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Can You Get Too Much Omega-3?

Is it possible to get too much omega-3? How do the omega-3s from various sources compare? Nutrition Diva helps sort it all out for you.

By
Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS,
September 11, 2013
Episode #251

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Nutrition Diva listener Ben writes:

"I found a delicious flour made from whole grains and golden flaxseed. It provides 2,400 mg of Omega 3s per 1/2 cup, which is a lot more than I get from my fish oil supplements. Should I skip my fish oil on days when I eat something made with this flour? Can you get too much omega-3?

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I love the fact that Ben doesn't simply assume that if some omega-3 is good for you, more omega-3 must be that much better for you. Go, Ben! And, while Ben's question seems straight-forward enough, there actually are a few different issues to consider. Let's start with the official recommendations. 

Here in the U.S., the nutrition recommedations known as the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI) are set by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), which is part of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. These recommendations are based on the best available scientific evidence and include recommended minimums and, for some nutrients, recommended maximums.

See also: Can You Get Too Many Vitamins?.

 

The DRI tend to be pretty conservative. The recommended intakes reflect the amount that a healthy person needs to avoid overt nutrient deficiencies. Many experts argue that the amount needed to support optimal health might be higher than the amount you need just to keep yourself out of the hospital. And in some cases, I think they're right. See, for example, my episode on Vitamin D.

What Is the Recommended Intake for Omega-3?

The "Adequate Intake" for healthy adults is 1,000- 1,500mg of Omega-3s a day. But is this consistent with optimal health?

Believe it or not, given all the attention omega-3s get from researchers and nutrition gurus, the IOM has not yet established a recommended intake for omega-3s! For now, they've punted on the question by establishing what's known as an Adequate Intake (AI), which is what they do when they feel that they don't have enough evidence to establish an actual recommended intake.

The Adequate Intake just reflects the amount that people typically get from their diets. Of course, whether you can really consider the North American population healthy, or whether the typical diet is adequate is arguable. In any case, The AI for healthy adults is 1,000- 1,500mg of Omega-3s per day; one-half cup of Ben's flax-enriched flour provides about twice that much.

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