South African Journal of Clinical Nutrition

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What health professionals should know about omega-3 fatty acid supplements

M Opperman


Omega-3 (n-3) fatty acids are essential to maintain satisfactory human health and need to be consumed in the diet. Western diets are often deficient in n-3 fatty acids because of an insufficient intake of cold water oily fish. The main n-3 fatty acids in fatty fish are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). To date, no formally accepted dietary reference intakes for EPA and DHA exist, while international intake recommendations differ widely. Supplementation is an easy and convenient way of increasing dietary n-3 fatty acid intake, but very little information is available to health professionals when advising consumers on choosing a supplement to suit their lifestyle. Reliable nutrition information on product labels is vital since misleading information may lead to erroneous dosages with concomitant adverse effects. Since no formal regulatory structure for dietary supplements currently exists in South Africa, consumers depend on self-regulation within the industry for assurance of product quality, consistency, potency and purity of n-3 fatty acid supplements. Therefore, the aim of this article is to equip health professionals with proper knowledge with special reference to the bioavailability of fish oil supplements, reliability of labelling information, dietary intake recommendations, potential adverse effects and some general advice when purchasing n-3 fatty acid supplements

Keywords: omega-3 fatty acids, supplements, bioavailability, frequency of intake labelling

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