• Fish oil benefits the hearts of healthy people and people at high risk of heart disease
  • Oily fish contains salmon% 2C herring% 2C sardines% 2C mackerel
  • Some fish oil supplements are better than others

A diet high in fish oil can improve heart and brain health, some research suggests. However, the question remains of how much fish people need to eat and which fish oil supplements are the best.

A recent study found that older women with the highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil maintain their brains better with age than women with the lowest levels, which could mean they are in for an extra measure better brain function would be maintained for a year or two.

The results suggest that higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids may show promise in delaying cognitive aging and dementia, the researchers concluded.

To reach high enough levels, people would need to eat oily fish at least five times a week – or take fish oil supplements twice a week, daily, the researchers said.

A study done last fall found that taking fish oil pills, which are high in omega-3 fatty acids, doesn’t seem to have a significant effect on heart attacks, strokes, or death. Other research suggests that omega-3s benefit the hearts of healthy people, people at high risk for heart disease, and people with such diseases, according to the American Heart Association.

Omega-3 fatty acids reduce the risk of arrhythmias (abnormal heartbeats that can lead to sudden death), lower levels of triglycerides (blood lipids), slow the rate of plaque growth, and lower blood pressure slightly, the association said.

The group recommends eating at least two servings of fish a week, especially oily fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines, and tuna. One serving is about 3.5 ounces cooked, or about 3/4 cup of flake fish.

Increasing omega-3 fatty acid consumption through food is preferred, the group says, but those with heart disease may not get enough omega-3s from diet alone. These patients should talk to their doctors about taking supplements.

When it comes to fish oil supplements, “I recommend them to most of my patients after 50 years,” says preventive cardiologist Gina Lundberg, spokesperson for the Heart Association and assistant professor of medicine at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. “Not just because of its triglyceride-lowering and cardiovascular benefits, but also because of its powerful antioxidant and brain-boosting benefits.”

Although there are prescription omega-3s, many over-the-counter fish oil supplements are “very good and more affordable, so I let patients take them,” according to Lundberg.

“We don’t have any studies to show that fish oils cause fewer heart attacks or make you live longer,” she says, “but they seem to have positive cardiovascular benefits. In general, I think they’re worth the cost.”

Doctor Steven Masley, a member of the Heart Association, recommends that patients consume 1,000 milligrams of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids – EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) – either through eating fish or by taking fish oil supplements.

He suggests eating wild salmon, trout, sole, sardines and herring. “Not all fish are created equal, so don’t expect the same heart benefits from eating fried fish and chips,” says Masley, author of The 30-Day Heart Tune-Up.

Those looking to take fish oil supplements need to look for ones that taste fresh, non-rancid and contain at least 1,000 milligrams of EPA and DHA, he says.

Which fish oil supplements are the best?

LabDoor, a company that evaluates the quality of nutritional supplements, recently tested 30 fish oil supplements and found that 21 contain omega-3s that differ by more than 10% from what is on the label, says Neil Thanedar, CEO of the company .

The food supplements classified as the highest quality included Dr. Tobias Optimum Omega 3 Fish Oil; Nordic Naturals Ultimate Omega D3; Axis Labs Citrus Omega Fish Oil; GNC Triple Strength Fish Oil and NOW Foods Ultra Omega 3, says Thanedar.

ConsumerLab.com tested 35 different omega-3 / fish oil supplements and found problems with the quality of labeling on 11 of these products.

Two dietary supplements exceeded contamination limits for PCBs and one soft gel product contained spoiled fish oil, says research doctor Tod Cooperman, the company’s president. No mercury was found in the products, he says.

He says the best low-cost, high-quality soft gel supplements in his tests were Kirkland (Costco) Signature Natural Omega-3 Fish Oil; Swanson EFA’s Super EPA; Vitacost Mega EFA Omega-3 EPA & DHA. The highest quality and cheapest liquid product was Vitamin Shoppe Omega-3 Fish Oil 800 EPA / 500 DHA.

After you open a bottle of the liquids, they start to spoil and can go rancid. You should definitely chill these and the soft gel pills, says Cooperman. “It will extend the shelf life.”

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