Irritable Bowel Syndrome causes persistent discomfort and disruption of normal bowel function. Managing IBS often focuses on living a healthier, lower-stress lifestyle but the effective combination of factors can vary widely between individuals. Although supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil is a reasonable therapy for IBS, unlike inflammatory bowel disease, little clinical evidence exists to support the broad efficacy of omega-3 in improving IBS.
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Omega-3 in Your Body
Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids and essential nutrients that your body uses to maintain cellular membranes and as raw materials to synthesize biochemical signals especially those regulating inflammation. Deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids may alter signaling in the nervous system and cause the body to produce more pro-inflammatory signals than anti-inflammatory signals. The modern diet is typically very low in omega-3 fatty acids.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
IBS is characterized by cramping, pain, bloating, constipation and diarrhea persisting for six months or more. Although IBS is unlikely to lead to serious health consequences, it can be a substantial disruption to your life. The cause of IBS is unclear, but may involve dysfunction of your response to stress and the immune or nervous system.
Treating Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Treatment of IBS focuses on lifestyle changes to lessen the severity of symptoms and manage disruption to your routine. Changes may include eating more frequent smaller meals, exercising regularly, avoiding stress and certain foods. The best treatment can vary widely among different individuals. Prescription drugs are used only in limited cases of severe IBS and are not effective for everyone.
Omega-3 as a Treatment
No studies have yet established omega-3 fatty acids as a factor or putative treatment for IBS. However, it is known that omega-3 deficiency can have substantial effects on the nervous and immune systems thought to be involved in causing IBS. A 2009 study by Clarke, et al., found an increase in pro-inflammatory products of polyunsaturated fatty acids in females with severe IBS, suggesting that omega-3 supplementation may help.
Adding Omega-3 to Your Diet
Fish oil may be supplemented in up to three grams a day without the supervision of a medical professional, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Choose a fish oil that can provide at least one gram of the omega-3 fatty acids EPA plus DHA. Other omega-3 rich foods include cold-water fish such as salmon and mackerel, walnuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds and soybeans. Increased intake of omega-3 fatty acids may raise resting blood sugar in diabetics and reduce blood clotting. Diabetics and those taking blood thinner should only take omega-3 supplements under the supervision of a doctor.
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Medical Reference: Complementary Medicine: Omega-3 Fatty Acids; D. Ehrlich, NMD; 25 June 2009
- MayoClinic.com: Omega-3 fatty acids, fish oil, alpha-linolenic acid; 21 December 2010
- "Journal of Lipid Research"; Marked elevations in pro-inflammatory polyunsaturated fatty acid metabolites in females with irritable bowel syndrome; Clarke et al.; 2010
- National Digestive Disease Information Clearinghouse; Irritable Bowel Syndrome; September 2007