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Deciding When to Take Fish Oil: Who Can Benefit from Supplementation?

Updated on May 24, 2012

In recent years, fish oil has been recommended for ailments ranging from high blood pressure to depression, pregnancy complications and Alzheimer's disease. This makes it easy to assume that fish-based supplements are ideal for everyone. Not all patients can benefit from fish oil, however. Here's what consumers need to know about when to take fish oil and when supplementation won't benefit them.

To Improve Cardiovascular Health

Fish-based supplements are ideal for anyone who has a heart condition or who is at risk for developing one in the future. This includes people with high cholesterol, high blood pressure and heart disease, as well as those who have a close family member who suffers from heart problems. Fish-based omega-3 supplements can also help lower blood triglyceride levels by 20 to 50 percent. In people who have already had a heart attack, consuming oily fish or supplements derived from them reduces the chance of a second occurrence.

To Reduce or Prevent Mental and Neurological Symptoms

There is mounting evidence that omega-3 fatty acids such as those found in oily fish can benefit people at risk for neurological problems. People with a high risk of Alzheimer's disease may be able to avoid cognitive problems using these supplements. Consuming oily fish products can also help people with depression, as well as those suffering from schizophrenia and ADHD. Mice with Parkinson's disease also showed improvement with high omega-3 dosing.

To Reduce Cancer Risk

Some cancers seem to respond to therapy with omega-3 fatty acids, including prostate and breast tumors. These nutrients may also reduce the risk of developing breast, colon and prostate cancer, which are among the most common types. Studies have shown that women who take supplements have about one third less risk of developing breast cancer than those who did not consume omega-3s.

To Avoid Autoimmune Symptoms

Lupus, a condition in which the body attacks its own joints, skin and other tissues, can be affected by fish oil supplementation. A study where patients received these supplements showed marked improvement and an increase in anti-inflammatory proteins after 12 and 24 weeks.

To Improve Reproductive Health

Consuming omega-3 fatty acids can improve women's reproductive health. Fish oil can be taken to avoid pregnancy complications such as high blood pressure and miscarriage. It can also help with painful menstruation and breast tenderness associated with premenstrual syndrome.

Who Shouldn't Take Fish Oil

Doctors recommend against supplementation for children, who may suffer from unpleasant side effects. These supplements are also inappropriate for people who suffer from bleeding disorders, stomach ulcers or fish allergies and intolerance. The oil doesn't seem to provide much benefit in preventing post-partum depression or improving symptoms in diabetics and liver disease sufferers.

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