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Omega-3 Supplementation

All naturally occurring oils are in fact a blend of saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, but it is the predominating fatty acid that defines how we label it, i.e. as polyunsaturated or monounsaturated.

In place of saturated fat in the diet, essential fatty acids are needed. 

Current knowledge indicates that omega-3 fatty acids are more helpful than omega-6s. We know that omega-3s modulate immune system disorders more effectively than omega-6s do, and that saturated fats worsen them.

Many studies have been done on the role of omega-3s and omega-6s in MS. The Overcoming MS program’s extensive, international HOLISM study showed that people with MS who consumed flaxseed oil regularly had over 60% fewer relapses than those who didn’t.

Even without such studies, we know that MS is less common in places such as Japan where fish (which is high in omega-3s) is frequently consumed. Overcoming MS recommends people with MS get their omega-3s from flaxseed oil rather than fish oil.

The benefits of Omega-3s for treating MS are:

  • In a structural way, in forming part of the body’s cell membranes and making them more pliable and soft (due to their low melting points)

  • In an immune way, as they are the precursors of the cytokines and eicosanoids that the immune system Th2 cells secrete to dampen down inflammation

To tip the balance towards omega-3s over omega-6 fatty acids, we recommend taking an omega-3 supplement daily. Omega-3 can be plant or fish based.

  • Flaxseed oil is a plant-based source of omega-3 and is the preferred source of omega-3 supplementation on the Overcoming MS Program.

Flaxseed oil (also known as flax oil or linseed oil) is made from flax seeds which are high in omega-3 fatty acids and have been ground and pressed to release their natural oil. Flaxseed oil is the best plant-based oil, but is relatively unstable and prone to oxidation. This means you should be careful about sourcing and storing the flaxseed oil in order to get the desired benefits.

How Omega-3 supplements should be stored:

  • Coldpressed, packed in the absence of oxygen and light (dark bottle) 

  • Control the temperature by keeping refrigerated

  • Should be used within six weeks of purchase (it can be frozen and then defrosted slowly in the fridge)

  • Take care it does not become rancid – it will develop a slight bitter taste

  • Best to have a bottled oil as it is likely to be more fresh than flaxseed capsules

How much should I take per day?

20-40 mls (approximately 2 tablespoons)

Many people prefer to stop counting, and they just use flaxseed oil regularly on their pasta, baked potatoes, salad. You could also add it to smoothies. It should be added after food is cooked, not heated directly during cooking as this damages the nutritional properties of the oil.

You should also try and get omega-3 from your diet – seeds, nuts, fish and seafood all contain omega-3.

Omega-3 supplements : rather than consuming fresh flaxseed oil, we are often asked if it is possible to take it as a supplement instead (i.e. in capsule form). However there are two issues with this. Firstly, the instability of omega-3, whether from fish oil or flaxseed oil, renders it hard to keep fresh in a plastic container on a shop shelf, probably for prolonged periods. You can taste immediately if your bottled flaxseed oil has ‘gone off’ – it will be bitter and rancid – but you will miss this warning taste if it is contained within a capsule. Secondly, and assuming the capsules do contain fresh oil, you will typically find around 1000mg of oil per capsule – around 700mg of ALA (omega-3). A tablespoon of flaxseed oil contains around 7,000mg of ALA. You would therefore have to take quite a few capsules to get the same amount of valuable omega 3 to match the quantity provided in 2-3 tablespoons (20-40ml) of flaxseed oil recommended on the Overcoming MS program. This can get quite expensive, as well as cumbersome.  

Why flaxseed over fish oil?

  • Lower saturated fat content than fish oil

  • Levels of omega-3 present in fish oil capsules are not always accurate. Fish oil capsules can be oxidized (therefore are rancid) and you wouldn’t be aware unless you opened the capsule

  • There are concerns about pollutants in oceans 

  • You would need to take 20 capsules of standard strength fish oil per day compared to two tablespoons of flaxseed oil. This can become expensive.

What other supplements should I take?

Many people with multiple sclerosis take supplements. It is important to be clear about which MS supplements are actually helpful, and which are potentially harmful.

The literature clearly shows that some MS supplements are helpful, but also that some are harmful. Here, we go into some detail about the most important of these, the essential fatty acids, and fatty acid supplements that people might consider taking.

Overcoming MS reccommends: 

Read more about supplements and read FAQs about omega-3 supplements and other diet questions.