Fish oil has been touted as the latest breakthrough supplement that adds scope for health benefits. It has gained popularity among cardiologists, athletes, and the everyday person. There is various pieces of evidence to back up the many claims made about fish oil, and while the jury is still keeping some of the claims open, supplementing with fish oil has many benefits.
It is important to understand how fish oil works. The main benefit is the high omega-3 content of the fish oil. In particular, Docosa Hexanoic Acid (DHA) and Eicosa Pentanoic Acid (EPA) are two important omega-3 fatty acids that produce anti-inflammatory effects in our body, while omega-6 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory effects. The reason omega-3 supplementation can be effective is because of the high levels of omega-6 in the standard North American diet. The ideal ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 is roughly 1: 1 and 1: 3, while the average North American has a ratio closer to 1:21! One mistake many people make is supplementing with flaxseed. Flax seeds are high in omega-3 fatty acids; Unfortunately, only about 5 percent of the omega-3 fatty acids in flaxseed are converted into the usable form of DHA and EPA.
More recently, inflammation has been suggested to be the cause of the current rise in chronic diseases and disorders such as CVD, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and obesity. Reducing inflammation to a reasonable level is important to maintain optimal health. The omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil can be a key factor in reducing inflammation.
Some of the health benefits include:
Because there is a strong correlation between omega-3s and a reduced risk of CVD, this is considered a diagnostic test. Inflammation is a major factor in CVD, and omega-3 fatty acids are thought to alter the environment in the endothelium (artery walls) to reduce inflammation.
Hypertension and ischemic stroke
Australian research suggests that omega-3 supplementation can lower blood pressure. It has been reported that DHA is the largest contributor to this effect. The study showed that the risk of ischemic stroke was reduced, which is due to the decrease in hypertension, as well as the improved elasticity of the arterial membrane.
In research studies, adequate intake of omega-3 fatty acids in test subjects showed an improved blood lipid profile, decreased triglyceride levels, increased HDL, and decreased LDL. It has been suggested that the omega-3s speed up the rate at which your body gets rid of the “bad” lipids and beneficially improves the ratio of LDL to HDL.
Omega-3 fatty acids can increase brain development in childhood and contribute to brain function in adulthood. The lack of DHA and EPA can also be a factor in cognitive impairment. Omega-3 fatty acids can also play an important role in the prevention and treatment of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Omega-3 rich fish oil was found to be highly effective in treating rheumatoid arthritis while reducing the need for arthritis medication. Other studies also show promising results for other autoimmune disease treatments with fish oil.
One study of overweight women found that omega-3 fatty acids can be useful as a weight loss aid by increasing postprandial satiety. The test subjects stated that they felt full with less food intake compared to the control group. Another study found improved body composition in young men who were supplemented with fish oil.
OK i see so how much should i take?
The Heart and Stroke Foundation recommends getting fish oil from eating fish. In theory, this is a great idea. In practice this is not always possible. Salmonids (salmon, rainbow trout, etc.) and other cold water fish (cod, sardines, etc.) have high EPA / DHA yields, but are also very commonly bred and usually also fed soy as well as genetically modified corn (both rich in omega-6 as well as with other toxins). This negates the beneficial effects of fish oil from eating fish. Using good quality fish oil from a reputable company will help circumvent this potential problem.
The recommended dose for the intake of omega-3 fatty acids is 0.7 g daily for healthy people and 1 g daily for people at risk of CVD. This is equivalent to 2-3 grams of a high quality fish oil supplement per day. These dosages are believed to be acceptable but may well be far from optimal. Robb Wolf, author of Paleo Solution, recommends 2-4 grams of EPA / DHA per day or 6-12 grams of a fish oil supplement per day. However, it is not recommended to start taking 12 grams of fish oil capsules right away.
Fish oil tends to cause fishy burps as well as diarrhea when taken in high doses. However, starting on a lower dose with meals and slowly increasing the dosage should reduce these side effects. More importantly, remember that what matters most is the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6, not total fish oil intake. If your diet consists of low-quality fat foods that are filled with omega-6 fatty acids, you most likely need more fish oil. However, if your diet doesn’t include omega-6 fatty acids, you will most likely need less. It is best to consult your doctor to determine your dosage.
What are some trustworthy sources? What about mercury?
Reputable brands are generally of better quality, and EPA and DHA levels should be sufficient. Brands like Carlson, Natrasea, and Progressive are considered reliable sources. However, it is best to avoid low quality products as they often use low quality oils as well as residual products left over from the manufacturing process. A 2006 ConsumerLab rating of 42 commercially available fish oil supplements found that all were free of mercury, PCBs and dioxins.
Who Shouldn’t Take Fish Oil?
Fish oil is contraindicated for people with haemophilia or who are taking blood thinners. Consuming more than the recommended dosages of omega-3 fish oil can lead to symptoms such as gastrointestinal problems, joint pain, and bleeding gums.
Although fish oil has not prevented a serious medical condition in my life, I find it very useful when I am under a lot of physical strain. Fish oil and vitamin D (with K2) are the two dietary supplements I am always on the go with. If you don’t live in Alaska and eat fresh fish every day, there is a good chance that you can benefit greatly from adding fish oil to your diet.
At the end of this article, I’d like to point out that the article came from a variety of media sources, including the following books:
1- Horrocks 8.LA, Yeo YK. Health Benefits of Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA). Pharmacol Res. 1999 Sep; 40 (3): 211-21. 25th
2- Kidd PM. Omega-3 DHA and EPA for cognition, behavior and mood: clinical findings and structural-functional synergies with cell membrane phospholipids. Aging Med Rev. 2007 Sep; 12 (3): 207-20. 27
3-Caygill CP, Charlett A, 17th Hill MJ. Fat, fish, fish oil and cancer. Br J Cancer. 1996 Jul; 74 (1): 159-13. 64.
You can also read more on this topic here.
Vegetarian sources of omega-3 fatty acids