Walk down any supplement aisle and you are likely to see rows of fish oil capsules, lined up like soldiers on the war against disease. But what is fish oil and how does it impact the human body?
Fish oil is sourced from the tissue of oily fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines, tuna, and herring. It is rich with omega-3 fatty acids: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), two essential types. EPA is believed to help with inflammation, and DHA plays a major role in the retina, sperm, and cerebral cortex. Specifically, 40 percent of the polyunsaturated fatty acids in the brain are made up of DHA. Alpha linoleic (AHA) is another omega 3 fatty acid that supports sustainable energy.
The best possible way for most people to ingest beneficial levels of omega 3 fatty acids (EPA, DHA, and ALA) is by either consuming fish and/or non-fish foods like walnuts, soybeans, turkey, lean meat, eggs, butter, flaxseeds, chia seeds, or hemp seeds. If, however, you don’t have enough of these foods in your diet, there are a plethora of fish oil supplements available.
What are the biggest benefits of supplementing with omega 3 fatty acids?
Omega 3 fatty acids are shown to deliver some big health benefits when it comes to cardiovascular health and other diseases. They’re believed to help patients heal after a heart attack, reduce the effects of rheumatoid arthritis, reduce blood pressure, reduce the risk of dementia, reduce seizure frequency in epilepsy patients, and reduce age-related macular degeneration.
A couple other benefits of omega 3 fatty acids have been observed in recent studies. The studies suggest that eating EPA/DHA-rich foods or supplementing it could reduce cholesterol and improve mental health. More on this below.
Role in Lowering Cholesterol
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a modest intake of omega-3 fatty acids reduces plasma triglyceride levels, and NIH calls the triglyceride-lowering benefits “well documented.” The value of lowering triglycerides, of course, is that triglycerides are a type of fat that gathers in the bloodstream. While some is needed in order to enjoy good health, high levels raise the risk of serious health problems.
Role in Mental Health Issues
One interesting benefit of fish oil has to do with its impact on mental health, including stress, ADHD, and mental illness. A study published in the American Journal of Physiology reported that those who took fish oil supplements for a month or longer showed improved cardiovascular function during mentally stressful tests. In addition, a peer report in the Nutrition Journal suggested that fish oil can help young people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHA) improve their behavior. According to Mayo Clinic, it appears that fish oil supplements may ease the symptoms of mild to moderate depression in some people, primarily due to the important role omega-3 fatty acids play in the brain. Finally, a study published in Nature Communications found that omega-3-rich supplements reduced the long-term risks associated with developing a psychotic disorder.
To reiterate, the best possible way to ingest beneficial levels of EPA and DHA is by either consuming fish or omega 3-containing foods like walnuts, soybeans, lean meat, flaxseeds, chia seeds, or hemp seeds. But to fill in the gaps that we may not meet in our diet, 1,000 mg (usually one capsule) of fish oil is sufficient for healthy adults to supplement.
As you would with any medication, speak with your doctor before beginning a fish oil regimen. There are 86 medications known to interact with fish oil and it is important to make sure you are not on any of those medications. Speak with your child’s pediatrician before giving them fish oil. The dose your child needs will depend upon what you hope to accomplish through use of the supplement.