Fish oil is well-known today for its abilities to provide omega-3 fats and possibly offer heart health benefits.
But fish oil is also a mass-marketed product that gets a good bit of hype and not everyone is clear on if it is really beneficial or not.
Then there’s the point to consider that with so many companies producing fish oil, toxicity and overfishing can become two concerns many people have with consuming fish oil just to obtain omega-3 fats.
To clear the air on fish oil a bit, let’s take a look at why it’s beneficial and what you need to know if you’d like to consider taking fish oil as a part of your heart health regimen.
The Health Benefits of Fish Oil: An Overview
Fish oil contains three types of omega-3 fats that can promote well-being. The body can not produce these types of fats on its own, and they must be consumed through diet. Omega-3 fats are also vital for overall brain health, hormone health, and they are necessary for healthy blood flow, clotting, and overall artery health.
Omega-3 fats are the one type of fat that has been shown to consistently reduce inflammation, improve heart health, and improve brain health. Omega-3 fats have also been shown to play a vital role in skin health helping to decrease dry skin, eczema, and acne. Some studies even show it is helpful for types of autoimmune diseases such as lupus.
Fish is also a great source of Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, iodine, protein, and magnesium which can all provide dramatic benefits for your overall health. But the real beauty of fish lies in its unique ratio of omega-3 fats.
The three main types of omega-3 fats are:
- DHA (which stands for docosahexaenoic acid)
- ALA (which stands for alpha-linolenic acid)
- and EPA (which stands for eicosapentaenoic acid)
Of these three types, DHA and EPA are the ones most important for brain health. They are only found in fish for the most part. ALA can promote good heart health and skin health, and ALA is mostly found in plant-based sources including vegetables, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables.
The body has to convert ALA into EPA on its own if dietary sources are not consumed, but studies have shown that this conversion rate isn’t always up to par and that many people are actually deficient in EPA and DHA omega-3 fats.
DHA is a precious type of omega-3 fat that we need for optimal health and it’s been shown we do very well by consuming ample amounts of DHA which is hard to get through diet alone. Algae is actually one of the best sources of DHA and ALA (which fish consume), however, algae supplements don’t contain EPA that fish oil does. This can pose some problems when it comes to brain health because both DHA and EPA are needed for optimal brain and heart benefits that only omega-3 fatty acids can provide.
The strongest evidence for consuming fish oil lies in its potential to improve heart health and brain health. In regards to these benefits, here are 5 ways that taking a daily dose of fish oil can change your life:
1. Reduces the risk of heart disease
Studies have shown that fish oil is one of the best supplements to take in order to reduce your risk of heart disease. Because the body absorbs fish oil so well, the omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil have been shown to reduce inflammation, improve arterial blood flow, and regulate the heartbeat. This means you are less likely to have a stroke when your heart works properly and the chances of you developing high cholesterol drop dramatically.
2. Reduced muscle pain post-workout
Fish oil has also been shown to be a key supplement in helping to reduce post-workout pain and inflammation. Just 1-2 grams of fish oil per day can significantly reduce inflammation and fatigue in the muscle cells.
3. Reduces ADHD symptoms
Fish oil has been shown to provide enough DHA to help reduce ADHD symptoms which can be helpful for adults and children. The brain must have DHA to function properly, and this specific type of omega-3 helps reduce anxiety and the inability to focus on any task at hand.
4. Reduces the risk of depression and depression symptoms
Fish oil is so rich in DHA that it can also help reduce depression and depression symptoms. Many individuals eat fish or take fish oil daily to prevent mild or even serious depression. It can also be an option for those looking to avoid prescription drug-based medications for depression that come with serious side effects.
5. Boosts metabolic health
Last but not least, it’s been proven that supplementing with fish oil daily can help the body use fats more efficiently and because the fats in fish oil are so well-balanced and optimal for your overall health, the body can use these to efficiently burn fat as fuel and boost metabolic health. It has been shown to increase lean muscle mass, reduce cortisol, and boost brain health which can all help reduce the risks of becoming overweight and having a sluggish metabolism.
With all of these benefits surrounding fish oil, it’s easy to see why supplementing with fish oil can be life-changing. It can also be a good idea for vegetarians who don’t want to eat fish or those who can’t afford to eat fish on a daily basis.
A Guide to Purchasing Fish and Fish Oil:
The American Heart Association advises eating two servings of fish per week for overall heart health, but these amounts may not be enough to get the same benefits that taking fish oil each day can provide.
If you’d like to consider taking fish oil each day, you also need to be careful about what sources you obtain your fish oil from. Many companies use dangerous byproducts, fillers, and many access farmed sources of fish to produce their fish oil that can include pesticides, chemicals, and other environmental poisons. Most companies also don’t test for a full range of pollutants and many can contain a mix of various oils, not just fish oil.
Purchase your fish oil from a company that tests for and does not include:
- PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls which are dangerous types of toxic chemicals)
- Fillers like canola oil or soybean oil
Look for fish that contains at least 1200 milligrams (equivalent to 1.2 grams) of omega-3’s per serving, and be sure that it contains at least 600 milligrams of DHA so you can be sure it’s not mostly filled with EPA. While both are important types of omega-3 fats, the supplement should be equally split among both types so you get the most benefits of your fish oil per serving.
It’s also advised to consume fish oil made with either krill oil (which is higher in omega-3’s and less likely to contain toxic chemicals or mercury), or consume fish oil made with smaller types of fish such as anchovy or sardines which are highest in beneficial omega-3 oils.
If you’re not interested in eating fish, you may also appreciate that fish oil often goes through more testing for pollutants most people are looking to avoid, so it can be something to consider implementing into your health routine if you’re not already. Not to mention, it’s also much more affordable.
What about the types of fish that are best to consume when eating fish?
If you consume fish at meals, it’s advised to consume smaller fish on the food chain or those less exposed to mercury. Generally speaking, wild fish are better options than farmed fish, though some exceptions may apply depending on the fishing sources, the waters in which they’re grown, and the type of fish you’re looking at purchasing and consuming.
For information about what types of fish are safest for consumption, visit the Environmental Working Group’s website where you can view current types of fish best suitable for consumption depending on the current health of the environment in which the fish are raised.
Generally, the following types of fish are the safest to eat:
- Rainbow Trout
- Atlantic Mackerel
- Light, canned tuna (not albacore)
Final Tips and Fish Oil Alternatives:
When taking fish oil daily, be sure to take at least 2 capsules, preferably earlier in the day either before your first meal or with breakfast. Unlike most multivitamins, you can take fish oil on an empty stomach and it won’t pose nausea or a sore stomach. If you are taking blood thinners, be aware that the omega-3 fats in fish oil can thin the blood due to the way they enhance arterial blood flow. In this case, you will want to speak with your doctor to decide if fish oil is safe or not for you to consume.
Finally, if you are vegan or still not sure if taking fish oil and eating fish are right for you, be sure that you eat small servings of the following ALA-rich foods each day:
- flax seeds
- chia seeds
- hemp seeds
- leafy greens
- pumpkin seeds
Also, be sure that you take DHA supplement derived from carefully sourced algae that you need for optimal health.
Although these sources do not contain EPA like fish and fish oil, you should still make them a part of your daily diet for overall health. All omega-3 fatty acids also counteract the negative effects of too many omega-6 fats from inflammatory oils like corn, soy, vegetable, and peanut oil, so it’s smart for everyone to consume a variety of sources, even if you still enjoy eating fish and taking fish oil. Plant-based sources of omega-3 fats also contain other vitamins and minerals that you can benefit from, not just ALA-based omega-3 fats.
If you are considering taking fish oil and want to eat fish, it’s optimal if you can find a company that provides both fish oil and fish all sourced from pristine, cold-water sources that you can also personally connect with and ask questions to on a regular basis, you’re much better off going that route. When consumers can directly connect with companies that produce their fish and fish oil, they often feel safer eating the fish and consuming the fish oil.
All in all, fish oil can be a beneficial supplement to your current health routine and a little can go a long way towards boosting your current level of health. If you’re still not sold on fish and fish oil, take a look at why fish is one of the healthiest foods in the world, and for heart-healthy fish recipes, you can also check out these delicious options!