Omega-3 are one of the most common supplements for people to take and a large number of my patients are taking, or have taken, Omega-3 supplements even before I recommend them.
However, having talked to numerous patients about taking Omega-3 supplements, I've noticed a number of problems in taking them that prevent people from experiencing the benefits of Omega-3's.
1. Wrong dosage... Most literature on Omega-3 supplements states that in order to have a real decrease in inflammation in the body, especially that which is related to joint arthritis, you must take at least 3 grams of EPA/DHA Omega-3 oil. Further, you must take it for at least 2-3 months. Less than this and many people won't experience any benefit from the Omega-3.
Research also says that for those with dementia/Alzheimer's/Parkinson's and other neurodegenerative diseases patients must take 4-5 grams of EPA/DHA daily to experience benefits in their symptoms for 2-3 months.
If you're going to take Omega-3, make sure you take the right dosage.
2. Incorrect form of Omega-3...The forms of Omega-3 that are most associated with benefits relating to pain and inflammation are EPA and DHA. Other forms of Omega-3 are not utilized as easily in the body and do not give the same benefits. Many affordable versions of Omega-3's are readily available but do not have the ideal forms of Omega-3 for people; make sure your supplement has a majority EPA/DHA.
3. Taken without food... Omega-3 is a fatty acid or oil, so it requires bile to be released from the liver or gallbladder into the intestines in order to be broken down. Bile is only released from the liver or gallbladder once about 5 grams of fat is in the stomach; less than 5 grams of fat and the body/brain doesn't recognize that fat is even in the body and bile is not released. When bile isn't released, fat is not broken down or emulsified as well.
So, when you take Omega-3 on an empty stomach and you take less than 5 grams, your brain may not recognize there is fat in the body that needs to be broken down and bile may not be released and therefore the Omega-3 oil will not be broken down and absorbed into the body.
This is why I ALWAYS tell patients to take Omega-3 with a meal that has some fat, even if it is only a minimal amount like a couple pieces of cheese or toast with butter.
4. Poor quality... Omega-3 oils are typically obtained from fish sources. We also know that larger fish tend to have higher concentrations of mercury per body weight. Omega-3 supplements can be from large or farmed fish sources, or smaller wild caught fish. As a rule, lower quality fish oil will be from large fish sources that is higher in mercury content- something we want to avoid on a long term basis.
Second, lower quality fish oil supplements have been shown in some independent quality testing to have higher levels of other contaminants and/or differing amounts of EPA/DHA than what is listed on the label. This is not true across the board and is a very general rule, but one that I tend to follow.
Lastly, there are some minimal risks in taking Omega-3 including potential interaction with some medications (including blood thinners). If you are on any medications, you'll want to check with your health care provider to be sure it is safe.
TL;DR: Take 3-5 grams of a high quality Omega-3 in the EPH/DHA form of fish oil with a meal daily for 2-3 months in order to obtain optimal benefits and check with your health care provider if you are on any medications before taking Omega-3's.