Chances are that you or someone you know is taking a fish oil supplement. Fish oil is more of a seasoned nutritional supplement than the new kid on the block – and it’s also one of the most widely-bought nutritional supplements on the market. But that doesn’t mean you know why it’s popular or why it keeps popping up in casual conversations. Here is a primer for you.
The two main nutrients in fish oil are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), commonly known as omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat (also known as PUFAs) and are considered “essential” fatty acids because our bodies cannot produce them ourselves and we have to take them in through our food or dietary supplements. Another omega-3 that you may be familiar with is alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is found in plant sources like flax seeds, chia seeds, and walnuts. Our body can convert ALA into EPA and DHA, but unfortunately only in small amounts. In other words, we’re not overly efficient at this process, so consuming EPA and DHA straight from foods and / or taking supplements is the best way to get these important nutrients in.
Why are EPA and DHA important?
In addition to playing important roles with omega-3s, DHA for eyesight and the nervous system, and EPA for reducing inflammation, they have been shown to protect against the occurrence of many common diseases and conditions. Much research has been carried out on omega-3 fatty acids, particularly in the areas of cardiovascular diseases, neurological development and neuronal degeneration, cancer prevention and, among other things, skin diseases and rheumatoid arthritis.
Cardiovascular diseases: Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to help keep cholesterol levels down and lower triglyceride levels. Several systematic reviews and meta-analyzes show that a higher consumption of fish and higher omega-3 levels in food or in the blood are associated with a lower risk of heart failure, coronary artery disease and fatal coronary artery disease. There’s a reason fish is recommended as part of a healthy diet. It is important to note that the evidence of the protective effects of omega-3 supplementation is stronger in people with pre-existing coronary artery disease than in healthy people.
Hypertension: Omega-3s have been shown to dilate blood vessels and suppress inflammation, and several studies have shown that consuming omega-3s lower blood pressure.
Cancer: Omega-3 fatty acids can help control cancer cell growth. Researchers suspect this is related to their anti-inflammatory effects. However, the studies are inconsistent and vary from cancer to cancer. While some evidence suggests that higher omega-3 intakes may reduce the risk of breast and possibly colon cancer, more research is needed.
Inflammatory diseases: Excessive stress, poor eating habits, environmental toxicity, lack of sleep, and physical inactivity all contribute to low levels of chronic inflammation, which often goes undetected and can slowly build up over many years. This accumulation eventually leads to the development of a chronic disease. Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to improve various inflammatory diseases (such as rheumatoid arthritis) by converting them into prostaglandins, natural anti-inflammatory agents.
Mental health: Omega-3 has been shown to improve mental disorders by keeping the brain and its signal transmission running smoothly. More research is needed here, but some (not all!) Studies have linked omega-3s to a reduced risk of cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease, and dementia. People with Alzheimer’s disease have lower levels of DHA in their blood than cognitively healthy people.
What Are Some Food Sources For Fish Oil?
That shouldn’t come as a surprise – fish! Although the amounts vary quite a bit, cold-water fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, and herring are your best sources of omega-3.
Should i take a supplement?
I always say eat first, then add if necessary. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends eating at least two servings of fish a week, and other government recommendations include replacing some meat with fish. Many people, including those who eat healthily, are still lacking omega-3s and in this case, supplementation is often recommended.
A typical fish oil supplement provides about 1,000 mg of fish oil. However, that doesn’t mean it’s just DHA and EPA. Brands will vary, but many supplements that contain 1,000 mg will contain around 120 mg of DHA and 180 mg of EPA. It is also important to check diet supplement labels so that you know what types and amounts of omega-3 fatty acids you are buying and consuming.
Is it safe to take?
The AHA says that consuming up to 3 grams of fish oil daily in the form of dietary supplements is considered safe. Always discuss this with your doctor first, especially if you are taking medication and / or have underlying medical conditions. The recommended adequate intake is 1.6 g / day for men and 1.1 g / day for women. The FDA has concluded that dietary supplements containing no more than 5 grams of EPA and DHA per day are safe when used as directed.
Are there any side effects?
Omega-3 fish oil side effects can include fishy taste (or breath!), Upset stomach, and nausea.