology indicated that DHA can enhance the activity B cells, which are critical for optimal immune system health.

Diabetes. Approximately 13 million men in the United States alone have diabetes, with up to 95 percent of them having type 2 disease. A number of studies have indicated that omega-3s can help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes as well as prevent complications that are associated with it. One study, for example, found that adults with diabetes who took 500 mg omega-3s daily or ate two servings of fatty fish every week were nearly 50 percent less likely to develop diabetic retinopathy when compared with those who consumed less.

Another way fish oil may help with diabetes is to improve insulin sensitivity. A study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism reported that adults who took fish oil showed an increase in the levels of the hormone adiponectin, which is a strong marker for insulin sensitivity.

Bottom line

Omega-3 fatty acid supplements in the form of fish oil are beneficial for men’s health in a variety of ways. However, you want to be sure to take products from reputable suppliers. Look for supplements that have been PBC tested, sustainably sourced, and contain no preservatives, artificial colors, or allergens.

While the Food and Drug Administration states that 3,000 mg daily of omega-3s is the upper limit for safety, the European Food Safety Authority says 5,000 mg is safe. Keep these figures in mind when taking omega-3 supplements, as these fatty acids can cause excessive bleeding and blood thinning in some people.

References

Aucoin M. Fish-derived omega-3 fatty acids and prostate cancer: a systematic review. Integrated Cancer Therapy 2017 Mar; 16(1): 32-62–YES

Bright Focus Foundation. Age-related macular degeneration: facts and figures

Canhada S et al. Omega-3 fatty acids’ supplementation in Alzheimer’s disease: a systematic review. Nutritional Neuroscience 2017 May 3:1-10–YES

Couet C et al. Effects of dietary fish oil on body fat mass and basal fat oxidation in healthy adults. International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders 1997 Aug; 21(8): 637-43—YES 

Downie LE, Vingrys AJ. Oral omega-3 supplementation lowers intraocular pressure in normotensive adults. Translational Vision Science & Technology 2018 May 1; 7(3): 1

EFSA Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies. Scientific opinion on the tolerable upper intake level of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and docosapentaenoic acid (DPA). EFSA Journal 2012 Jul 27; 10(7)

Elagizi A et al. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and cardiovascular health: a comprehensive review. Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases 2018 May-June; 61(1): 76-85

Gurzell EA et al. DHA-enriched fish oil targets B cell lipid microdomains and enhances ex vivo and in vivo B cell function. Journal of Leukocyte Biology 2013 Apr; 93(4): 463-70–YES

Hu Z et al. Docosahexaenoic acid inhibit the growth of hormone-dependent prostate cancer cells by promoting the degradation of the androgen receptor. Molecular Medicine Reports 2015 Sep; 12(3): 3769-74

Kyoto University. Fish oil helps burn fat by transforming fat-storage cells into fat-burning cells. 2015 Dec 18

Narendran R et al. Improved working memory but no effect on striatal vesicular monoamine transporter type 2 after omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation. PLoS One 2012 Oct 3—YES

National Institutes of Health. Omega-3 fatty acids. Accessed June 21, 2019.

Sala-Vila A et al. Dietary marine w-3 fatty acids and incident sight-threatening retinopathy in middle-aged and older individuals with type 2 diabetes. Prospective investigation from the PREDIMED trial. JAMA Ophthalmology 2016; 134(10): 1142-49—YES

Sanchez-Villegas A et al. Seafood consumption, omega-3 fatty acids intake, and life-time prevalence of depression in the PREDIMED-Plus Trial. Nutrients 2018 Dec 18; 10(12): pii:E2000

Wang DD, Hu FB. Dietary fat and risk of cardiovascular disease: recent controversies and advances. Annual Review of Nutrition 2017 Jun 23—YES

Wang J et al. FFAR1- and FFAR4-dependent activation of Hippo pathway mediates DHA-induced apoptosis of androgen-independent prostate cancer cells. Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications 2018 Nov 30; 506(3): 590-96

Wu J et al. Dietary intakes of eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid and risk of age-related macular degeneration. Ophthalology 2017 May; 124(5): 634-43—YES

Wu MHY et al. Effect of fish oil on circulating adiponectin: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism 2013 Jun; 98(6): 2451-59