The benefits of fish oil mainly reside in its ability to reduce inflammation in your body.
This makes it ideal for promoting heart health, especially for people with pre-existing heart problems.
Fish oil can also help fight depression as it can increase serotonin levels.
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Fish oil is a natural oil found in oily fish such as salmon, herring, and sardines. But you can also take it as a supplement.
Most of the health benefits of fish oil come from the omega-3 fatty acids it contains, which aid the heart, brain, and general wellbeing.
Here’s what researchers have found so far about the health benefits of consuming fish oil on a regular basis.
1. Helps fight inflammation
Fish is one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids – a category of fat that you may be missing from your diet.
“Americans typically consume much more omega-6 fats, which are found in refined vegetable oils made from soybeans, corn, and sunflower seeds,” said Julie Stefanski, a registered nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics.
Omega-6 acids aren’t necessarily bad for you, but the omega-3 to omega-6 ratio is important to your health. Getting enough omega-6 fats but not enough omega-3 fats can increase the risk of chronic inflammation, says Stefanski.
Fighting chronic inflammation is vital, as inflammation can increase your risk for diseases such as cancer, arthritis, and heart disease.
2. Supports heart health
Consuming fish oil can help improve heart health, especially in people who already have heart problems.
A 2017 review found that taking fish oil supplements may help prevent heart attacks in people with coronary artery disease. The researchers also found that regular consumption of fish oil reduced the risk of hospitalization in people with heart failure – however, they say more research is needed to confirm these results.
This may be due in part to the anti-inflammatory effects of fish oil. “Reducing inflammation is a key factor in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease,” says Stefanski.
For heart health benefits, the American Heart Association recommends eating two servings of oily fish, such as salmon, per week. One serving is ¾ cup or 99.22 g of cooked fish.
3. Can improve brain function
Your brain uses the omega-3 fats in fish oil, among other nutrients, to build brain cells, which is especially important as you age.
For example, studies have shown that people with degenerative neurological disorders often have low levels of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) – a type of omega-3 fatty acid.
That could explain why a 2010 study found that older adults who took 900 mg of DHA supplements daily for six months did better on memory and learning tests than those without treatment.
4. Can help improve mental health
Depression has been linked to higher rates of inflammation, so fish oil’s anti-inflammatory properties may help fight mental health issues like depression.
A 2016 review of 13 studies found that taking omega-3 supplements helped improve symptoms of depression, such as sadness and fatigue, by reducing inflammation in your brain cells.
EPA fatty acids, one of the main acids in fish oil, are especially helpful for depression because they increase serotonin levels, an important mood-enhancing chemical. Therefore, it may be best to look for fish oil supplements with a “High EPA” label.
The review also found that omega-3 supplements worked particularly well when combined with antidepressants.
5. Supports the development of the fetus during pregnancy
Fish oil provides nutrients that are essential for the baby’s development and the health of the parents, says Stefanski.
Studies show that taking fish oil supplements containing at least 300 mg of DHA daily during pregnancy can support a baby’s healthy development by:
- Support of vision development
- Improve the development of brain functions
- Lowering the risk of allergies
However, it is important to know that some fish are relatively high in mercury, which can damage a fetus’ developing brain and nervous system. For this reason, experts recommend avoiding large fish like swordfish, king mackerel, and shark. Smaller fish like salmon, light tuna, and sardines tend to have a lower risk.
“Some women who are concerned about the mercury levels in fish may choose to avoid fish during pregnancy and turn to dietary supplements,” says Stefanski. If you decide to use supplements, look for products that run third-party tests for mercury levels, Stefanski says, as this can allow for a more accurate measurement of mercury levels.
Fish oil can have a variety of health benefits thanks to its abundant supply of omega-3 fatty acids. Adding fish to your diet or taking supplements every day can help improve the health of your heart and brain and support a healthy pregnancy.
You can include fish oil in your diet by eating fish every week or by taking supplements on a daily basis.
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