Fish oil, time to net the benefits.
We’ve all heard about fish oils, maybe we were even threatened with a spoon of cod liver oil when we were kids, but what exactly is it and should you be taking it?
Here’s a quick guide to all the facts about fish oil supplements and the health benefits they can offer you.
What’s so great about fish anyway?
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends eating 1–2 portions of fish per week to ensure you are getting a healthy level of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 provides many health benefits and can help protect us against a number of diseases. If you don’t eat a lot of oily fish, taking a fish oil supplement could help you get enough of that vital omega-3.
Fish oil is simply the fat or oil extracted from fish tissue, and is probably one of the most common dietary supplements we take. It’s rich in the omega-3 fatty acids that are beneficial to your health.
It is usually derived from oily fish such as herring, tuna, anchovies and mackerel, but sometimes it’s produced from the livers of other fish, as is the case with cod liver oil.
The main omega-3s in fish oil are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The food in our modern diet has replaced a lot of omega-3s with other fats like omega-6s. This can the distort the ratio of fatty acids in our system and may contribute to a number of lifestyle diseases.
Your Heart, Your Health
We all know how prevalent Heart Disease is in the world today, so it’s interesting to note that studies have shown lower rates of Heart Disease in people who eat more fish. There are a number of risk factors for heart disease, and many of these appear to be reduced by fish or fish oil consumption.
The heart health benefits include:
- Cholesterol levels:It can increase HDL or “good” cholesterol levels. However, it does not appear to reduce levels of LDL “bad” cholesterol.
- Triglycerides:Triglycerides can be lowered by around 15–30%.
- Plaques: When plaques form in our arteries they cause them to harden. Fish oils may help prevent the plaques from forming, as well as making existing plaques more stable and safe.
- Blood pressure:Even in small doses, it can help reduce high blood pressure.
- Fatal arrhythmias: Arrhythmias are abnormal heart rhythms that can cause heart attacks. For at risk individuals, fish oil may reduce fatal arrhythmia events.
However, it is important to note that, although fish oil supplementation can improve many of the risk factors, there is no clear evidence that it prevents heart attacks or indeed strokes.
Fish Oils and fat loss
There is some evidence to suggest that fish oil supplements may improve body composition. Studies have shown that fish oil supplementation, in combination with diet or exercise, can aid weight loss, however, one analysis of 21 studies found that fish oil supplementation didn’t significantly reduce weight in obese individuals, but it did reduce waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio suggesting, again, an improvement in body composition.
Inflammation is the immune system’s way of fighting infection and dealing with injuries. However, inflammation can sometimes occur at low levels for an on-going period. This is called chronic inflammation. When this happens it can worsen certain chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, depression and heart disease. In these instances reducing the inflammation can also help to treat the symptoms of the disease.
Fish oil has anti-inflammatory properties and can help treat diseases characterised by chronic inflammation. For example, in stressed and obese individuals, fish oil can reduce the production and gene expression of inflammatory molecules called cytokines.
Fish oil supplementation can also significantly reduce joint stiffness and pain, and medication needs in people with rheumatoid arthritis.
Fish Oil, Depression, and Anxiety.
It’s predicted that depression will become the second largest disease burden globally by 2030. Interestingly, it has been shown that people who suffer with major depression have been shown to have lower blood levels of omega-3s.
Studies have shown that fish oil and omega-3 supplementation can improve the symptoms of depression and that oils rich in EPA help reduce depressive symptoms more than those rich in DHA.
Time to take your oil
For those of us that find it hard to eat 1–2 portions of oily fish every week, a fish oil supplement is a convenient, and taste-free, way of getting our essential Omega-3s.
Fish oil supplements are widely available. You’ll find them in or own store, the Nutrition Hub, here in Airside, or indeed online. A quick search will show you how much choice there is. But there are few things to consider before you just jump in and buy the first supplement you find.
The recommended EPA and DHA dosage varies depending on your age and health. The World Health Organization recommends a daily intakes of 0.2–0.5 grams of combined EPA and DHA. But it may be necessary to increase the dosage if you are pregnant, nursing or at risk of heart disease. Try to choose a fish oil that provides at least 0.3 grams (300 mg) of EPA and DHA per serving.
Many supplements contain up to 1,000 mg of fish oil per serving but only 300 mg of EPA and DHA. Read the label and make sure that at least half the supplement is made up of EPA and DHA combined.
When you take your supplements can also make a difference. It’s been shown that dietary fats can help the absorption of omega-3 fatty acid, so it’s best to take your fish oil supplement with a meal that contains fat to get the most from them.
With so many benefits, and so few of us eating fish on a regular basis, fish oil supplementation looks like a complete no brainer. After all, what have you got to lose, apart from the taste?