There is an increasing body of research supporting omega-3 for PCOS symptom management. This group of essential fatty acids has many benefits for not only PCOS management but also general health including hair, skin and mental health.
This article unravels the role of omega-3 in PCOS, the best sources for it, including fish oil, algae, and food sources, potential side effects and the recommended dosages. Keep reading to learn about omega-3 for PCOS.
What is PCOS?
PCOS is a complex hormonal disorder, affecting 5-10% of people with ovaries worldwide.
Characterised by high levels of androgens (such as testosterone), insulin resistance, and “cysts” on the ovaries, PCOS can lead to issues like menstrual irregularities, infertility, acne, hirsutism, and metabolic syndrome.
>> Read more | PCOS 101: a beginners guide to PCOS
What is omega-3?
Omega-3s are a family of essential fatty acids crucial to human health. They are considered “essential” because our bodies cannot produce them. This means we must obtain them from our diet.
These polyunsaturated fats play a critical role in brain function, growth, and development, and they also have potent anti-inflammatory properties
Plus, omega-3 fatty acids have been associated with numerous health benefits, including improving heart health, boosting cognitive functions, and helping manage autoimmune diseases.
Omega-3 vs omega 6
You may have also heard of omega-6 when researching omega-3 fatty acids. Both are essential fatty acids, meaning our bodies can’t produce them, so we must get them from our food.
Omega-3 fatty acids, such as EPA and DHA, have anti-inflammatory properties and are vital for heart and brain health. Conversely, omega-6 fatty acids, found in vegetable oils and meats, while necessary in moderation, can promote inflammation, if too much is consumed.
As PCOS is considered a condition associated with chronic inflammation, ensuring a higher omega-3 to omega-6 ratio is essential for PCOS symptom management.
Types of omega-3
There are three primary types of omega-3 fatty acids: ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid).
ALA is a short-chain fatty acid predominantly found in plant sources, while DHA and EPA are long-chain fatty acids typically sourced from fish and algae. Our bodies can convert some ALA into EPA and DHA, but this process is limited, making direct intake of DHA and EPA important.
Also, ALA is not as active in the body which means it may not contribute to as many health benefits.
Benefits of omega-3 for PCOS
Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly EPA and DHA, can offer a multitude of benefits for people with PCOS, as well as the general population.
For PCOS, omega-3 has many benefits including being anti-inflammatory, improving mood, lowering cholesterol and triglycerides, improving egg quality and ovulation and improving NAFLD.
Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly EPA and DHA, are known for their potent anti-inflammatory properties.
Chronic inflammation is often associated with PCOS, so omega-3 could potentially reduce this inflammation in the body, and potentially the symptoms associated with chronic inflammation.
A meta-analysis study of nine trials found that omega-3 fatty acids may be recommended for the treatment of PCOS with insulin resistance and high triglyceride levels.
Studies show that omega-3 supplements may help combat mood disorders like depression and anxiety.
A literature review of numerous studies suggests that dietary intake or supplementation of omega-3 fatty acids, particularly Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA), may be beneficial in the management of major depressive disorders.
Lowers cholesterol and triglycerides
Improves egg quality and ovulation
Omega-3 may boost fertility by improving egg quality and promoting regular ovulation, which may assist people with PCOS who are trying to conceive.
In a 2013 study, 78 individuals diagnosed with PCOS were randomly assigned to either an omega-3 supplement group or a placebo group for a duration of eight weeks. The study observed that those who received omega-3 experienced a regulation in their menstrual cycles, which could potentially enhance ovulation regularity and boost fertility prospects. To corroborate these findings, additional research involving extended supplementation periods and larger participant groups is necessary.
>> Read More | PCOS and Fertility: the ultimate guide to conception
Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) is common in people with PCOS. Omega-3 has been seen to improve NAFLD by reducing liver fat and inflammation.
A meta-analysis of ten randomized controlled trials suggests that omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) may be an effective new treatment option for NAFLD or nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), as they were found to improve liver fat, gamma-glutamyltransferase (GGT), triglyceride (TG), and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) levels in patients.
Sources of omega-3
Omega-3 can be found in a variety of foods, but if you know that you aren’t consuming enough omega-3-rich foods then a fish oil or algae supplement can be beneficial for PCOS.
Omega-3 fatty acids are abundantly found in oily fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines, anchovies, sprats, trout and herring.
Vegan foods high in omega-3 include flaxseeds, chia seeds, brussel sprouts, walnuts, and hemp seeds.
It is important to note that these plant-based foods are rich in ALA omega-3 fatty acids, rather than DHA or EPA. ALA is the type of omega-3 that isn’t as active, so it is important to make sure you eat enough omega-3-rich foods or take algae supplements if you are vegan, plant-based or vegetarian.
Fish oil supplements
Fish oil is a rich source of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids. If you don’t consume fish then it may be beneficial to take fish oil supplements to make sure you get enough of this essential nutrient.
Algae oil supplements
For vegetarians and vegans, algae oil provides an excellent source of EPA and DHA. Algae oil supplements are a reliable way to ensure adequate intake of these crucial omega-3 types.
While the optimal dose may vary depending on individual needs, a general recommendation is 250–500 mg combined EPA and DHA per day for most adults.
Always consult with a healthcare professional before starting a supplementation regimen.
Side effects of omega-3
Generally, omega-3 fatty acids are well-tolerated and considered safe. However, like any supplement, they may have potential side effects, particularly at high doses.
These can include mild digestive issues, like diarrhoea or nausea, a fishy aftertaste, or an increased risk of bleeding.
Omega-3 may interact with anticoagulant and antiplatelet drugs, herbs and supplements, as well as blood pressure medication. Fish oil in particular may interfere with the effect of some contraceptive medications, and fish oil can reduce vitamin E levels.
It’s crucial to discuss any new supplements with your healthcare provider, especially if you have any underlying health conditions or are taking other medications.
Best omega-3 for PCOS
There are many omega-3 options for PCOS. Here is our choice of the best fish oil supplement for PCOS and the best vegan omega-3 algae supplement for PCOS.
- Algae-based vegan omega 3
- 100% vegan with no fillers, binders or additives
- 300mg DHA & 150mg EPA and 10mg Vitamin E
Key takeaways: omega-3 for PCOS
Omega-3 fatty acids can be a valuable part of managing PCOS. Their potential to reduce inflammation, improve mood, lower cholesterol and triglycerides, enhance egg quality and ovulation, and improve NAFLD conditions make them a beneficial supplement for people with PCOS. Incorporating omega-3-rich foods or supplements like fish oil or algae oil into your diet can provide significant benefits but always speak with your healthcare provider before trying a new supplement.
Founder and Editor | Registered Associate Nutritionist
Founder of Be The Collective LTD [The PCOS Collective & The Endo Collective] Alex Okell ANutr is a London-based reproductive health nutritionist with experience in research, private practice and digital media. She holds a Master’s degree in Nutrition from King’s College London and has co-authored papers with the University of Cambridge, King’s College London, The Food Foundation and the Food Standards Agency. Alex offers 1:1 PCOS support in our virtual PCOS clinic.