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Can I take omega-3 if I'm allergic to seafood?

Omega-3 fatty acids are part of a healthy diet, but what do you do if you're allergic to the fish oil they typically come from? See more staying healthy pictures.
© iStockphoto.com/ozgurdonmaz

We're told there are certain things we should do to keep ourselves healthy -- get enough exercise, avoid harmful lifestyle choices like smoking or drinking excessively, eat right, and get enough vitamins and nutrients. One of those nutrients is omega-3 fatty acids, and it's abundant in seafood.

However, for many, eating seafood can be a dangerous -- if not deadly -- proposition. About 7 million Americans are allergic to seafood, and in the United States, seafood allergies result in about 30,000 visits to emergency rooms and around 200 deaths every year [source: Davis].

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Seafood allergies can develop in children or adults and can range from mild to very dangerous. A seafood allergy isn't necessarily an allergy to all types of seafood. You may be allergic to mollusks or crustaceans (both being types of shellfish), or to fish. You may be allergic to just one particular species while being unaffected by others.

Relatively mild allergic reactions may cause diarrhea, pain and discomfort, as well as skin reactions such as hives. But reactions can also be far more serious. In an allergic reaction, a person may experience anaphylaxis, a form of multi-systemic shock. Anaphylactic reactions vary in severity, but they can cause the throat to close or the lungs to stop working, which means they can be fatal. Even if you're allergic to only one type of seafood, the possibility of such a severe reaction has probably led you to avoid all seafood consumption.

However, along with other nutrients, seafood is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, a group of polyunsaturated fats found in fish oil. So what do omega-3 fatty acids do, and how do you get them without eating fish? Keep reading to find out.

 

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Omega-3 fatty acids are important for your overall health. They assist in brain development and seem to support cognitive functioning and memory. Omega-3 also benefits your overall health and physical development. Research supports a link between increased consumption of omega-3 fatty acids and a lowered risk of heart disease. This may be due to a correlating rise in HDL "good" cholesterol and a dropping in triglyceride levels when you increase levels of omega-3 fatty acids. In addition to these heart benefits, omega-3s are also believed to reduce risk of cancer and arthritis, as well as help provide relief for inflammation.

The catch? Your body can't produce its own omega-3 fatty acids: You have to get them from your diet. For these reasons, the American Heart Association recommends two servings a week of omega-3 fatty acids. An excellent way to satisfy your body's need for this nutrient is by eating seafood. But if you're allergic to seafood, will fish oils in supplement form give you a reaction?

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They're not supposed to, but they can. It's not the fish oil itself that prompts allergic reactions, but fish proteins. As long there are no fish proteins in the oil, you shouldn't have a reaction. A high-quality fish oil shouldn't contain proteins -- but whether it does depends on the methods the manufacturer uses, as well as the level of care taken at the factory. So, even though you may be able to take fish oil supplements without having a reaction, you probably shouldn't. After all, it takes only one mistake on the part of the manufacturer for you to experience what is -- at best -- an extremely unpleasant reaction.

So what are other ways to get omega-3 fatty acids? Interestingly, fish don't produce their own omega-3 fatty acids either -- they get theirs from algae, and so can you. Spirulina and other microalgae supplements are available in most health food stores. You can also get omega-3 through flaxseed and flaxseed oil, canola, soybeans, soybean oil, pumpkin seeds, and various nut oils, such as walnut. While fish and fish oil supplements are promoted as important parts of a healthy diet, people with seafood allergies can obtain the healthy components of fish and fish oil through other sources that won't put them at risk of potentially harmful reaction.

For lots more information on omega-3 fatty acids and seafood allergies, see the next page.

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Sources

  • Advances in Immunology, Volume 47. Academic Press, 1989. ISBN 012022447X, 9780120224470. http://books.google.com/books?id=6ucAvLzbyc4C&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_navlinks_s#v=onepage&q=&f=false
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  • Balentine, Jerry R., DO, FACEP. "Anaphylaxis (Severe Allergic Reaction)." Oct. 13, 2009. (June 8, 2010) http://www.medicinenet.com/anaphylaxis/article.htm
  • Davis, Jeanie Lerche. "Seafood Allergies Common for Adults." July 13, 2004. (June 10, 2010)http://www.webmd.com/allergies/news/20040713/seafood-allergies-common-adults
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