Omega-3 for Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

The Potential Benefits

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What are Omega-3 Fatty Acids?

Omega-3 fatty acids are common nutritional supplements often taken in the form of fish oil or flaxseed oil. They're classified as a polyunsaturated fat, one of the "good" fats (as opposed to "bad" fat, which is saturated.)

Omega-3s are believed to play many important roles, including:

  • Aiding brain development and function,
  • Reducing inflammation,
  • Reducing back and neuropathic pain,

They may also help alleviate depression, asthma, painful periods, and rheumatoid arthritis. However, evidence is less compelling in these areas.

Omega-3s for Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Some studies show that omega-3s may improve symptoms of fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. One survey showed that omega-3 fatty acids are among the most common supplements taken by people with fibromyalgia.

Some researchers hypothesize that omega-3 fatty acids may help alleviate oxidative stress, which studies suggest may play a role in these conditions.

Many people take omega-3 supplements, or eat a diet rich in omega-3s, in order to combat inflammation. Chronic fatigue syndrome is believed to be associated with pro-inflammatory cytokines. Some research suggests that fibromyalgia may involve inflammation of the fascia.

We don't know yet whether they help counter the cognitive dysfunction ("fibro fog") or unique pain types of these conditions or the cardio vascular irregularities that are common in chronic fatigue syndrome.

Omega-3 Dosage

Some health professionals recommend that people who don't eat a diet rich in omega-3s take 500 milligrams a day in supplements.

Doctors may recommend that people with certain conditions, such as heart disease, take more. It's important for you to discuss your supplement needs with your doctor.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Your Diet

You can get dietary omega-3 fatty acids in several foods, including:

  • Fatty fish (salmon, tuna, herring, sardines, anchovies),
  • Seaweed,
  • Algae,
  • Walnuts,
  • Canola and hempseed oils,
  • Flaxseeds and flaxseed oil,
  • Soybeans.

Side Effects of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Just because omega-3s are natural doesn't mean they're safe for everyone or in any amount. It's important for you to be aware of possible side effects.

Common side effects include:

  • Upset stomach,
  • Diarrhea,
  • Increased burping,
  • Heartburn/acid reflux,
  • Abdominal pain and bloating.

Some people don't like the "fishy" taste these supplements can leave behind. Taking them with meals can help alleviate this problem as well as other side effects. It may also help to start with a low dosage and gradually increase it.

While rare at lower dosages, omega-3s may increase your risk of bleeding problems, including a type of stroke.

Higher doses may also be linked to nosebleeds and blood in the urine. A blood sugar increase in diabetics is possible, but unlikely.

Those with major depression or bipolar disorder may experience mania, restlessness, or a crawling sensation on the skin.

Some fish may contain contaminants, including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxins and methylmercury. These substances are believed to build up in the meat, not the oil, so supplements are considered safe.

Long-term supplementation may cause vitamin E deficiency. Your doctor can test you for this problem.

Is Omega-3 Right for You?

It's always a good idea to talk to your doctor about supplements you'd like to try so you can make sure it won't be a problem with any of your other medications or conditions.

However, omega-3 is generally considered safe and is readily available anywhere that sells supplements, so it's an easy one to add to your treatment regimen.

More Supplements for Pain & Tenderness

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Sources:

Dyall SC, Michael-Titus AT. Neuromolecular medicine. 2008;10(4):219-35. Neurological benefits of omega-3 fatty acids.

Ko GD, et al. The clinical journal of pain. 2010 Feb;26(2):168-72. Omega-3 fatty acids for neuropathic pain: case series.

Liptan GL. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies. 2010 Jan;14(1):3-12 Fascia: A missing link in our understanding of the pathology of fibromyalgia.

Maes M. Progress in neuro-psychopharmacology & biological psychiatry. An intriguing and hitherto unexplained co-occurrence: Depression and chronic fatigue syndrome are manifestations of shared inflammatory, oxidative and nitrosative pathways.

Maes M, Mihaylova I, Leunis JC. Neuro endocrinology letters. 2005 Dec;26(6):745-51. In chronic fatigue syndrome, the decreased levels of omega-3 poly-unsaturated fatty acids are related to lowered serum zinc and defects in T cell activation.

Ozgocmen S, et al. Rheumatology international. 2006 May;26(7):585-97. Current concepts in the pathophysiology of fibromyalgia: the potential role of oxidative stress and nitric oxide.

Ozgocmen S, et al. Rheumatology International. 2006 May;26(7):598-603. Antioxidant status, lipid peroxidation and nitric oxide in fibromyalgia: etiologic and therapeutic concerns.

Ozgocmen S, et al. International journal of clinical pharmacology and therapeutics. Effect of omega-3 fatty acids in the management of fibromyalgia syndrome.

Shaver JL, et al. Journal of women's health. Self-reported medication and herb/supplement use by women with and without fibromyalgia.

Tamizi far B, Tamizi B. Medical hypotheses. 2002 Mar;58(3):249-50. Treatment of chronic fatigue syndrome by dietary supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids—a good idea?

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