“Contrary to popular belief, we didn’t see any benefit of omega-3 supplements for stopping cognitive decline,” said Emily Chew, M.D., who led a clinical trial involving over 4000 patients. Published in 2015, the results of the 5-year study were in line with several other studies which show no benefit to taking supplemental omega-3. Neal Barnard, M.D., states in his blog, "Recent studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine, Journal of the American Medical Association, and Archives of Internal Medicine all found that supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids does not improve heart health. Omega-3 supplements may also increase men’s risk of developing prostate cancer."
Why do We Need Omega-3?
We get omega-3 fatty acids from a-linolenic acid (ALA) which our bodies then convert into EPA and DHA. Omega-3 is used in our cell membranes, and it also helps improve circulatory and respiratory function. Omega-3 is a necessary fatty acid which our bodies cannot make internally. Omega-3 is called an "essential" fat because it is essential that we include it in our diet.
Most omega-3 supplements are capsules filled with fish oil. However, in addition to omega-3, fish oil contains unsafe levels of contaminants as well as unhealthy saturated fat. So where do fish get their omega-3? They get it from plants. And so can we. Jeff Novick, MS RD LD LN, insists that if we eat "a healthy minimally processed low fat, WFPB (whole-food plant-based), low SOS (salt-oil-sugar) diet, getting in adequate omega-3" is not a problem because the body will supply itself with omega-3 as needed from the food we provide. Plant foods which are particularly rich in omega-3 include non-GMO edamame, walnuts, flax and chia seeds, black beans, cauliflower, winter squash, and dark green leafy vegetables.
The Take-home Message
Spending money on omega-3 supplements is not necessary to prevent cognitive decline nor for heart health. Instead, we should ensure that our diets include a wide variety of whole plant foods. Eating beans, colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and some nuts and seeds is the best way to preserve our mental function and our cardiovascular system.