The American Heart Association recommends eating fatty, coldwater fish such as salmon, lake trout or tuna twice a week because the omega-3 fatty acids found in these fish have been shown to improve cardiovascular health. Because of its blood-thinning effect, consuming large amounts of omega-3 fatty acids before surgery may pose a bleeding risk. Talk to your doctor about your diet and any supplements you take when planning your surgery.
Omega-3 fatty acids, sometimes called n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, or PUFAs, are an essential part of a healthy diet. They aid in the relaxation and contraction of muscles and improve blood flow and the health of cells in your body. In addition to fish, omega-3 fatty acids are also found in many nuts and seeds like flax, walnuts and hemp. According to a 2007 study by the National Center for Health Statistics, omega-3 supplements are the most common non-vitamin or mineral supplement taken by American adults.
Cardiovascular and Other Health Benefits
According to a 2004 study by Tufts-New England Medical Center, eating fish or taking fish oil supplements has been shown to lower triglycerides, slightly lower blood pressure and may reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke. Omega-3 fatty acids may benefit people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis by reducing stiffness and swelling. Omega-3 fatty acids are being studied for their effects on a wide variety of other conditions such as asthma, diabetes, osteoporosis and renal disease, but more research is needed in these fields.
Omega-3 Before Surgery
Research on taking omega-3 supplements before surgery is split. The Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Massachusetts, recommends that patients stop taking omega-3 supplements that may affect blood thinning or blood pressure at least two weeks before surgery. But the institute encourages you to continue to eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as fish and walnuts, so long as you eat them in moderation. However, a study reported in the March 2009 issue of Annals of Surgery shows that consumption of omega-3 supplements before and after surgery for esophageal cancer can help patients maintain muscle mass. Your doctors can help you design a medication and supplement plan that is right for you.
Other Side Effects
While some fish may be contaminated with mercury, pesticides and other toxins, this generally isn't a concern with fish oil supplements. The issue can be avoided entirely by choosing organic flax oil instead. Taking large amounts of fish oil or flax oil may cause diarrhea and other gastrointestinal upset. To prevent this, ease into your new supplement regimen by taking very small amounts, say, a teaspoon a day so that your body can adjust. Omega-3s may also interact with some medications. Consult with your doctor or pharmacist before taking any new supplements.
- American Heart Association: Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids
- National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Omega-3 Supplements
- Dana-Farber Cancer Institute: Should I Avoid Omega-3 fatty Acids Before Surgery?
- InSciences.org: Omega-3 Fatty Acids May Benefit Cancer Patients Undergoing Surgery, Study by NYU Researcher Finds
- Effects of Omega-3 Fatty Acids on Cardiovascular Disease, Tufts-New England Medical Center EPC, Boston, Massachusetts, 2004